Plenty of chefs are skilled at creating a menu from available ingredients.Christopher Kostow is among the few that have a hand in actually growing the ingredients.
But it’s that deep-level involvement that helps Kostow’s menu stand out. As the head of The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa, Calif., Kostow meets with the restaurant’s gardener every season to discuss what foods will be grown, and in what amounts. That helps inform the menu for the restaurant, which is changed seasonally. The restaurant also does a special vegetable-tasting menu in the spring to show off the garden’s impressive produce.
That involved approach has helped Kostow and Meadowood rise to the top of the culinary world. Under Kostow, Meadowood has been distinguished with a rare three-star rating by Michelin, widely considered one of the most prestigious honors in the culinary world — only 81 restaurants around the globe have achieved such a distinction.
While that might point to Kostow’s work being complex and edgy, the chef himself is dismissive of such definitions. In reality, his food is derived from a simple inspiration: To appeal to the shared food memory of guests and to use that as a starting point for a new experience.
That means the texture, flavors and savory qualities of roasted meat might be present in a dish at the Meadowood, taking guests back to past experiences. But instead of presenting food that merely recreates the past and risks becoming derivative, Kostow focuses on helping those preparations evolve to new levels, creating new experiences that patrons can take with them. And the garden produce serves as one of the cornerstones for this fusion of simple nostalgia with complex new versions.
His approach has created a huge fan base in a short time. After graduating from college with a degree in philosophy, Kostow began cooking and learning under some of California’s best chefs at restaurants that had received Michelin recognition. He spent time working in kitchens in Paris before returning to California and serving as the top toque at Mountain View, California’s Chez TJ, where he drew attention for creating a dish named to Food & Wine’s top 10 list in 2007.
The following year, he arrived at Meadowood. Not long after, the accolades started piling up. In 2009 he was named one of the Best New Chefs by Food & Wine. The following year, Meadowood received a rare four-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle. In October of that year, Meadowood earned the three-star ranking in the Michelin Guide.
Kostow became the third-youngest chef, and only the second American-born chef, to preside over a Michelin three-star restaurant.
But that hasn't persuaded Kostow to kick things into auto-pilot.When you’re working in his kitchen, you’re always creating new things and trying to evolve the cooking process. To him, that’s when cooking makes the most sense.