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Charlie Palmer: Quintessential American Chef

by Olivia DeWolfe
CulinaryEd Columnist
February 8, 2011

Charlie Palmer's restaurant, Fin FishMore than most chefs, Charlie Palmer is very outspoken about being American. But it's not just his love of football, tractors, shotguns and Chevy trucks that makes Mr. Palmer wave our flag. Growing up in a small town in upstate New York as the son of a plumber-electrician, he now oversees the Charlie Palmer Group, a collection of restaurants, wine stores and hotel boutiques. This, plus his four cookbooks and appearances on NBC's Today show, exemplify the hard work and success that characterize the American Dream.

Charlie Palmer: A Leading Culinary Arts Professional

Palmer started cooking after a neighbor who taught culinary arts at his high school dared him and some friends to take his class. Though being surrounded by girls and getting to eat everything was appealing, Palmer found he actually liked cooking too. Working his way up from dishwasher to brunch cook at the Colgate Inn, he decided to go to culinary school.

Palmer's time at the Culinary Institute of America made him realize that the cuisine of America was really just beginning to take shape. He did a lot of thinking about what it meant to make American food at that time, then opened his first restaurant, Aureole, in 1988 at 28 years old. It was here that he launched his trademark style, Progressive American Cuisine. Though built on a foundation of classical French techniques, its strong focus on forward movement and local ingredients is what appeals so strongly to his patrons.

After the opening of Charlie Palmer Steak in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. and Fin Fish in Reno, Palmer's passion for regional ingredients inspired his move to the Sonoma valley and his creation of Dry Creek Kitchen, which relies on the region's unsurpassed array of local meats, cheeses, wines, seafood and produce. He's also fulfilling a life-long dream of making his own wine.

If you want more of Palmer, look for his new book, coming soon. Typical of his ever-evolving style, The Blood and the Beauty (working title) won't be your usual cookbook. Full of intense photos, it is planned to depict, side by side, the glory of beautifully presented food and the raw reality of the slaughterhouse.

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