SIMI Winery Executive Chef Kolin Vazzoler grew up in North Vancouver, British Columbia, where his Italian grandfather made wine and grappa in the cellar and the family devoted much time to their garden where vegetables thrived year-round in the mild, maritime climate. Putting together a meal was always about making the most of what was in season.
“My family cooked Italian food that was rustic and casual,” Kolin says, “but we always used fresh ingredients and that made all the difference in the quality of the dishes. That experience I had growing up certainly lends itself to what is going on in California today.”
As a boy, he cooked with his mother and his Italian aunt. When he first started working, though, it didn’t occur to him to become a chef. But his passion for cooking eventually took over. He attended Vancouver Community College in Vancouver where he received both his culinary diploma and red seal certification—Canada’s highest level of government-certified endorsement granted only after a three-year apprenticeship is successfully completed.
Kolin landed his first job as at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver and worked at two other prestigious Vancouver restaurants before getting his first big break. He caught the eye of Gary Danko and spent eight years at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco as executive sous chef responsible for managing a staff of 20 at the highly acclaimed eatery.
“When I started there, the restaurant was less than a year old,” Kolin says. “It was an exciting time and Gary was a great help to me.”
Along with his abiding passion for cooking, in particular preparing Italian and Japanese food, Kolin also derives great satisfaction mentoring newcomers to his profession.
“I love it when you have someone just out of culinary school and is still very green,” he says, “and then two to three months later you see them able to do things without a second thought. You can see that the light bulb has turned on in their heads.”
In 2012, Kolin took his first winery position when he joined SIMI Winery as executive chef. Perhaps no winery could be more appropriate for someone with his background. “My father came over Italy,” Kolin says, “the same as the two Simi brothers who started the winery. And I’m second-generation Italian—just as winery matriarch Isabelle Simi was.”