When chef Greg Wiener moved to Napa Valley recently, a few days after he arrived, his best friend and companion, his dog Bronson, disappeared. Wiener spent days looking for him, driving up and down the valley following leads from the community on social media.
“People were very supportive at this time,” he said. He would get calls at all times from random numbers with reports of Bronson sightings.
The chef and dog were reunited 20 days later when Wiener found Bronson on top of Mt. Veeder.
“Quite the journey: Bronson traveled from Washington Street in Yountville to the east vineyards and ended up atop the mountain,” Wiener said.
The community threw a party to celebrate the return of Bronson.
Wiener is enjoying his new home in the Napa Valley, where his first impression was certainly of a helpful and close community.
He relocated in early January to accept the culinary director position for the Estate in Yountville. His new role includes overseeing the multiple outlets at the property, which is going through major renovation. The Lobby at Vintage Inn and Villagio, the pool menu and the banquet area are now his domain. With a confident smile, he is ready to take on the challenge.
Wiener’s career has taken him from a small family restaurant to running large properties throughout the U.S. It began at the age of 15, when he got a job at the Wendy’s hamburger joint in Wisconsin where he grew up.
A year later, his parents acquired a restaurant, which served as a platform for his career. The 60-seat eatery was both a celebratory and everyday gathering spot. The food was an Americana collection that included a chicken night, pastas, sandwiches and other comfort food. It was here that Wiener held his first managerial position as a chef.
“My brother and I used to run the kitchen,” he said. “A long leash allowed me to learn by making mistakes on my own. This was a family affair. My parents, brothers, sisters pretty much ran the place, which filled up on a daily basis.”
After running his family’s restaurant, he knew the kitchen was where he belonged, and he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park campus. There, he learned skills that opened doors to great opportunities. His first position after graduating was with chef Marcus Samuelson at Restaurant Aquavit in New York City. During this time, he lived in a one-bedroom apartment with four other kitchen guys.
“We used to eat, breathe, sleep food, always discussing recipes, all day,” Wiener said. They all slept in sleeping bags on the floor. Pay was minimal and included working an average of 80 hours and six days a week. Still, he said it was a wonderful experience that allowed him grow.
His next step was his first corporate position at the Minneapolis Marriott. After a few days, he said, he started to doubt the drastic move from Restaurant Aquavit to a hotel. In spite of it, he stayed and it turned out to be a gateway for bigger things in his career.
Someone mentioned to him a JW Marriott at Desert Springs opening in California, and he followed that lead. He was flown there to do a cooking presentation, which resulted on an offer for the chef de cuisine position in the fine dining restaurant. He accepted the new role and relocated.
This step, he said, changed the way he operates in a kitchen. Mentored by chef Oliver Reschreiter, the culinary director who hired him, Wiener learned the business side of restaurants, as well as leadership skills. Six months after assuming his new role, he was promoted to senior sous chef for the entire property. He ended up in charge of eight outlets that included a diverse group of restaurants serving Japanese, Mexican and Italian cuisine; it’s one of the largest banquet programs throughout the Marriott Group.
The time came when he felt he was ready for his next move, and he got it. The new role was executive chef of banquets at the Camelback Marriott, a five-star property in Arizona. This playground was not what he expected. “Going from elaborate dishes served in custom plateware to a simpler approach on round dishes wasn’t my realm,” he said.
He found a new position at the Waldorf Astoria’s The Boulders Resort in Scottsdale Arizona, a five-star, five-diamond location. At this property he worked under Michel Piton, a French chef who became another mentor. At The Boulders, he oversaw the fine dining and banquet departments and enjoyed the freedom of a non-corporate environment with full control and room for creativity.
After three years in this position, he felt he needed to run his own program and found it at The Buttes, another Arizona property that had recently been purchased by the Waldorf Astoria Group. Wiener said this is where his culinary career really took off. The property went from making half a million dollars in sales to more than $12 million while he was there, and established The Buttes as one of the lead resorts in Arizona.
This position allowed him to broaden his horizons. He got to sit on the board of directors at the Arizona Culinary Institute as well as the Art Institute of Phoenix. He was nominated and won the Manager of the Year award from the Arizona Lodging Tourism Association. He was nominated for Chef of the Year by the Phoenix New Times. The thing, however, that he is most proud of is The Buttes winning the Arizona Lodging Tourism Community Service Award twice in a year. In 2010, when Arizona suffered from wildfires resulting in big loses, Wiener and his team started a special tasting menu, and donated a portion of each sale to help families in need. In the first year, he said, the project generated half a million dollars, on top building three homes in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and creating clothing and furniture drives for the community.
“All good things come to an end,” Wiener said. After six years at The Buttes, the property switched hands to new ownership and after much thought, he decided to move on. Because of his involvement in the executive committee, he received a part of the proceeds from the sale, which allowed him to travel the world after 23 years of working non-stop.
His plan was to see the world and visit a number of culinary landmarks. His travels took him through Japan, France, Mexico and New York City. After visiting a good number of the top 50 restaurants in the world, he focused on returning to work — with a fresh approach.
He searched for jobs in Arizona, where he was well known, and ended up consulting for a handful of independent restaurants in throughout the country. In October last year, a friend texted him about an position available in Yountville. He visited in November and knew it was the right move. He finished his consulting obligations, sold his house, packed and relocated early January to hold his current role at the Estate Yountville overseeing food and beverage operations.
With an energetic personality and a strong team that has followed him from past positions, I believe chef Wiener will certainly be a benefit to the valley.