PHILO, Calif. (AP) — Sally Schmitt, who founded The French Laundry restaurant in California’s wine country and helped start the region’s farm-to-table movement, has died. She was 90 years old.
Schmitt died March 5 at her home in the town of Philo, Mendocino County, after several years of declining health, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Saturday.
Schmitt and her husband Don opened The French Laundry in 1978 after spending four years renovating a rustic building that once served as an actual laundry.
They never had time to put a sign outside, didn’t advertise and didn’t accept credit cards. Still, the restaurant gained a reputation for its ever-changing prix fixe menu, where diners could choose from three starters, soup, entree, salad, and a choice of three desserts at a fixed price.
The couple used produce from local producers and offered Napa Valley wine.
Tables were reserved months in advance.
The couple sold the restaurant in 1994 to chef Thomas Keller, whose award-winning cuisine transformed The French Laundry, along with Napa Valley, into a food and wine destination.
Keller retained the Schmitt restaurant name and continued Sally’s tradition of inviting guests into the kitchen after a meal. It also pays homage to it each year by serving one of its fixed price menus.
“Sally operated from a minimalist kitchen that somehow reflected her style of cooking,” he wrote in the preface to his book, “The French Laundry.” “There was nothing demagogic about Sally’s food. His repertoire employed Gallic touches but also drew on elements dear to Americana: tomato soup, braised oxtails, cranberry and apple kuchen. »
After selling the restaurant, the Schmitts operated an apple farm in Philo where Sally taught cooking to students who came from all over the country to study with her and her daughter, Karen Bates.
“I really did what I loved to do, which was always just cooking great food for those I loved,” she wrote in her upcoming cookbook, “Six California Kitchens: A Collection of Recipes, Stories, and Cooking Lessons From a Californian cooking pioneer.
“That’s what counted. That’s all that mattered.
Besides Karen, she is survived by children Kathy Hoffman, Johnny Schmitt, Eric Schmitt and Terry Schmitt; 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 2017.