By Jennifer Moulaison | Photos courtesy of PRESS Restaurant
The adage “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” seemed to prove true for the current executive chef at Press. After building a dazzling culinary resumé, Philip Tessier’s plans to open his own restaurant in Yountville serendipitously fell through at the beginning of last year, allowing him to pivot. He’s taken on a more collaborative, hands-on role at Press, becoming a partner at the premier St. Helena dining destination. The focus at Press is now on elevating the existing menu while supporting the community on a grassroots level.
Tessier studied at the Culinary Institute in New York, then ventured abroad to Paris to soak up further techniques before settling in to his career in the kitchens of some of New York’s top restaurants, including Le Bernardin and Per Se. When Tessier and his wife started a family, he began to consider taking his talent to a slower-paced community. He joined Bouchon in Yountville as chef de cuisine, then moved next door and was executive sous chef at The French Laundry. In 2015, Tessier competed in the Bocuse d’Or, the world’s most rigorous culinary competition. Held every two years in Lyon, France, since 1987, the competition selects 24 countries to compete for its coveted gold medal. Tessier received the silver medal and was the first American ever to place. Two years later, Tessier stepped into a coaching role, helping team USA to receive Bocuse d’Or’s gold medal. He went on to write a book, titled Chasing Bocuse, on his experience.
At the end of this extraordinary stretch, when Tessier found himself missing the atmosphere of the kitchen, the owner of Press, Samantha Rudd, scooped him up to join her team. While the original concept for the restaurant—born out of founder Leslie Rudd’s passion for fine cuisine and exquisite spirits—is being preserved, changes are occurring that intend to delight the loyal base of local diners as well as new and returning visitors to the region.
“You’re always balancing the desire to be a nationally recognized restaurant with the need to serve the usual crowd that comes in every Tuesday night for their favorite dish,” explains Tessier. “I’ve never worked somewhere quite so ingrained in the community—right down to its wine program. The people who make our wines are our regular guests. The relationship has been a lot of fun and ties into our philosophy of focusing on supporting the region.”
Apparently, opportunities to support the community have never been more abundant. Following the devastating fires that gripped much of Napa in the last year, Tessier and the team at Press have worked to support the local farms as much as possible. “One of our produce suppliers, Meadowood, went down in the fires, and we’ve been working with them to try and help them rebuild,” says Tessier. Also, with funding from the Rudd Foundation, which Leslie Rudd started for charities, Press sought to partner with a nonprofit to help serve meals to the community and ended up alongside the Boys and Girls Club. Through this partnership, Press has served more than 30,000 meals to families in need in the region.
The many changes currently taking place at Press come down to a single goal: to acknowledge the history of the restaurant while providing much more diversity. “Steak has been something of a legacy for us, and we’ll always offer steak, but we’re far from being just a steakhouse,” says Tessier with a smile in his voice.