When it comes to exceptional employees, V. Sattui Winery has the propensity to find “hidden gems” among our staff. Meet Kat Zide, Assistant Cheesemonger of the V. Sattui Deli… AND chocolatier extraordinaire! Hired in July of 2020, Kat has been bringing her special touch of brilliance to the deli and kitchen offerings. More recently, she has started showing off some of her other skills to the benefit of every sweet tooth that walks through our door. We took some time to get to know this “hidden gem” a bit more personally.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Palmdale; the high desert area just northeast of Los Angeles. My parents started in Van Nuys, then moved us up to Palmdale. I was fortunate enough to move up here to attend the Culinary Institute of American (CIA). I really didn’t want to go back down to southern California and stayed up here. Now everyone comes to visit me! It’s nice because it’s far enough, but not too far.
When you went to the CIA, did you already know you wanted to work with pastries, baking, and chocolates?
I knew I wanted to do pastries just because I had helped my cousin, who’s a chef, with savory food and I was like, “Not my thing.” But I didn’t really know I wanted to do chocolate until the second year of my schooling. At first, you’re doing a little bit of everything. But then I had an externship – where you work somewhere and then come back to the school to finish your program – and they started having me do chocolate stuff, and I was really inspired. After that, I was like “Hey, I wanna do more chocolate!” I came back to school and started working with the chocolatier at the CIA as a student worker. It [chocolate] kind of just wiggled its way into my life and I had a knack for it, so it worked.
That’s fantastic! Seriously, how much more fun can you have than working with chocolate?
You can’t! You get paid to finger paint with the chocolate, you smell like chocolate. There’s always something to do in chocolate – not just chocolate truffles. There’s bark, there’s fudge, there’s caramel… there are so many more avenues with just steps and steps of improvement that I see for myself.
I heard you were at Kollar Chocolates [in Yountville] before coming to V. Sattui. Did you go to Kollar right after graduating from the CIA?
No, I ended up first working at the school. The chocolatier at the time had left before I graduated, so as a student I had taken over the chocolate program. Then after I graduated, I stayed for about a year and a half longer. When I found I had learned as much as I could from myself, I went to Kollar. I had a friend who worked there at the time and asked them if they needed any help.
I was at Kollar for about six years; I was a sous chef and helping with everything; not just sous cheffing but with the front of house as well – you know how it goes.
Indeed. Especially in a small business. I’ve been to Kollar… and it’s small!
It’s so tiny, and there is SO MUCH production that happens in that kitchen! I am very grateful for everything I learned there. The great thing about working there, and it being a small business, was you didn’t just learn about the kitchen, you learned business. It truly was like a class in business AND chocolate production.
How did you end up coming to V. Sattui Winery?
Well, the pandemic happened. I was talking with [Event Operations Manager] Virginia, and she had mentioned three or four months previously that V. Sattui was looking for a cheesemonger. Back then, I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” But after the pandemic happened, she said “Oh yea, we’re still looking for an assistant cheesemonger!” I was like, “OK!”
If I hear something twice, then I’m going to explore that avenue. I can’t ignore an opportunity thrown at me more than once. So now I’m here, and I’m super happy about it!
Tell me more about your cheesemongering. I understand it’s not quite what you had been doing before – so how’s it going?
It’s really good! Like you said, it’s nothing like what I’ve done before, but in a way, cheese is so affiliated with desserts. There are always dessert courses of cheese and something sweet to go with it. I love cheese. I recognized that I absolutely loved it but that I knew very little about it. So, I’ve been super excited to work with [Head Cheesemonger] Keith; not just to learn what cheeses there are and where they come from, but also because of those moments where I think, “Oh my god, I thought I was going to hate this cheese – and I don’t!” Then you learn about the details; little niche categories of cheese, seemingly identical, with subtle differences in this. It’s really fun to discover its similarities to chocolate. It’s very scientific and they’re both quite similar in that way. I appreciate that a lot.
We’re getting to see some of your chocolatier work in the Marketplace. How did that come about?
I’m really happy to getback into chocolate again. It’s such a big passion of mine… and I have an awful habit of buying chocolate equipment. Half the stuff I needed I already had just sitting at home, so I’m grateful that Will was able to bring it up and I am able to start creating again.
Now that your chocolate is for sale and on display, tell me a little bit more about it. What inspired the patterns, the designs, the flavors. What makes it special?
The flavors for the wine pairing chocolates were originally a raspberry truffle and a dark chocolate truffle. I love raspberry; that is like my home. I think dark chocolate is a little too intense for raspberry if it’s not controlled appropriately. Chocolate can be really bitter and it has a way of overpowering flavors that are more subtle and beautiful. I went with the milk chocolate filling and a little bit of butter just to help with the creaminess. There’s still a little bit of dark chocolate on the outside, but it’s just enough that it doesn’t deter from the milk chocolate. For the design on the raspberry truffle, I like things that reflect what the flavor is inside. It wouldn’t make sense to have blue on there, or orange, or anything like that unless it was for a baby shower or something super custom. So I said, “OK, it says raspberry, this is red.” That way it’s easily identifiable to the customer.
For the dark chocolate truffle, I saw we were offering jarred V. Sattui honey in the marketplace, and there’s an ingredient we use in the chocolate ganache that can be switched out with honey with no problem. You know, like how you can switch brown butter with regular butter just to add a little extra something special. So I did that, and I thought, “That’s a great way to promote TWO products at once!” For the design on that truffle: You know, honey can be so many different shades of amber and gold; so I added gold and amber splatters to reflect the different variances of the honey.
What about the bars of chocolate… the ones with the triangle patterns on them? I love that mold, by the way.
YEA! Chocolate molds are so much fun. I noticed there wasn’t just a straight-up dark chocolate bar being offered, and you know, I’m already working with the chocolate and I already have a bar mold, so why not produce it anyway? Then, you can’t forget the salt! Everything has to be seasoned. So dark chocolate and salt – we tried it out. They ended up selling really well, so we’ve been producing more and more.
Are there any other chocolate and/or cheese items you would like to see in the marketplace?
I think it would be fun to expand on the idea of chocolate bars. People have asked about milk chocolate, which we can do easily – like a milk chocolate almond bar. I’d also like to have chocolate bars that are filled – like a Madeira bar, where you can have Madeira caramel with a Madeira dark chocolate ganache, showing off the different versions of Madeira in a chocolate bar. I think that would be super fun!
Also, not every chocolate is designed to be put on a shelf; it has a shorter lifespan. With Events starting up soon, I think an “a la minute” truffle would be super fun. It’s a really thin chocolate shell that gets filled with fruits or mousse, and a ganache. I think that would be really neat to have; to make a special occasion feel even more special.
And then as far as cheeses go, honestly, Keith is doing an amazing job. He’s always changing things out. I love that we’re bringing in risers, to physically elevate certain cheeses. It helps the displays pop a lot more. I wouldn’t adjust anything Keith has been doing; he’s doing great.
Is there anything else you want to say about your experience coming to V. Sattui?
I love the community at V. Sattui. Everyone is here to help out. No one is like, “Oh, that’s not my job.” It’s always, “OK, what can I do to help you out?” That’s so great, and you don’t see that in every place you go. And then it’s fun having all these different groups of guests coming in here. They’re not here just for the wine – while that might be the initial allure – they discover there is a food program here as well that elevates the experience and helps sustain the community, as far as chefs go. I also think it’s really awesome to have so many house-made items in the Deli as well. I appreciate it all.
Taste them for yourself! Guests visiting V. Sattui Winery for a wine tasting are encouraged to upgrade to include Kat’s delicious 2-piece chocolate pairing. Five-piece chocolate sets and chocolate bars also available for sale in the Marketplace and included in most of our wine & gift basket sets.