Maria Helm Sinskey
Maria Helm Sinskey is the culinary director at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa, California—though she’s known around the winery as chief cook and bottle washer. As a winery chef, Sinskey lives by the seasons and always has her hands in the soil.
• Earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Union College in Schenectady, New York; Culinary degree from California Culinary Academy in San Francisco
• Trained under legendary French chefs Emile Jung, Paul Bocuse, and Georges Blanc
• Studied pastry, cake decoration, and sugar work at the Konditoriet Tivoli Pastry School Intensive with Gert Sørensen in Copenhagen, Denmark
• Culinary idols include MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, and Richard Olney
• Winner of the 2010 IACP Cookbook Awards in the Children, Youth and Family Category
• Named Rising Star Chef by the San Francisco Chronicle and Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef
• Author of “The Vineyard Kitchen” (William Morrow, 2003) and “Williams-Sonoma: Family Meals” (Oxmoor House, 2009)
• Stays fit by hiking, rowing, swimming, and doing yoga.
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Changing with the Seasons
Maria Helm Sinskey knows all about seasonality. Growing up, food carried the passing of time in her Italian great-grandmother’s house.
She would sit in the corner of the kitchen as a small girl, dipping crusty bread into a warm bowl of tomato sauce amongst a swirl of legs. When she was old enough, she stood over the wood-fired stove, helping her great-grandmother can the plum tomatoes from her garden before the days grew dark and cold.
And in late fall after the last figs were picked, she watched her great-grandfather carefully wrap the tree trunk with straw to ensure its survival over the winter.
These moments ingrained a deep appreciation of seasonality, food, and family. But Sinskey’s kin wasn’t the only family to influence her culinary style. During a high school student exchange trip to France, her eyes opened to the French-accented art of dining.
The long midday meals with her French family involved sharing food and stories in a completely different way from her hurried tray lunches at school in the U.S. Tasting wine with food wasn’t taboo for a teenager either. This experience planted the seed that would eventually blossom into a career that intertwines food and wine at her family’s winery in Napa, California.
Seasonality comes full circle in her role at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Fruits and vegetables harvested from the winery’s organic orchards and gardens are at the center of the plate. A flock of sheep used in the winery’s biodynamic farming eventually provides the herb-scented lamb shoulders she turns slowly on a spit over a live fire.
“My mantra is to keep it simple,” she says.
As a winery chef, Sinskey sees a meal come to fruition from the soil to the table—something she loves to pass onto others. In this spirit, Sinskey’s two daughters are carrying the family torch of culinary traditions by respecting the seasons, appreciating wine at the table, and letting nothing go to waste.
“The fiber of society is held together by food, starting with the family,” she says. “Families that are well-nourished and share stories of their day are more ready to face the challenges that life brings and stay connected.”
Maria Helm Sinskeyis also part of Simple Feast, an app the hosts an amazing community of Chefs and their delicious recipes. To view more recipes by Maria and other incredible Chefs go to Simple Feast.
Sweet, juicy jumbo asparagus