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Central California Life Magazine

Savor Erna’s Elderberry House turns 30 in glamour, style

Feb 17, 2015 10:13PM ● By Cen Cali Life Magazine


Erna’s Elderberry House turns 30 in glamour, style

by Amy Guerra

Her black hair perfectly cropped, the impeccably dressed Erna Kubin-Clanin escorted me back into the kitchen, her heels clicking rhythmically across the tile floor of Erna’s Elderberry House. Although we’d never met, she greeted me the same way she greeted all her guests that night – with a familiarity, a smile and warmth.

I’d been to the world-renowned restaurant and châteaux before, but tonight was different. Tonight was a culmination of the last 30 years of Kubin-Clanin’s life and, coincidentally, the 60-year anniversary of Relais and Châteaux, a global association of 520 of the world’s finest hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs, each united by their commitment to the “Art de Vivre,” (or the “Art of Living”).

It was impossible not be drawn to Kubin-Clanin. Her Austrian lilt melodic, she gently adjusted the shoulder of my shirt when I wasn’t looking, drawing me into the flawless world she’d created.

“Don’t mind me. I do it to everyone.”

She motioned me to follow her into the immaculate kitchen where Chef Toni Mörwald was working, and I did, not wanting to disappoint my new muse. Leaning over, she whispered in my ear, “He’s one of the world’s most exciting chefs!”

Indeed, the excitement was palatable as he stood, dressed in all white, his name embroidered on his chest. Surrounded by staff, he moved from the stove, to the preparation area, to garnishing plates with a distinct and captivating grace.

Like Ms. Erna, his passion was contagious. Mörwald, widely regarded as one of Austria’s finest chefs, is an accomplished author and has written or contributed to more than 10 cookbooks. A regular on Austrian TV and radio, he was nominated Chef of the Year in 2004 and named “Euro Toques Master Chef” in 2008. He is also on the list of Relais & Châteaux Grand Chefs.

Erna’s Elderberry House and Châteaux de Sureau was the first property outside of Europe to be included among the elite members of the 60-year-old hospitality group.

Kubin-Clanin was the cook at the tiny Redwood Inn inside Yosemite Park when she began dreaming of owning her own place. In 1984, she made that dream come true and purchased the Elderberry Estate, named for the multitude of elderberry bushes that grow across the property.

Three years later, Craig Claiborne, a formidable New York Times critic ate a clandestine meal at the restaurant, and brought national recognition to the restaurant, and eventually the châteaux, which Kubin-Clanin, seeing that there was a lack of luxury accommodations in the area, created to accommodate her patrons.

Now home to the Spa Sureau, and Villa Sureau, its been recognized as a “five star” resort by Forbes, a “five diamond” resort by AAA and has made Conde Nast’s “Gold List” nearly every year since 2006, (including this year). The destination is a favorite among foodies, critics and celebrities.

There is no doubt that “Ms. Erna,” as so many have come to know her, is a star. She is a perfect host, an accomplished businesswoman and a magician – turning fairy tales and dreams into reality and food, wine and hospitality into an art form.