Who: Triple-Michelin Star Chef Christopher Kostow. Though young, Kostow's talent has never gone unnoticed. (When this journalist worked at a restaurant years ago, Kostow stopped by unexpectedly. From the reaction in the kitchen, it may as well have been the second coming of Christ.)
Neighborhood: St. Helena.
Current Gig: For the past four years, Kostow has been the chef at the Restaurant at Meadowood and has skyrocketed the restaurant to the farthest reaches of the Michelin galaxy. (Three stars!) One of only 11 chefs in America to achieve the honor this year, he's celebrating with a restaurant remodel with an unexpected twist (read on) and a lunch at this weekend's Pebble Beach Food and Wine with fellow triple-star chef Daniel Boulud.
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This weekend is Pebble Beach Food & Wine. What's on your itinerary?
I'm doing the Lexus Opening Night Reception on Thursday and then the Lexus Chef's Table Michelin Three Star Lunch with Daniel Boulud on Friday. Pebble Beach really is one of my favorite events and I've been going for years. I even met my wife there.
You met your wife at Pebble Beach Food & Wine? Tell me the story!
It was three years ago and I didn't have any cooks helping me because they were all busy at the restaurant. So I was paired up with this random English guy who totally helped me out -- I just had to buy him a beer after. So we go out for a beer and I'm sitting at the bar when all of the sudden this girl sends me over a drink. Now she's my wife. She claims up and down that that was the first time she'd ever done that but I have my doubts. [Laughs.] But now when we go back to Pebble Beach, it's always a special trip for us.
The Restaurant at Meadowood just reopened after a major remodel. What has changed?
There were big changes in the kitchen -– it was redone soup to nuts. We also touched up the dining room. But the main change was the menu. As in, we got rid of it.
You got rid of your menu?
Yes. Instead, the server talks to guests about what they like: "we don't eat red meat" or "we were thinking something vegetal" or "I really don't like turnips" for instance. Then we completely customize the menu for each table. But we'll never have 15 orders of sea bass and 18 orders of chicken going out -- we offer a completely personalized experience for each table. It's the kind of restaurant I always wanted to have. We also opened up a counter menu in the kitchen. I serve the food and talk about what I'm cooking, they can get up and walk around the kitchen. It's pretty cool.
You work in a restaurant inside of a resort with visitors from all over the world. Are diners ever put off by the no-menu concept?
Sometimes guests are confused at first; they're like, "what do you mean you don't have a menu?" But then they get excited. There's more freedom for the diner and for me. It's much more impactful for our guests.
I've heard you are in San Francisco all of the time. Where do you eat when you're in town?
Last week I was at Kingdom of Dumplings in the Sunset, and I also checked out AQ. I'll go to Mission Street Food, Commonwealth -– I try and get out a lot. When I started at Meadowood I would sometimes get stuck in the Valley because I was so busy. But then I would read about all of these places and think, "Why haven't I been there?"
Who do you think is San Francisco's next big chef?
I love Matt Accarrino at SPQR. I think he's an unbelievable chef. SPQR has always been incredible, but he's brought something to that restaurant that wasn't there before.
What are your favorite places in Napa Valley?
I go to Solage for brunch a lot. A LOT. And I go to REDD – we're good friends with Richard [Reddington]. And Taylor's is awesome. [Now named Gott's Roadside.]
What do you think is the most overrated dish at local restaurants today?
I wouldn't say there is a dish, but there is definitely a style. It's that esoteric style: leafy, loosely plated dishes with really obscure ingredients. There's this fascination with ingredients that are viewed as esoteric, but esoteric doesn't always mean good, and when there's a bunch of them together, it usually doesn't taste right. And at the end of the day, dishes absolutely need to taste good. I suppose every generation has its eyeroll trend and that one is ours. That one and bad service.
Check out a video about the upcoming Pebble Beach Food and Wine event, as well as a slideshow of the other local chefs presenting: