Chef Stories: Executive Chef Steve Pickell, Café Champagne at Thornton Winery

January 6th, 2012

Steve Pickell, Executive Chef of Thornton Winery's Café Champagne in Temecula, CA

Executive Chef Steve Pickell raised and educated in San Diego, California, changed coasts in order to attend the Culinary School of Washington, D.C.  He then trained under Austrian chef Nora Pouillon at D.C.’s Restaurant Nora.  Pickell attributes his continuing interest in food, prepared from fresh, seasonal ingredients, to Pouillon’s influence.

Steve also worked in New York City, at the Manhattan Chile Company and the Yellow Rose Café.  Later, in San Francisco, he worked under renowned California Chef and writer Jeremiah Tower, Chef of Stars and Santa Fe Bar and Grill.  Pickell returned to Washington, D.C., in 1986 to become Chef de Cuisine at City Café owned by Pouillon.

Back to San Diego in 1988, Pickell became the sous chef under Chef Neil Stuart at Pacifica Grill, famous for it’s synthesis of

Steve Pickell in the kitchen

Southwestern and Pacific Rim food.  He then became the Executive Chef for The University Club, a private facility atop the Symphony Towers.  Under his direction, the club was honored as Club of the Year in 1991.

He was appointed Executive Chef at Café Champagne in 1993, and has been putting his own fresh spin on regional specialties for over fifteen years. Twice voted  “Chef of the Year, he won the prestigious California Restaurant Writers Association (CRWA) “Chef of the Year” award in 2003 and the Southern California Restaurant Writer’s Association “Chef of the Year” in 2005. He has been been instrumental in developing Contemporary Fusion Cuisine, which combines a variety of fresh, seasonal new dishes that have become house favorites.

Chef Pickell’s menu philosophy is complemented by Winemaker David Vegari’s concept of winemaking.  Their combined expertise showcases the regional characteristics of local grapes that make up the distinctive flavors of Thornton Method Champenoise Sparkling Wines and premium varietal wines.  This combination has made Thornton Winery’s Café Champagne a consistent award-winner year after year.


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