It’s fitting that Hult’s tasting menu choices are named for elements such as “water” or “air”—it reflects the farm-to-table sourcing and culinary approach of Michelin-starred executive chef Michael Ellis. In addition to a prix fixe tasting menu, the restaurant, which opened in late 2013 in Los Gatos, serves a regular menu with main courses that include uni-crusted black cod, short rib “pot roast” and bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin. And Hult’s also boasts a long list of California wines.
SanJose.com: I read you started your culinary life (as many do) washing dishes and you never attended culinary school—yet you went on to earn a Michelin star. What was the progression of your career?
Ellis: We had a beach house in New Jersey and we’d go live there for the summer. There was this restaurant around the corner from our house…and when I was about 12, they sent me to work there. By the time I was 16, I was working the busiest station in the restaurant. I ended up going to Washington, D.C. [and] was a chef de cuisine at 23 but I felt like I needed to work under one of these superstars to get to the level I wanted to be at. Charlie Palmer was opening a steakhouse in D.C., I applied as a line cook and left a chef de cuisine position for a line cook. I was there for a month and they made me sous chef. About a year later, Charlie sent me to Healdsburg (Dry Creek Kitchen) where I became a sous chef for Michael Voltaggio, who won Top Chef. He moved on and I became chef. First year that I was the chef there, we got a Michelin star, Ivy Award from Restaurant Institutions and we were in the top 100 Bay Area in the Chronicle.
Some view farm-to-table as a buzzword, but you seem to have a deep passion for the practice. Why is farm-to-table sourcing important to you?
When I was at Dry Creek Kitchen I had a network of farmers where everything came from a local farmer. … They essentially wrote my menu; what they had is what I served and the quality of the ingredients was just unbelievable. I’m not at that level here yet. I have some relationships building and…I want to get as much as I can from local farms. Supporting those tiny, fragile businesses is important to me.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hult’s is the “Hult’s Experience.” Can you tell us more about it?
It’s a three-course prix fixe menu; you pick a theme, land, water, air or earth. These change on a daily basis. Sometimes when you get a tasting menu, the flavors are on two different ends of spectrum from first course to last course and it doesn’t all sit well. We’re really trying to focus on that, from the start of the meal to the finish. And it’s not a tiny taste where you’re going to walk out the door and still feel hungry.
The restaurant is young and you did big things at Dry Creek within your first year. What sort of future would you like to see for Hult’s?
Would we like to get a Michelin star here? Maybe someday. I just want to have fun. I want to be in a restaurant that’s full every day, you know. A Michelin star doesn’t mean anything if your restaurant is going to close in a year. I just want to continue to expand on the farm-to-table and getting more local farms involved.