Malcolm de Sieyes is in constant motion. As he whisks around his commercial kitchen at the Silverado Cooking School in Napa, California, it is clear that he is a man on a mission. While preparing for an evening class during which students will create and experiment with four different pastas, fillings and sauces, Chef Malcolm needs to ensure ingredients are on hand, the kitchen is immaculate and his staff is ready for their incoming student-guests. His attention to detail has garnered Silverado significant regional press, as well as notice from the likes of Wine Spectator and other national food publications. Although only three years old, Silverado Cooking School has become well known in Napa for providing guests with memorable experiences.
De Sieyes journey from 9th grader at Proctor Academy to Head Chef and Owner of the Silverado cooking school was not a straight line, but has always had a clear theme of hands-on experience. “I have never been good at doing one thing. I am easily bored so I like being in a position where I can constantly experiment.” At Proctor, de Sieyes soaked up science and math courses, immersed himself in the arts, and also participated in both Ocean Classroom and Proctor’s language program in France.
His initial goal was to go to college and then medical school. After a gap year in France, de Sieyes enrolled at Drew University. While in college, an internship working at an Oceanographic Institute in Florida focused his energy in a different direction. A second internship led to a full time job offer as a research technician at Florida Atlantic University. “I realized that I was doing what I loved doing, so I left college and started working full time at a university. Most students don’t get the chance to ‘do’ things. Proctor had spoiled me in that way.” De Sieyes was quickly promoted and was soon coordinating large scale marine mammal rescues throughout the Southeast. Disentanglements, strandings and other situations required coordination with the National Oceanographic Institute, National Marine Fisheries and other agencies. “I loved the hands on nature of the work and the impact I was able to have, but the bureaucracy became cumbersome.” After four years of being on call 24 hours a day and meeting his future wife, now a veterinarian, it was time for a change.
Malcolm’s aunt lived in San Francisco and ran a well known culinary school in the city, Tante Marie’s Cooking School. On a whim, de Sieyes enrolled. “I had always loved cooking good food so it seemed like it would be a fun diversion”. After being schooled in the basics, de Sieyes started working in restaurants and catering events. Because of his outgoing and engaging personality, he was asked to offer cooking classes for private parties. Soon he was booked solid with private cooking party events in the East Bay. “Cooking can be such a stressful experience so when I came to do a party, it became an event where the hosts were happy, the guests were happy and I was engaged. It was a win-win-win.”
On a weekend real-estate scouting trip to Napa Valley with his wife, de Sieyes realized that, while there were plenty of fine restaurants, there were no cooking schools. Opportunity called. He opened a commercial kitchen in Napa with the idea he could provide catering and try to branch out with an “experiential” cooking school. The business model quickly evolved as he discovered a tremendous demand for cooking classes. “I had no idea my ‘Field of Dreams’ would happen so quickly. I have been very fortunate.” His largest clientele, almost 60%, are corporate groups. Lots of high tech teams want to come to Napa and have a shared experience. “A cooking class serves as a learning experience, social event and a team-building exercise. In my classes, you can engage at whatever level you are comfortable. We take the intimidation out of the equation.”
One key to the success of Silverado is access to fresh ingredients and a focus on seasonal cuisine. “I source all of my produce locally, including much from our 2 acre farm, Stone Tree Farm (pictured throughout this article). We have 40 fruit trees, 30 chickens, we grow heirloom tomatoes, lettuces, herbs and root vegetables. There is nowhere else in the world where you can access such fresh ingredients. We only prepare seasonal, fresh, locally sourced foods for our school. That is the luxury of being in California. We are truly a 'Farm to Table' operation which is great for everyone.”
In terms of business sustainability, de Sieyes relies on strong word-of-mouth and digital marketing. “Our business is all about creating an experience. Of course we want the food to taste the same as a 3-Star Michelin restaurant, but the meal is only the culmination of a five hour class. Cooking techniques, wine pairings and the social engagement together with the meal creates a lasting impression.” Those impressions often lead to great online reviews which continue to drive interest in Silverado. Although business is strong, Malcolm is keen to spend time with his wife and children, ages 2 ½ and 5, and often has to refuse work.
De Sieyes credits Proctor with providing him the accountability he needed to mature and the freedom to explore different interests and passions. He mentions with pride never having an attendance point. “Proctor also provided me with my closest lifelong friends. As a matter of fact, a whole group of us will get together for Thanksgiving this year!”
If you or your friends are in Napa and want to experience a cooking class with Chef Malcolm de Sieyes, visit his website and stop in for a visit and let him know you are a Proctor alum. Or, register for Reunion 2016 and connect with your extended Proctor Alumni family on campus!