We’ve got quite a cast of characters among the Carpe Vino crew, so we’re building a new section of employee profiles of our staff in the kitchen and the front of the house. Leading of this new series is a profile of Executive Chef Eric Alexander.
The Sacramento media has finally woken up to what we’ve known since April 2006 when we opened Carpe Vino’s restaurant: Executive Chef Alexander is a true talent with immense skills and culinary insight. In the most basic of facilities, he directs a team that produces delightfully imaginative menus, extracts incredible flavors from any produce he touches, impresses the most demanding of foodies, manages costs and people like a true professional and does it all with a level of modesty and humanity that endears him to every member of the Carpe Vino family.
Four stars (out of four) from the Sacramento Bee; five stars (out of five) from Sacramento News & Review; and three years in a row, his kitchen has been named among the Top 100 Best in America by OpenTable. . .and no one deserve it more than Chef Alexander. He has worked hard to perfect his craft and at this moment, he’s at the top of his game.
Raised in Vestal, NY, not far from Binghamton, Chef’s life in cooking began in his family’s kitchen. “I loved the feeling of cooking for someone and then getting their reaction,” he said. “I liked giving them something they didn’t expect and the act of doing something for someone else. . .I get that same feeling today.”
His first real job was during high school at a family-owned Italian restaurant where he continued to work during college breaks. He started out as a Hospitality Business major at Michigan State, but concluded business wasn’t his strong suit so he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, NY, in 2000.
The CIA was the perfect place for him, just two hours from home. “I loved it,” he said. “The facilities were state of the art, the instructors were great and everyone around you had the same passion—it was total immersion.”
It was also a place where he made lifelong friends—like Abraham Conlon, owner of acclaimed Fat Rice in Chicago—and, most importantly, his life partner and Carpe Vino pastry chef, Courtney McDonald. The two met in culinary school but didn’t hook up until after graduation.
Then the pair entered the field at restaurants on the east coast: Poste Modern Brasserie at the Monaco Hotel in Washington, D.C. and Harvest Restaurant in Brookfield, Conn. In 2003, they moved to Foresthill to work at the Monte Verde Inn, not far from Courtney’s family in Auburn, followed by Eric’s stint in the dining room at Bootlegger’s in Old Town.
In 2006, Eric and Courtney were co-chefs with the opening of Carpe Vino’s restaurant. “It was a serendipitous thing,” Chef Eric said. “It was like, ‘Oh, wow,’ this is perfect.”
When Courtney decided to enter an internship with Dan Macon of Flying Mule Farm, Chef Alexander shouldered on solo, sharpening his sills while building a reputation in his kitchen. In 2013, Courtney returned as pastry chef.
“My style of cooking has always been using technique to enhance great ingredients and riff off the classics,” Chef Alexander explained. “But I don’t like to manipulate too much; I’m not a big fan of surprise and whimsy, though I respect it. I want the diner to know what they are eating.”
He added, “More and more I like to seek new ingredients with clean flavors, especially working with local farmers. I can change the form while extracting more flavor—it keeps me interested and our customers seem to love it.”
Eric and Courtney own a five-acre farm near Auburn where they live with their daughter, Josephine. They grow vegetables and flowers; maintain orchards and raise lambs. . .and help supply Carpe Vino with core ingredients for the restaurant.
For more on Chef Alexander, click here for Blair Anthony Robertson’s SacBee review of Carpe Vino.