“I grew up in a family that was 100% focused on food and wine,” Hoffman says. His grandparents, Don Schmitt, son of a butcher, and Sally, farmer’s daughter, opened their first restaurants, two casual spots called the Chutney Kitchen and Vintage Café, in the sleepy Yountville of 1967. In 1978, the property across the street became available; the Schmitts sold the other spots and bought what they christened The French Laundry.
Sally was the cook, and though she had no formal training, she had a fierce following of fans. “At that point, the restaurant catered to old Napa Valley,” Hoffman says. “Their clients were Louis M. Martini, the Mondavis, Krug and so forth. They were booked three months in advance all the way back then.” Hoffman says his grandmother was a pioneer of “California cuisine” at the time, along with contemporaries such as Alice Waters. “She was one of the first people in all of California to have direct food and wine pairings on menus,” he says.
Hoffman’s mother, Kathy, worked as a waitress at the Laundry while doing the flower design as well; so the restaurant served as young Perry’s daycare, preschool and sitter. “My grandmother would put an apron on me and have me start roasting bell peppers and making crostini and chopping parsley. Those were my very first tasks when I was five years old,” he says. “But it was kind of funny, I was on the payroll, so I would get a paycheck at age five.”