Alex Fuentes, a Salvadoran-Jewish sous and research chef, chops pattypan squash at SingleThread restaurant in Healdsburg, Aug. 31, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Alex Fuentes, a Salvadoran-Jewish sous and research chef, chops pattypan squash at SingleThread restaurant in Healdsburg, Aug. 31, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Jewish stories on the plate at Michelin-starred SingleThread

With three Michelin stars and the No. 50 spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, SingleThread has turned Healdsburg into a food destination since opening in 2016.

Co-owned and overseen by the Connaughtons — Kyle is the head chef and his wife, Katina, the head farmer — SingleThread is known for its Japanese influences, from its menu to its serving vessels to its hospitality.

What is lesser known: The core team includes three Jews. Executive sous chef Alex Fuentes and pastry chef Emma Horowitz have been at the restaurant since nearly the beginning, and New York–based Tony Greenberg is the CEO and the third co-owner.

“Both Alex and Emma have been so integral, not only to SingleThread’s cuisine, but our culture,” Kyle Connaughton said.

Fuentes has played many roles at the restaurant, such as leading the crew that creates new dishes. While formally he’s the executive sous chef, informally he’s known as “the teacher” and “the talker.”

With a passion for reducing food waste, he’s constantly thinking of innovative ways to use cutting-board scraps and cosmetically challenged produce grown on the farm.

Whenever he sees anything being wasted in the kitchen, he said he hears the voice of his father, who grew up poor in El Salvador.

He also thinks a lot, he said, about climate change.

“Learning to live more sustainably is one of the most pressing things we can do right now,” he said.

Fuentes said that at first he had a hard time reconciling his love for the craft of making food with his desire to make an impact in the world. But at SingleThread he found multiple ways to wed the two.

The Japanese style of “preemptive hospitality, of anticipating a guest’s needs, has slowly allowed me to come out of my shell more,” he said. “We chat with our guests and break the fourth wall. By doing this, I’ve learned about this side of my personality that was more nurturing.”

With a reputation for being talkative in the kitchen, Fuentes also gained the moniker “teacher,” as he often mentors those just starting out.

“I love watching the young chef get an ‘aha moment,’ he said. “I get to teach and mold so many people so early in their careers.”

Fuentes, who is 31, was raised in a Jewish home, had a bar mitzvah and ate Shabbat dinner with his family most Fridays. His mother, who comes from a Romanian Jewish background, grew up in France where her family lived after the Holocaust. She came to the U.S. and met his father in the “shmata business” in Los Angeles, Fuentes told J.

While money could be tight, he said, “there was always great emphasis put on good food, wine and company. There was this idea that those things are the real joy in life, and if you don’t care about them, you’re kind of missing something.”

In the early days of SingleThread, it became a point of pride to introduce Jewish holiday foods to his colleagues from around the country and world, who might have had limited prior exposure.

One time he went to the effort of making latkes for “family meal,” which the staff shares before service begins.

“I was so adamant about what a real latke was,” he said. “Some of our Midwestern or Southern chefs had no interaction with Jews growing up, and it was a really fun aspect of educating them, as well as a fun thing to share.”

Now, there are enough Jewish chefs on staff that Jewish family meals are a regular feature.

Fuentes notes that he didn’t like hummus until he went to Israel, where he experienced the best, enjoying it with “velvety fresh pita with my feet in the sand.” Now if any chefs dare to make hummus for family meal at SingleThread, watch out: If Fuentes finds chunks in it, they will get a serious lecture.

“It cannot be chunky, it has to be smooth, with a good ratio of tahini,” he said. “I have real pride as a Jewish chef, and certain things have to be made just right.”

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, Fuentes starts each day with a bagel and a schmear. “My next tattoo will be a bagel,” he said.

Emma Horowitz. (Photo/Courtesy SingleThread)
Emma Horowitz. (Photo/Courtesy SingleThread)

Horowitz, who is 30, spent her earliest years on the Hawaiian island of Oahu with a bit of an Eloise-like existence. Her father had a career in the hospitality industry, managing hotels that the family often lived in.

The holidays were observed at home, she said, especially because being in Hawaii made her dad feel far from his roots.

“We did all those traditions that reminded my dad of home,” she said. “And my mom wanted to learn all of them.”

Horowitz’s mother would often ask her to help bake a dessert, and it became a way for them to spend time together. That continued well into high school when she became known as the baker among her friends.

While attending college in San Luis Obispo, the kitchen beckoned. “It was as if my soul found its place,” Horowitz said.

“My dad would make jokes about working in a restaurant being in my blood but would tell me, please don’t do it, it’s such a hard life,” she added.

Like Fuentes, she attended CIA Greystone. She did a few internships, but SingleThread was her first job out of culinary school, and she’s in it for the long haul. Her parents have since moved to Healdsburg.

If one were to encounter a dessert with apples and pomegranates with a rye crumb, that would be Horowitz referencing her Jewish heritage. But she’s just as likely to make a dessert out of the Japanese ingredients found in Hawaii, with toasted nori caramelized in soy sauce.

“The rye reminded me of growing up in delis, while the apples represented the haroset my mom would make for the seder plate,” she said.

She’s also likely to combine the two influences. She once made chocolate bonbons that she considered her version of Hanukkah gelt, with a crunchy matzah cookie crumble and miso ganache filling.

The chefs at SingleThread are encouraged to put their own stories on the plate. That directive has brought Horowitz’s heritage to the forefront in a way that it wasn’t always, she said. “It’s an important part of who I am, and a cornerstone of me.”

Small Bites

Bagels and bialys will be moving from the breakfast plate to the stage when Temple Sinai in Oakland presents “The Bialy Eaters” and “Bake Your Own Amazing Bagels: The Musical.” The curtain will rise at 3 p.m. Oct. 29.

“The Bialy Eaters,” the main event, is based on a book by food writer Mimi Sheraton. The production includes Jewish beatboxer Joshua Silverstein and orchestra director Ben Simon.

The short “Bake Your Own” will be the opener. It’s a singalong musical written by Oakland resident and bagel-making maven Laurie Leiber, borrowing from Tin Pan Alley. Leiber teaches workshops called “Bake Your Own Amazing Bagels.”

Tickets for $26 are available at

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."