travel: blurred lines…

•December 30, 2013 • 7 Comments



At the end of each of the last two years, I’ve looked back in awe at a calendar filled with adventures.  At the same time, I’ve stared nervously into the new year, wondering how it might fill up, if at all.

We are at the bottom of December, once again.  And, once again, I marvel at a year that brimmed with excitement and opportunities that, just twelve months ago, I never dreamed would be possible.  With every corner I’ve turned, God has met me with more than I could have ever expected.  And for that, I am immensely grateful.

2013 flew by.  Literally.

I think I spent just as much time on planes as I did in restaurants and hotels.  I hopped around the globe, logging more than 120,000 miles across a dozen U.S. states, five countries, and three continents.  I was home (in Kansas City) fewer than 100 days this year, and not more than two weeks in the last three months.  The good news is that my busyness was evidence that my new-found career as a photographer and writer gained important ground this year.  I worked with and for some amazing people in some amazing places (more on that later).  And, of course, I managed to eat some pretty great food along the way too.

The unfortunate result, as some of you know, was that I had little time to write about it all.  This blog was a bit of a sleeper in 2013. And that makes me sad.  I started writing this blog (now nearing its tenth anniversary), primarily, as a personal journal about my relationship with food.  It also provided a convenient medium in which to adjoin my interests in writing and photography.  This year, my record lagged – in certain months, it came to a halt – leaving silent, gaping holes that should have otherwise been filled with colorful and delicious tales from the road.

But, also, over the years, I’ve derived much joy from sharing my experiences with those who care to read about them.  Although I appreciated the privacy I maintained as a blogger during the seven years that I spent in self-imposed anonymity, in the years since I went public with my identity, it has been incredibly gratifying to meet many of you who have been reading my blog over the past decade.  You – cooks, bloggers, writers, chefs, photographers, waitstaff, artists, and eaters-at-large – whom I’ve met at events, who have cooked for me, who have introduced yourselves to me on the streets, who have reached out to me through email – thank you for giving me the encouragement and incentive to continue writing and photographing.

Although I can’t make up for a spotty year of blogging, I will take this opportunity to give you a tour of my year – what I’ve been doing, where I’ve been, and, of course, where I’ve eaten.

Continue reading ‘travel: blurred lines…’

12 days: on the twelfth day of christmas… (kostow)

•December 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Merry Christmas from The Restaurant at Meadowood


The twelfth day of Christmas dawned with a second wind of excitement at The Restaurant at Meadowood.  

When I arrived at the kitchen in the morning, as I did every day of this dinner series, the cooks seemed to move with the efficiency and confidence of having their home field back.  In the days leading up to this last dinner, Christopher Kostow and his team had, essentially, been working in eleven different kitchens with eleven different personalities, and learning eleven different styles of management, workflow, and plating.

But on this last day, with all of the guest chefs gone, the staff seemed to fall back into their familiar corners and routine.  The kitchen hummed along; leaner, quieter, calmer.

As Perry Como crooned about a white Christmas on the speakers, I plugged in at my usual perch at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and my Model Bakery English muffin.

Continue reading ’12 days: on the twelfth day of christmas… (kostow)’

12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas… (kinch)

•December 26, 2013 • 1 Comment

David Kinch and Christopher Kostow


“Lovely,” David Kinch sighed repeatedly as he walked through the hoop house at the The Restaurant at Meadowood’s garden, running his hands over trays of feathery herbs.  The head gardener here, Christine Kim, used to work at Love Apple Farm, a biodynamic garden with which Kinch partnered to grow produce for his restaurant, Manresa in Los Gatos, California.  Now, he admired her work here in Napa Valley. 

Kinch knows quality.  He understands it, and he appreciates it.  And for that, he has become one of our country’s most-respected chefs.  

Since I first ate at Manresa in 2006, I’ve seen his food evolve from having a more European influence to having a more Asian one.  Kinch brought a spectrum of these influences with him to the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.  

Continue reading ’12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas… (kinch)’

12 days: on the tenth day of christmas… (balla & burns)

•December 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment


The first time I ate at Bar Tartine in San Francisco, I noticed a particularly dark spicing and foreign sense of boldness to chef Nicolaus Balla’s hearty style of cooking.  I recall unique combinations of flavors, that, although were not common, were not entirely unfamiliar – beef tongue under a canopy of tart purslane, with radishes and fried shallots; lentil “croquettes” (basically, lentil falafels) with hatch chilies and sprouts drowned in house made yogurt, slightly sweetened with sour cherry molasses; smoked and blistered potatoes with ramp mayonnaise; and langos – a potato fry-bread, drizzled with sour cream and dotted with dill (the herb that holds the key to my heart).  

And, of course, there was Chad Robertson’s amazing bread from Tartine Bakery.  Balla buttered slices of Tartine’s kamut bread and topped them with shavings of bottarga, clusters of crunchy dulse, and fleshy bolete mushrooms.  That was really delicious.

When I asked my server where chef Balla had cooked before, I was told that he drew a lot of inspiration from the years he spent as an adolescent in Hungary.  I’ve been to Hungary and tasted the dynamic mix of Eastern and Western flavors there, and, having that context really helped me place and appreciate Balla’s cooking at Bar Tartine.  

That first visit to Bar Tartine last year had me hooked.  Since, it’s quickly become one of my go-to spots in San Francisco for a quick lunch, or a casual night out with friends.

I was particularly thrilled when Christopher Kostow announced that Nicolaus Balla and his co-chef Cortney Burns, would be cooking at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days: on the ninth day of christmas… (kofoed)

•December 20, 2013 • 1 Comment

6th Course: "Dill Stones"

The woods above Napa Valley were quiet when we arrived mid-morning. 

Cameron Rahtz, the resident forager at The Restaurant at Meadowood, took us up and off a trail, teetering across fallen trucks and trickling creeks, into a thick carpet of leaves.  It’s been a dry year here.  Last year, the Napa Valley saw close to thirty inches of rain.  This year, barely ten have fallen.  So, we knew that the chance of finding mushrooms – especially matsutakes, which Rahtz and I hauled in last year by the bag-full – would be slim.  But, we did find red bay (that smelled of spice and pink bubble gum), and mossy logs overgrown with oyster mushrooms.  There was an abandoned orchard with a few, dried apples still hanging, and wild herbs everywhere.

Rasmus Kofoed, chef of the Michelin two-starred restaurant Geranium in Copenhagen, and the only chef who has won all three statues at the Bocuse d’Or, marveled at the beauty, at the aromas, at the textures in these woods.   A continent away from home, he told us that these woods reminded him of his childhood, much of which was spent in the woods of Denmark.  

He tugged at Spanish moss, asking if it was edible.  He collected twigs, crusted with dusty green lichen.  And he asked Rahtz if he could gather enough rocks to line twenty family-style plates on which Kofoed would nest “dill stones” – nuggets of cured mackerel dipped, repeatedly, in gelatinized dill juice (alternating with liquid nitrogen) to create a shiny, green coat.  They really did look like stones.  Kofoed garnished these “stones” with feathery sprigs of dill and served them with a side of tangy horseradish cream.  Together, it was a one-bite postcard from Scandinavia.  

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12 days: on the eighth day of christmas… (ladner & headley)

•December 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

1st Course: Tuna-Black Truffle Sphera


Mark Ladner and Brooks Headley, chef and pastry chef of the Michelin-starred Del Posto in New York City, are two of my favorite culinarians in America right now.  Together, they are authoring some of the most elegant and exciting interpretations of Italian regional cuisine I’ve encountered this side of the Atlantic. 

Their approach to cooking is encyclopedic, which appeals to the academic side of my interest in food.  For example, the first time I ate at Del Posto in early May of 2009, Ladner served me a bowl of zupetta le virtu alla Marchigiana, a bean soup from Abruzzo, traditionally served on the first of May to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season.

But, their flavors are sophisticated, yet deeply soulful, which, ultimately, appeals to the eater in me.

They marry their form of culinary anthropology with comfort and deliciousness in dishes like cacciucco – a seafood stew, most well-known from Livorno on the Western coast of Italy – which is usually on the menu at Del Posto.  Traditionally, it contains five types of seafood.  Last night, on the eighth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Ladner served his version of cacciucco, which included clams, mussels, shrimp, and bay scallops, all of which were veiled under a tissue-thin sheet of raw, salted cod that went melty and limp like lardo when the hot, tomato-based broth was poured over it table-side.  It was, perhaps, my favorite dish from this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas dinner series thus far.

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12 days: on the seventh day of christmas… (accarrino)

•December 17, 2013 • 1 Comment

Canapé: Maple-Marrow Budino


Matt Accarrino, chef at the Michelin-starred SPQR in San Francisco, has a close, working relationship with Peter Jacobsen, who has an orchard and garden in Yountville.  Jacobsen used to supply a lot of fruit to The French Laundry, and now supplies fruits and vegetables to SPQR.  Accarrino drives up to help work the garden as often as possible.  

On a sunny, balmy afternoon, Accarrino and I visited Jacobsen’s garden, where I marveled at the rows of fruit trees, including an ancient-looking fig tree.  Despite the wintry starkness of the barren trees, the garden beds were full of life.  We clipped and tasted a variety of arugula and cress (including one that tasted intensely of almond extract before turning hot and spicy on the finish), peeked inside the “snail condo,” and pulled year-old carrots out of the ground

For his dinner at the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Accarrino took those carrots – too fibrous to eat – and juiced them to make a sformato (Italian for “form,” a sformato is usually  perfumed with curry spices.  He served the sformato with sea urchin and fritters made from carrot top.  He garnished the plate with powder made from the leftover fibers of the old roots.

Continue reading ’12 days: on the seventh day of christmas… (accarrino)’


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