Previously known for its romantic riverside views but not so much for its cuisine, the Jenner Inn and Restaurant suddenly deserves to have its own star on the Sonoma foodie road map. New chef Helena Giesea, who just arrived this spring, is that rare find: a passionate food fanatic who practices exactly what she preaches — and with no outsize ego to overlook, either.
When you first meet Helena, her youth and enthusiasm are contagious, but you wonder if she’s got the experience to pull off her ambitious endeavors. She does; her resume includes stints at Fleur de Lys, Cyrus, and Farmhouse Inn.
But she left the formality of such places behind when she came to Jenner, which is in keeping with this roadside inn’s low-key ambiance. Helena hails from Sweden, where she competed for the title of Miss Fitness. Her focus is on food that’s farmer’s market-fresh and uber-heathy; on the day I dined at Jenner Inn, she was serving whole-grain bread she’d baked that morning. She has started a blog on the Inn’s website where she lists local purveyors whose products she cooks with. Names like Bellweather Farms, Laura Chenel, and Andy’s Produce let you know that what’s on your plate came from just up the road.
Tucked into the hillside just before Highway 1 crests the hill for a view of the Pacific, Jenner Inn and Cottages makes a great weekend getaway from the Bay Area, with simple rooms and cottages, many of them with private riverside decks. Helena’s generous farmhouse-style breakfast is included with a night’s stay.