Frances Schultz on inspiration, purpose, and place
For our inaugural interview, we sat down with Frances Schultz, author of California Cooking & Southern Style and The Bee Cottage Story. You also might know her as a journalist, taste-maker, hostess extraordinaire, and choir member at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal church—Frances Schultz has many strings to her bow. At turns disarming and provocative, the charm that contributes to Frances’s reputation as an exceptional entertainer made our time together a total delight.
We have noticed that people who have fallen in love with the Santa Ynez Valley delight in sharing their stories of discovering this place. We were eager to hear Frances’s first impressions of the Valley, knowing that her roots are in far-away Tarboro, North Carolina, and that she has lived in cities throughout the South and East. Frances first visited the Valley while courting her now-husband, Tom Dittmer, at his Rancho La Zaca off Foxen Canyon Road. As someone who always thought of herself as an “East coast girl,” she didn’t expect to feel as at home in Santa Ynez as she did; in fact, Frances likened her previous trips to California to landing on Mars. But those early visits to Rancho La Zaca were auspicious. Two of Frances’ favorite places in the world are southern Africa and the South of France, and as she took in the vistas of Rancho La Zaca’s oak savannah, the vineyards, and the surrounding mountains, it hit her: “My gosh! It is Africa on one side of the road and the south of France on the other. This is my paradise!"
The more time Frances spent in the Valley the more it resonated with her. She was daily delighted by the interesting people she met, the Valley revealing itself to her as part cowboy town and part celebrity haven with the bonus of a vibrant food-and-wine scene and the landscape’s endless artistic inspiration. “Everyone seems to draw creatively from the environment here, whether they’re a rancher or a television writer,” she observed. Frances's latest book, California Cooking & Southern Style, is a nod to her Southern hospitality roots and “a love letter to the Valley and to our life here—and the food,” she laughs. For Frances, an occasional painter and sketcher—she insists she is “just dabbling” but we believe her artwork belies such modesty—the Valley inspired her to paint more. “I was out riding my horse one day and I thought, man I could be painting,” Frances recalled. “The valley has been this wonderful, unexpected sort of crucible for creativity for me. There are reasons we don’t understand why a certain part of the world speaks to us, but this place speaks to me, it just does.”
Frances’s horseback insight to resume painting illustrates her belief in the importance of recognizing and responding to the things that make you zing inside. “That is your soul talking to you,” Frances says. “When you hear it, listen.” Honoring that zing set Frances on the path toward journalism and writing. During her last semester at the University of Virginia, Frances took an elective magazine writing class and it changed everything, diverting her from a possible path to law school. “I just loved it. I loved the editors’ marks, I loved the writing and revising and cutting and pasting and all that old timey stuff. I loved it.” As if the magazine writing class were not galvanic enough, Frances had submitted an article over the proverbial transom to a national magazine—and they bought it. “That never happens!” Frances exclaimed, “but you know what they say about beginner’s luck? In The Alchemist, Pablo Coelho writes it is the universe telling you it wants you to succeed.”
Much time passed between the publication of that first article and Frances writing—let alone publishing—again, but she persevered, her love for the publishing world keeping her on the path that would lead to editorial roles at House Beautifuland Veranda magazines. “The path isn’t always clear and well lit, sometimes you have to track your way back onto it,” Frances reflects. “If I could talk to my younger self it would be to say, listen to yourself and trust your instincts, and keep going when the going gets tough, which it will. You will get there, I promise.”
Like most of us, Frances has been self-isolating to help stanch the spread of COVID-19. During this extended spell at home, she’s been cleaning house—literally and figuratively. It’s been an introspective time for Frances, contemplating where she wants to find herself on the other side of this experience. “What am I letting go of,” Frances asked herself, “and what am I going towards?” In answering this question, Frances is guided by one of her favorite quotes, from the late theologian Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
With that in mind, Frances sees herself moving toward the role of teacher, healer, and coach, within and beyond her métier of home and garden. As fans of Frances’ The Bee Cottage Story are aware, Frances knows from the transformative power of changing your environment. Remaking Bee Cottage became a metaphor for remaking her life, illustrating that the house is a home for the soul, and the process of changing your home can deliver personal growth and healing. Frances’s next book may pick up on this theme of coming alive through your home: finding your path, getting in touch with your creativity, and healing your spirit. “Each soul has many gifts. Unwrap them and give them to the world.” It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one with which we wholeheartedly agree.