Janet Fletcher credits her garden, “a terraced landscape of roses, fruit trees and raised vegetable beds,” as the inspiration for her daily cooking and an antidote to deadline stress.
Fletcher has a multi-layered career: she’s a food writer, cookbook author and publisher of “Planet Cheese.”
She also develops and tests recipes for cookbooks and magazine features.
Fletcher wrote that she discovered farmers’ markets and the pleasures of the table as a college student in Provence.
Shelving plans for business school, “I enrolled in cooking school instead. But it was the two years I spent as a cook at Chez Panisse that shaped my taste, honed my skills and nurtured my interest in fresh produce, small-farm issues and traditional foodways,” said her website.
As a Bay Area journalist — first at the Oakland Tribune, then at the San Francisco Chronicle — Fletcher has “spotlighted the trends and profiled the people who make Northern California such an exhilarating place to cook, eat and work.”
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Today, she continues to write about food and wine; teach cooking and cheese-appreciation classes, often for private groups; collaborate with chefs, wineries and restaurants on book projects; and undertake custom writing and recipe projects for food and wine clients.
“I’ve made my living as a food writer since 1983,” she wrote. “Whoa, almost 40 years!”
In spare moments between deadlines, you can find her in the garden.
1. Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?
1) My husband. Fortunately, I get to do this every night.
2) My mother. A daughter never has enough time with her mother. Alas, I lost her three years ago.
3) Margit Biever Mondavi. I co-wrote Margrit’s two memoirs so we had numerous meals together. She was a natural storyteller, with so many great stories to tell, and she did like to gossip so I learned a lot of Napa Valley insider history from her.
2. What was your childhood ambition?
Honestly, I wanted to be a writer. I read “Little Women” probably five times as a kid, and I identified totally with Jo, the sister who became a writer. I used to climb into the big mimosa tree next door, perch on a branch with my notebook and write stories.
3. What’s the worst job you ever had?
Working in my dad’s furniture store one summer during college. He tried to teach me bookkeeping. I’m good at numbers, but I had zero interest in it. I couldn’t wait for the fall semester to start.
4. How did you get into the food industry?
I have an expensive college degree in economics, but I really wanted to explore a culinary career after graduation. So instead of getting my MBA — the original plan — I enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America.
5. What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Well, the pandemic wasn’t great for my cheese and wine classes. I had to pause them and transition to virtual tastings, which I actually enjoyed hosting and still do.
But I am very relieved and happy to resume the World Cheese Tour, my monthly in-person classes, in Napa (as of late March) and introducing people to the world’s great cheeses face to face.
Cookbook author and Napa Valley resident Janet Fletcher has published a new book that explores winery gardens.
6. What’s on your to-do list?
Living in Italy for a year. Doesn’t everyone want to do that? But if you’re talking about “to-do list” as in chores, I definitely need to have a garage sale. I live with a packrat, and we have way too much stuff.
7. Who do you most admire in the business world?
In my world of food, I most admire Alice Waters. She is not a business person in the traditional sense. I worked for her for two years as a cook and she never asked how much anything cost.
People around her made sure her restaurant, Chez Panisse, could pay its bills, but she was the visionary. She taught me to value ingredients over technique in the kitchen, and her Edible Schoolyard project — teaching kids where their food comes from — is environmental education at its best.
8. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
Becoming fluent in Italian. Not gonna happen but I’m having fun trying.
9. If you could change one thing about the food industry, what would it be?
I wish great cheese did not cost so much so more people could afford to enjoy it often. The economics of the American dairy business and cheese distribution are challenging. Dairy farms are vanishing. Distributors are closing or merging.
I don’t know many people making a killing in the artisan cheese world, yet retail cheese prices can make it seem like they are. In “Planet Cheese” I try to steer readers to good values.
10. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
I would love to visit traditional cheesemakers in the Swiss Alps as soon as the snow melts and they start making cheese in their mountain chalets. I have visited a lot of cheesemaking regions and seen a lot of cheese being made, but I’ve never had this experience.
For more about Fletcher, visit janetfletcher.com
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