Chef Christopher Kostow unearths the stories of his beloved Napa.
At The Restaurant at Meadowood, no fork, carrot, glaze or rabbit is safe from philosophical or aesthetic examination. Chef Christopher Kostow is developing his exacting way, and that’s the tao of it. “Specificity is sort of like the Platonic form,” he says. “If you’re doing something right, it is what it is—if we’re getting the best squab, the best possible producer, using the best technique. That becomes specific to us.” He points to their signature of cooking potatoes in beeswax. A recipe emerged when the block was left over from a tutorial. “With its hint of sweetness, we wanted to do something earthy. There’s some really fresh acidity to sorrel. That’s pretty much all it is.” Likewise, they cook with clay because it has culinary value. “Once we know they exist as part of this landscape, we feel compelled to make them part of the story,” he writes in his new cookbook, A New Napa Cuisine (Ten Speed Press).
Kostow began as a philosophizing teenage fry cook in Highland Park, Ill. (“elbow-deep in seasoned flour and raw chicken”), and slowly climbed the ladder: working 9 a.m. to midnight in France; handpicking produce at Chino Farms in Rancho Santa Fe for Trey Foshee; sous cheffing under Daniel Humm at San Francisco’s Campton Place. He lived in a prefab house behind tiny Chez TJ in Mountain View and garnered much attention for his two Michelin stars, all before he decamped to Meadowood and won three. Over the past seven years, he has transformed the resort into a culinary destination. He now has a wife, Martina, a daughter, Daisy, and a book.
A New Napa Cuisine isn’t your typical restaurant cookbook. Shot by Peden+Munk and filled with essays, it’s a documentary-like glimpse—mornings in the light-dappled garden; foraging and frogging; designing pottery. Development began He writes: “I came to realize that these talented people were not in this place alone, disconnected. Rather, they are the collective spirit of Old Man Niebaum, of the Chinese laborers whose hands dug the tunnels that still lie beneath Meadowood.”
The recipes aren’t for show, and fans have the opportunity to re-create memories from the hallowed restaurant. The canapés, such as the delicate teff pillow and the garden scrapbook, are not forgotten. Neither is the shaved abalone or sunchoke granola.
Today, Kostow’s passion for designing with local artisans moves out of the restaurant. “Richard’s depth of knowledge and role as a maker of things lends a bit of historical perspective,” Kostow says of Pope Valley ceramicist Richard Carter. The duo, Eric VanderMolen and Sarah Lonsdale of Remodelista have collaborated on a ceramics line, Carter|Kostow, available this fall.
“Things that are happening now, like Carter|Kostow, are really the last page from that [aha] moment.”
Even so, Kostow continues to be charmed. “This morning, I was with my forager. We found a road I’d never been on. Napa might have a thin veneer but it has a lot of depth—once you find those turns.” christopherkostow.com.
Written and Edited by Alison Clare Steingold.
Photographed by Peden+Munk.