By his own reckoning, Chris Czarnecki, executive chef at the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, Oregon, is “living the dream.” He can’t imagine anything else he’d rather do than head the kitchen in a fine dining restaurant surrounded by the local bounty of the Willamette Valley, not to mention some of the most noted pinot vineyards on the planet. While cooking in the Army in Iraq gave him valuable perspectives on stress and heat, growing up in a culinary family laid the foundation for his life’s work.

Chris Czarnecki

A fourth-generation chef, Chris took over the helm upon his father’s retirement in 2008, and since he’s been balancing maintaining the restaurant’s famous standbys with the invention of new dishes that allow him to pursue his creative impulses. He devotes two morning a week to kitchen experiments where he carries on his father’s “Freestyle Cooking,” a term Jack Czarnecki coined long before “fusion” was mainstream.

Chris Czarnecki in the Joel Palmer House wine cellar

Chris draws plenty of inspiration from the impressive wine cellar beneath the historic home that is stocked with more than five hundred different pinots, most of them from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He’s even created his own label through a partnership with Stag Hollow Vineyards in Yamhill County.

Shrimp being prepped in the Joel Palmer House commercial kitchen

Because you can’t make a film about wine without talking about food, I interviewed Chris about his experiences as a chef in the midst of one of the most noted wine regions in the world. He provided a chef’s perspective on food, cooking and pinot noir.