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The Local Dish: 05/15/2013

The Local Dish

Catherine Venturini, Chef/Owner Olive & Vine Restaurant and Olive & Vine Catering

Hanging on the green-tiled wall of Olive & Vine’s kitchen, a chalkboard reads: “Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.” If this has been chef and owner Catherine Venturini’s unofficial motto over the last few decades, it seems to have served her well.

Completely self-taught, Venturini has been working professionally in a kitchen since she was 17. Coming of age in an Italian family in 1970s San Francisco, Venturini said her developing love-affair with food was heavily filtered through the lens of the Alice Waters’ food revolution.

After more than 10 years of running the popular Olive & Vine Catering in Glen Ellen – and now a restaurant by the same name – Venturini still prefers to use organic, local and seasonal ingredients in what she calls her “rustic wine country” cuisine.

One of Venturini’s early memories in the foodie-fueled cuisine revolution, was working under a formally French-trained Ukrainian chef at Mudd’s in San Ramon. He didn’t have much patience for anyone in his kitchen, much less a woman, but under his harsh guidance, Venturini said she learned quickly. By the time she was 21, she had been executive chef at two restaurants and was looking for more.

“I wanted to travel and see the world. When you have skills like being a chef, you can do it just about anywhere,” said Venturini, “So I took my knives and bought a one-way ticket and went to visit a friend.” When Venturini landed in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, she got a job as a sous chef at a resort. Not long after that, Venturini opened her own restaurant called “Indies,” which she turned into a high-profile destination for over a decade.

Deciding to move back closer to family, Venturini swapped one paradise for another and moved to Kenwood, opening Olive & Vine Catering in 2002. Although many might think of the food scene in St. Croix as a world away from Sonoma Valley, Venturini said she had to do minimal adapting, “[In St. Croix] we changed the menu every day. It is sort of fly-by-night operation with ingredients there because it’s an island, so you stay flexible. I think around here it’s really the same concept with our idea of seasonal and farm-to-table.”

Venturini said when she began catering in Sonoma County, her corn risotto cakes were the number one requested item on her menu and so when she decided to expand into dinner in 2011, it was also the first dish to go on that menu. “They are still one of our signatures, with seasonally changing ingredients like wild mushrooms or kabocha squash,” said Venturini. “I’m Italian, so I love risotto. Since we’ve been doing them over 12 years now, more people in the area have started offering them, too…but I still think we do them the best.”

In addition to catering and dinner, on Sundays Olive & Vine turns into a Supper Club with live music, frequently featuring Venturini’s husband, musician John Burdick and friends. Olive & Vine is located at 14301 Arnold Drive (in Jack London Village) and can be reached at 996-9152 or

Corn Risotto Cakes


2 cups Arborio rice

1 large or 2 small leeks, cleaned and chopped in small dice

cup white wine

3 ears fresh white corn, cut off cob*

(*Save cobs for vegetable stock, see below)

1 t. salt (to taste)

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1 cup panko and cup parmesan for breading

Canola oil for frying

Make stock by adding corn cobs, some cut carrot, leek ends, celery to 8 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Simmer on low for one hour, until sweet corn flavor is reached.

Sauté leeks over medium heat until soft, not browned. Add Arborio rice and sauté on medium for 5 minutes. Add wine and corn, cook until almost dry.

Add hot stock a cup at a time, cooking slowly until rice is al dente, not too al dente though! It should be wet but not runny. Add parmesan and salt to taste. Spread on a greased cookie sheet (should be about 1-inch thick).

Chill for 4 hours or overnight. Cut cakes with a cookie cutter, Bread lightly in the panko mixture. Heat oil in skillet, -inch deep, to 375º.

Fry cakes until golden, drain on paper bags. Can be reheated easily in the oven.


– Chef Catherine

If you are a local chef in Kenwood, Glen Ellen or Oakmont and have a favorite dish with a great story, email Sarah Phelps at

Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.

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