By Jenna Scatena
October 26, 2015
Credit: courtesy of Bryan Jones

When Bay Area chefs travel, they don’t bring back souvenirs. Instead, they return with inspiration and a fresh take on their own menus. Take Bryan Jones, avid globe-trotter, bon vivant, and chef at Sonoma’s legendary St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. This summer he visited his equally sophisticated sister who lives in a small village outside of Zurich, and subsequently ate his way through Switzerland. When he returned, he revamped his culinary approach at the winery, thanks to a little inspiration from the locavore Swiss lifestyle. Here’s what he has in store, and some of the most memorable moments from his trip.

As a chef, I bet you tend to travel by way of your next meal. What food drove your trip through Switzerland?

The cheese! Riding my bicycle from Russikon to Lake Pfäffikon, passing by some small family farms and sampling their cheeses was one of my best memories. One afternoon we stopped by a couple of local farms that have been making remarkable cheeses for generations. We picked up eglikase, a local three-month aged and washed rind goat cheese along with a bottle of Aigle les Murailles, a chasselas wine from the Chablais Alps in the French part of Switzerland. The acidity of the white wine cut perfectly through the nutty aged goat cheese. It was a bit of a revelation.

What’s the one meal from your trip you would do all over again?

I spent a lot of time in the Engadine Valley, where the ski resort of St. Moritz is located. My family has a small apartment in the village of La Punt-Chamues-ch, where I enjoyed one of my most memorable dining experiences at Chesa Pirani. It’s run by a local husband and wife and is located in a beautiful ancient house, specializing in the cuisine of his native part of Switzerland.

What elements of your Switzerland trip do you hope to bring back with you?

I was inspired by how local everything was in Switzerland. It’s a country that has been producing everything people need in their local areas. So when I returned from my trip I was inspired to expand the cheese program here at St. Francis with a new tasting series that revolves around our own proximity. Our Sonoma Tastemakers wine and food series highlights our own exceptional cheese-makers close to home. Since returning, I’ve sought out the best Sonoma has to offer and am delighted with the outcome.

For Sonoma Tastemakers, we’re hosting a different local artisan each month and inviting them to share their products and stories in our tasting room. In September we had Sonoma Creamery, and coming up on October 24 is Sebastopol’s Bohemian Creamery—they make the most impressive selection of cheeses from sheep, goat, and cow’s milk in a myriad of styles. On December 5, we’ll host Valley Ford Cheese Company, which makes incredible farmstead Italian-style cheeses. We’ll pair low alcohol St. Francis wines to accentuate the nuances of the cheese.

We’ll also host non-cheese artisans, like Sonoma Chocolatiers and Petaluma Pie Company.

Where will you go on your next trip?

My next trip is for my honeymoon, and we are heading off to Thailand. We are starting off in Bangkok with dinner at Gaggan. From there, we are doing a week at the Six Senses resort on the island of Yao Noi for our beach fix, then off to the Golden Triangle and staying at the tented elephant camp run by the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle where we’ll learn to ride and train the elephants while glamping. Who knows what that will inspire!

Jenna Scatena is on the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.