preview: twelve days of christmas…

Greenhouse.

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In September, while I was in Napa, I spent a fair amount of time at Meadowood Napa Valley, a Relais & Châteaux resort in St. Helena, and home to the three Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood.  Although I have already written about my business in Yountville during that trip, I wanted to devote a separate post to my time in St. Helena. I do so now.

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Kim Floresca.

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Earlier this year, I had the privilege of announcing this year’s roster of chefs for the fifth annual Twelve Days of Christmas at the Restaurant at Meadowood.  In the months since, the hosting chef, Christopher Kostow, and I have talked at length about the event, and have traveled together to eat the food of a couple of the guest chefs at their restaurants. [I have eaten the food of eight of this year's twelve chefs. I have never been to Canlis in Seattle, where Jason Franey cooks (although I ate numerous times at Eleven Madison Park when he was a cook in that kitchen), or to Phillip Foss's ELideas in Chicago, or the food of Morihiro Onodera, formerly of Mori Sushi in Los Angeles. And while I've sampled a bite of David Toutain's cooking at this year's Gastronomika conference, I have never eaten his food at l'Agapé Substance in Paris.]

Next week, I will be heading to Napa to attend the entire run of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begins on December 7.  As I prepare for my time with Kostow and this year’s guest chefs, I pause to give you a preview of this extraordinary event.

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Greenhouse.

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The Twelve Days of Christmas centers primarily around a collection of twelve dinners that showcases a different guest chef and vintner each night.  Kostow wanted this year’s dinner series to be especially collaborative.  So, unlike past years, when guest chefs exercised complete authorship over their respective dinners, this year, the guest chefs are working with Kostow to write the menus together (keeping the vintners’ pairings in mind).  I am excited to observe this culinary cross-pollination, and to see how each chef will distinguish himself in the process.

I’ve been given a peek at a few of the menus. I’m particularly excited for John Shields’s dinner (formerly of TownHouse, John and his wife Karen will soon open their own restaurant in the District of Columbia). He has one of the most creative culinary minds I’ve ever encountered, uniquely concept-driven in his approach to cooking.  Among his canapés for his Twelve Days of Christmas menu is one listed as “frozen pork rind, with apple and peppermint.”  (When I asked him about this one, he texted back, jokingly, “Sounds cool, but who knows what it will taste like.”)  There’s another one listed as “lactose, pine nut, and quinoa.”

Toutain’s “gnocchi and consommé of potatoes” sounds comforting and delicious.  I can’t wait for that one.  I also can’t wait to find out how he’ll put clementines with gianduja in a dessert.

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Brioza, Syhabout, Kostow

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In addition to creating a collaborative experience, it was important to Kostow that the Twelve Days of Christmas reach beyond his kitchen into the community that surrounds Meadowood Napa Valley.  So, to carry the dialogue further, some of this year’s chefs will be speaking to students at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in St. Helena while they are in California.

A preliminary schedule that I’ve seen has Scott Anderson and John Shields presenting together the first week. Stuart Brioza and Phillip Foss are coupled up at the beginning of the second week, and Jason Franey, Matthias Merges, and Morihiro Onodera are grouped together for a session at the end of that week. James Syhabout will conclude the series of talks at the top of the third week.  While the talks are targeted for the culinary students at the Greystone, I’ve been told that there will be limited seating for members of the public.  If you are interested in attending, check the Restaurant at Meadowood’s Facebook page for the schedule, which should be finalized and posted in the coming days.

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Black radishes and baby carrots in the morning.

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In this season of giving, the Twelve Days of Christmas also has an important charitable aspect.  This year, the Restaurant at Meadowood renews its commitment to give 20% of the proceeds of the dinner series to benefit Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger.

As well, Kostow is using the Twelve Days of Christmas as a platform to talk about his work with the St. Helena Montessori, which has dedicated half an acre of land to a collaborative garden project with the Restaurant at Meadowood.  Under the direction of Christine Kim, the garden provides Kostow’s kitchen with amazing produce. (In fact, some of the vegetables growing in the garden now were specially planted months ago at the request of this year’s guest chefs, grown specifically for their dishes).  The garden also serves as an outdoor classroom, where students and Kostow talk about sustainable agriculture, and get hands-on farming experience.  A few times each year, Kostow invites the students into his kitchen to cook with the produce that they grow in the Montessori garden.

In September, Kim and Kostow gave me a tour of the Montessori garden, which includes an apiary, abuzz with activity, and a magnificent hoop house lined with sprouts.  When we arrived, Kim was spraying off bundles of black radishes and tiny, baby carrots. Like the baby crudités I had eaten at the restaurant the night before, they were perfect.

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Napa Valley Reserve Garden

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The garden at St. Helena Montessori supplements the restaurant’s produce that comes from a smaller, private garden on the Meadowood Napa Valley property.  Kostow took me on a walk through this beautiful showpiece.  Unlike the garden at the St. Helena Montessori, this one is more landscaped, with patterned plots.  But, not to underestimate its production, there were beds of fleshy chard, carrots, and squash; and lanky artichoke plants, boasting huge purple thistles.

I look forward to returning to this patch of paradise in the Napa Valley, and especially to the Twelve Days of Christmas, which is shaping up to be a spectacular stretch of eating and drinking.  The series is nearly sold out. So, if you want to attend, you should contact the restaurant immediately.  To find out more about the schedule, availability, and pricing, visit the Twelve Days of Christmas online, where you will also find a fantastic video summary of last year’s event.

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Photos: Young sprouts in the hoop house at the St. Helena Montessori garden, St. Helena, California; Kim Floresca, Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, California; young sprouts in the hoop house at the St. Helena Montessori garden, St. Helena, California; Stuart Brioza, James Syhabout, and Christopher Kostow at State Bird Provisions, San Francisco, California; radishes and carrots, St. Helena, California; and The Napa Valley Reserve garden at Meadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena, California.

~ by ulterior epicure on November 26, 2012.

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