Born in Healdsburg and raised in Geyserville and Healdsburg CA, Dustin Valette has a rich family history in gorgeous Sonoma country that steeps back generations. In 1900, at the age of 20, Dustin’s great grandfather Honoree Valette, a baker from Southern France, fell in love with the familiar rich terroir of the area and the opportunities it promised.
At seventeen Dustin escaped his small-town roots to New York where he attended the C.I.A. in Hyde Park. A stellar culinary career followed with credits that include: Aqua SF, Bouchon, Napa Valley, Hokus, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Honolulu, VOX in Las Vegas and most recently Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg. In 2015 Dustin opened his own restaurant, Valette with partner-brother Aaron Gazini in the very same building his great grandfather had his bakery two generations prior.
Coming full circle this past fall (September 2nd, 2021) Dustin opened Matheson Restaurant with partner Craig Ramsey. The Matheson, a dynamic dining destination also in downtown Healdsburg, shines like a tri-level beacon of craftsmanship boasting a fine dining restaurant, with chef de cuisine Matt Brimer, a sushi counter created by renowned sushi chef Ken Tominaga, two bars, a rooftop lounge, an 88-bottle cuvée system and a selection of over 400 local wines, including Valette’s own label Valette Wines.
Just in time for the season of light, CW Magazine had the distinct privilege to sit down with ‘king of multitasking’ Dustin Valette to zone in on the greater mission he’s aiming to procure, like precious seeds in his hometown’s still fertile soil.
A Conversation With Chef / Restaurateur Dustin Valette:
Your parents played a big part in how your dreams took flight?
Both of my parents worked a lot and long hours. They were both pilots. My mom was a chief pilot for Reach Air Ambulances and my Dad was an aerial firefighter working for CDF. My two brothers, sister, and I grew up with a sense that no matter what went on in my parent’s busy days, we’d always have a guarantee that at some point in the evening we would sit down to dinner together as a family. Sometimes that wouldn’t be until 9:30 at night, but it would always happen. I remember loving this so much as a kid. It was this love that kicked off my career in the culinary arts. The knowing that food is more than just the consumption of calories. Food is about coming together, breaking bread together. Food is about us staying around the table talking, enjoying ourselves, appreciating life.
When I was about 13 my parents separated. We lost that sense of coming together at the table. It was at that time, at 13, that I started working professionally in restaurants. Looking back, that was my yearning for that cohesion, that coming together for dinner.
You chose the road less traveled in terms of your education and some of your people thought you were crazy. Please explain.
Well, I turned down a few scholarships to great universities to go to culinary school. Alot of my friends and family were pretty confused as to why I would turn down full scholarships to pay to train in a blue-collar career. It was the 90s and pursuing a career as a chef was not considered a legitimate choice.
However, when I told my Dad about my choice he said,’ You have to follow what’s calling you to get where you want to be.’ Dad had always told me from a very young age, ‘If you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life.’ I was very fortunate that both of my parents taught me this by example.
The majority of people do not find their way into something that they love. It’s so important to know that you can keep
searching if it doesn’t come to you right away. You have to keep looking. Don’t just fall into something to pay the bills. Of course, there is the burden of reality, we all have monthly bills. But if you keep insisting that you will find a job that will pay you for what you love to do, you will find it.
You were on a very bright culinary trajectory on a national level and you chose to bring all your gifts and experience back home. Please expound.
While working at VOX Restaurant near Las Vegas, the stock market crashed and the Vegas market wasn’t as ideal. I asked my wife ‘What do we want in life? What’s gonna make us happy? What’s our dream job?’ What came up for us the most was that we wanted to keep our family tight. We wanted to be part of a community. We wanted to be a part of something special. So we moved back to Healdsburg to be closer to my family; my mom, my dad, and we moved my mother-in-law up from the East Bay and started a new life. This is the best move we could have made.
Matheson Restaurant (and Valette) is steeped in layers of craftsmanship. Can you speak to how this in line with your greater mission?
From our handmade tables by Andrew Somawang, amazing photography by Andy Katz, the art on the walls painted for this venue by Jay Mercado, to our handmade plates, we seek out people who are passionate about their craft. It took months for Jay
Mercado to create these beautiful renderings that represent who we are as an agricultural community. Who we are is a collection of people passionate to showcase their craft. We also showcase farmers, ranchers, and grape growers. We want to create Matheson as a forum; a place to inspire others. We happily commissioned the pieces of art by Jay Mercado at Matheson. We paid for somebody’s craft because it has value. It has function and makes our souls content. I think this is what we have to focus on; what we need to excite the next generation about.
You like to say Matheson offers a seasonal menu of what ‘farmers can create.’ What do you mean by this?
We’re stewards of what our ranchers have, what our fishmongers have, what Chefs’ Warehouse has. Working with what is available now, for this season feels honest and integral. Like the awesome Flannery Meat which we buy from CW. Here’s an amazing vendor that we’re able to use and showcase and pay homage back to the Flannery family to mine back that dream. And our CW Rep. Sheri Barrows is amazing.
Your neighbor fellow Chef/Owner Kyle Connuaghton at Single Thread is your competition, but reportedly, he’s also your friend?
You could literally throw tomatoes at the two businesses. But we’re not fighting each other. It’s the opposite. If he needs something he calls me first. If I need something, I call him first. We share liquid nitrogen! We want each other to be highly successful. We want to come together in this way. I probably get less of what I want because he is taking some of my clientele and he probably gets less what he wants because I’m getting some of his clientele but the sum of the parts are greater than anything we ever imagined because we work together.
Can you speak to the responsibility of supporting our local farms and entrepreneurs?
We’re part of an important movement. We help sustain new farms, farmers, and ranchers. We’re able to help sustain people who would become a dying breed without this support. We also want to support entrepreneurs. To help people see there’s a path forward. You don’t have to come from large amounts of wealth or work for a large corporation. You can be a crazy entrepreneur and move forward. This type of movement enables us to play on the same field as Applebee’s because we’re able to buy a product at a good price, and sell it at a good price. And because of that profitability variable, we’re able to utilize that capital to pay our employees a fair wage. We will use this capital to pursue our dreams. We simply have to have more entrepreneurs. We have to have fewer regulations to make us successful and keep the American Dream alive.
Tis, ‘the season’. What are you most grateful for?
My wife and I are living in this magical time raising our beautiful five and six-year-old daughters. This time of year inspires me to reflect on how beautiful and gorgeous life is. After such challenging past two years, I am happy that we can have 20 folks together for a festive dinner. I’m looking most forward to being able to embrace people again; to stop by a friend’s house for a glass of wine, give a neighbor a hug and high-five a person walking down the street. That’s what I personally look forward to.