Healdsburgs Relish Culinary Adventures

By Kathleen Thompson Hill / Photography By Michael Woolsey | May 20, 2016
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Enriching the Community One Recipe at a Time


Like many modern food and wine growers, makers and feeders of other people, Relish Culinary Adventures owner Donna del Rey came to her tasty profession after a career doing something completely different.

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, del Rey began her working career as an intern with IBM in 1983. She started out taking calls on the company’s help line, learning on the job. Quietly, through the research she undertook to assist her callers, she amassed a substantial body of knowledge, and she learned to write code, as well.

Rising through the ranks, del Rey eventually found herself in marketing, which meant lots of international travel—and, of course, experiencing and enjoying cultures and cuisines all around the world.

Del Rey says that in her work at IBM, forming partnerships with other top corporations throughout the world, she was motivated by a desire to “find win-win situations and opportunities for everyone to be successful.” Which is exactly what she does today at her Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg. A “culinary education” business offering cooking classes, tours and other “creative culinary events,” Relish’s ethos comes from del Rey’s belief that food and wine folks “depend on lots of people to be successful, including other chefs and winemakers.”

“It all has to work for all of us,” she cites as one of the main reasons she brings in so many well-known local chefs to teach and cook at Relish.

Del Rey and her husband, Jim Morris, left their respective tech and marketing careers in San Francisco and moved from Bernal Heights to Healdsburg in 1997, “wanting to be part of a community and not telecommuting.”

Now a wine consultant, Jim started in the wine industry as a lowly “paid intern,” which he did for a year at a time in small family wineries, learning as he went, and moved into larger wineries as he worked his way up the winery ladder.

Meanwhile, Jim and Donna made friends around Healdsburg, most of whom also enjoyed food and cooking. Soon they started to hold dinner parties together. Del Rey recalls that friend Teresa Brooks one day said, “We need to open a cooking school.” And so they did.

The duo looked to The Apple Farm in Philo and Ramekins Culinary School in Sonoma for inspiration, and started to cook out of del Rey’s kitchen and hold classes in people’s homes, and outside along the Russian River, and even offered paella classes on Pacific Ocean beaches. Packing a table, an induction cooktop and plates and silverware, the “roving cooking school” developed quite a following for slightly offbeat and elegant culinary adventures.

After the first year, Brooks realized she wanted to spend more time with her family and pulled out of the enterprise, leaving del Rey to become even more creative. But she understood that she needed help, so she brought in an office manager, both working out of her house.

Eventually the Hotel Healdsburg approached del Rey and offered to build a cooking center to suit her needs, allowing her to begin holding classes at the hotel in the meantime.

Relish’s Cathy Smith—designed commercial kitchen and event space next to the Hotel Healdsburg opened in 2008.

Today, Relish offers classes and events that cover everything from wine country cuisine to ethnic specialties, cheesemaking, butchering, bread baking and kids’ cooking classes. The Relish team also leads corporate team-building events, and hosts private cooking parties for friends just looking to have fun together. All in addition to continuing their specialty of unique “roving” wine country cooking and eating experiences.

Recent offerings include classes and demonstrations by local food luminaries Bruce Aidells, John Ash, Carrie Brown, Anne Cornell, John Franchetti, Roy Lippincott, Louis Maldonado, Joy Pezzolo (bread baking) and Mark Stark. Elissa Rubin-Mahon led a wild mushroom foray and demonstration lunch, and chef Dino Bugica of Diavola Pizza taught a hands-on Snout-to-Tail Pig Butchering Workshop where participants were able to take home the results of their work.

Del Rey says that the mission of Relish Culinary Adventures is “to encourage people to cook at home more often so they can, in turn, nurture family and friends with delicious and healthful food cooked with love, to support local farmers and food producers by using the freshest and cleanest ingredients, and to create a sustainable and rewarding work environment for its employees.”

Looking back on Jim and Donna’s intention on moving to Healdsburg in 1997 to “be part of a community and not telecommuting,” they have certainly accomplished that. In addition to coordinating the chefs and food for Sebastopol’s annual Gravenstein Apple Fair, Petaluma’s California’s Artisan Cheese Festival and Charlie Palmer’s Pigs & Pinot event in Healdsburg every year, del Rey also serves on the Healdsburg Unified School Board.

As a matter of fact, they are not only a part of their community, they are an integral part of what makes it so rich and vibrant.

RelishCulinary.com

Relish chef Anne Cornell with Ron Mead, Jane Mead, Laura Mead and Matt Thorson

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