Appellation restaurant

Top Chef Charlie Palmer Is Starting a Luxury Hotel Brand for Foodies

The first Appellation locations will open next year in California and Idaho

Watch your back, Nobu Matsuhisa. As of 2023, you won't be the only Michelin-starred, James Beard Award-winning chef with their own high-end hotel brand—chef Charlie Palmer and the steakhouse sensation's partner, Four Seasons veteran Christopher Hunsberger, have founded Appellation, a hospitality collection that promises to cater to gastronomes by building every aspect of the properties around the local food and beverage scene of the destination they are located in.

"Christopher and I wanted to create a collection of hotels that set a new standard for culinary immersion. Our properties' epicurean offerings extend past their dining rooms [to] where food fosters community," Palmer told TripSavvy in an exclusive interview. "With Appellation meaning 'to give a name to a place,' our hotels' every detail ties back to their unique setting. Each offers a different point of view with an undiscovered culinary experience waiting to unfold."

"We share a common belief that food connects us to our community and that some of the best experiences in life are centered around memorable meals shared in a welcoming environment," Palmer continued. "Great dining experiences are fueled by and connected to our relationships with farmers, vintners, and the complete culinary ecosystem. This connection to the community will allow us to provide a truly authentic localized experience."

Charlie Palmer and Christopher Hunsberger

Courtesy of Appellation

The first three locales to get the Appellation treatment will be Sun Valley, Idaho, and Healdsburg, California, in 2023, and Pacific Grove, California, in 2024.

"When selecting destinations, we go through a process we call 'soul searching,' where we take a magnifying glass to an area, identify what makes it unique, and make sure that each property embraces its destination in all aspects of architecture, design, culture, and service," said Hunsberger, adding that Healdsburg was a "gimme" as both he and Palmer have resided there for years and already have strong ties to the aforementioned culinary ecosystem.

"We select places that have undiscovered culinary attributes only locals know about," he continued. "Sun Valley offers a one-of-a-kind mountain experience. Our Pacific Grove location will provide a new level of responsible access to the Monterey Bay coast."

How specifically the "culinary-first" model is implemented will vary from hotel to hotel. Still, every property will share some critical broad strokes like culinary gardens, guest hallway pantries stocked with artisanal snacks, cookbook libraries instead of personal minibars, maker spaces to showcase local talent, and demonstration kitchens in function spaces. Lobbies will feel more like kitchens than front desks, and each hotel will have signature Palmer restaurants and bars. (Palmer teased amazing seafood and a rooftop garden with views of Monterey Bay from 50 feet up, while in Idaho, he's planning a menu heavy on small-batch spirits, craft beer, and lamb.)

Appellation hotel guest room

Courtesy of Appellation

"Food at times can be a driving factor for travel decisions. We know through our own travels how a thoughtful meal or culinary experience can offer a sense of place," Hunsberger said. "With food and culture being so intertwined in telling a destination's story, we wanted to incorporate this feeling into the full stay from check-in to check-out. Travelers are yearning for these types of immersive experiences."

Some ideas being workshopped: a local knifemaker helps guests create a chef-quality blade to take home, cupping with local coffee roasters, live-fire cooking classes, fly-tying lessons and real-world testing of said flies on the Wood River, or learning to prep and prepare the perfect artichoke as Castroville, also known as the Artichoke Capital of The World, is less than 20 minutes from Pacific Grove. Palmer also let slip that Appellation Sun Valley will have a functioning observatory at the rooftop bar because the surrounding area is a certified dark sky community.

All new builds, the hotels will feature anywhere from 72 to 225 rooms, meeting and event spaces, a pool, spa, and a fitness center. Some projects will also include condo developments and luxury villa rentals. The brand's collection will be positioned at the 4.5-star level though both founders quickly clarify that doesn't mean pretentious. They are going for "approachable luxury" and design that Hunsberger said he hopes "will never look out of place and will be embraced by the community and the discerning traveler of today."

"Culinary excellence remains at the heart of the brand [but] we're [also] setting a new standard for culinary, culture, and community immersion," Hunsberger added. "We showcase [the destination] not just in the local cuisine, but in the design and materials we use to build our hotels."

Culinary excellence remains at the heart of the brand, but we're also setting a new standard for culinary, culture, and community immersion

And they should have a pretty good idea of what travelers want, given that they have decades of hospitality experience between them. Palmer was one of the first star chefs to eschew the stigma that has long surrounded the hotel eatery and currently has signature spots in hotels in New York City (The Knick, Archer Hotel); Rhinebeck, New York (Mirbeau Inn & Spa); Reno (Grand Sierra Resort) and Las Vegas (Four Seasons Hotel, Mandalay Bay Resort), Nevada; and California's Sonoma County (Hotel Healdsburg) and downtown Napa (Archer Hotel). He also has previous hotel ownership experience with Napa Valley's Harvest Inn in St. Helena and the Mystic Hotel in San Francisco.

"Unlike many other celebrity chefs, Charlie spent much of his life working in hotel environments and understands them better than any other culinarian I've worked with," Hunsberger said. "Charlie brings years of experience, an uncompromising vision, and the passion to create memorable experiences for guests."

The concept for Appellation has been brewing for four years, but Palmer and Hunsberger have known each other since working on a hotel project more than 20 years ago. Between them, the duo has 20 Michelin stars, multiple James Beard Awards, and time served at nearly five dozen hotels.

"Both Christopher and I spent our entire careers working and living in hotels," Palmer said. "Christopher is a hospitality visionary, and we share a deep understanding of the pivotal role food plays in the overall travel experience. We had this vision of merging hospitality with culinary in a different way and are excited to see it finally come to life."

Future Appellation outposts are already being planned in Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, San Diego, and over the hill from the Healdsburg property in the Napa Valley.