Hailed as a pioneer of California Cuisine, Sally Schmitt learned to cook early. Raised on a small, Northern California farm, she mastered with her mother while young how to churn butter, can vegetables, and make jam. This was followed by a degree in Home Economics from UC Davis, and then years of practice. 

In 1967, she moved with her husband, Don, and their five children to Yountville in the Napa Valley to manage a large shopping arcade. Her restaurant career began when she took over the hamburger-and-sandwich cafe in the complex. Four years later, she opened the full-on restaurant, The Chutney Kitchen, that had lines out the door at lunch time and once-a-month, reservations-only dinners that soon expanded to twice a month.

Eight years later, after renovating a run-down, old stone building, a former saloon converted to a laundry and then boarding house, she and Don opened their restaurant, The French Laundry, where they could serve dinner on a nightly basis. Her cooking was called “brilliant⁠ [1]” by Jeremiah Tower and soon drew applauds from Gourmet⁠ [2] magazine and the major newspapers. With Sally cooking, and Don greeting guests and pouring wine, the restaurant stayed booked months in advance for the next sixteen years. 

In 1994, Don and Sally sold their restaurant to the young chef, Thomas Keller, to “retire” to The Apple Farm, a 30-acre farm they had purchased in Sonoma’s Anderson Valley a decade before. Retirement turned into running a series of classes at the farm for fifteen years, and teaching at the Napa Valley College Culinary Arts Program, Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco, the Napa Valley Cooking Classes, Yountville’s “A Class Act,” and the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Then came real retirement when Don and Sally retreated to their little cottage in Elk where she learned to cook for two again. Her husband happily ate everything and smiled through all her experimenting with new ideas. One of the ideas was to write this book for her family, her students, and those who through the years came to love the cooking that came out of her kitchens.

1 M. A. [Mary Ann] Mariner, “One Little Restaurant with a Big Reputation,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 9, 1993.
2 [Caroline Bates] “The French Laundry“ Gourmet, September 1978.