travel: leapfrogging…

•January 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Sheer magnitude


Another year is gone, and I’ve barely written about it.  This is especially sad to me, since so many wonderful things happened.

Every year, I pause at calendar’s end to record and remember the anxieties and adventures that made the preceding months memorable, including an accounting of all the restaurants I visited, and my favorite meals and dishes among them.  With this blog post, I initiate that annual tradition.

Last year, I commemorated 2013 with an honest look at my evolving career in photography and explored the blurring edges of my relationship with the restaurant community and my place within it. I questioned whether I could write responsibly about chefs and restaurants, given my increasing professional ties with them; or, whether I should write about them at all.  Although I ended that blog post with a fair sense of resolution, those issues and concerns spilled over into 2014, as I considered them anew.

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12 days: on the twelfth day of christmas: kostow… (2014)

•December 31, 2014 • 2 Comments

And that's a wrap.


And finally, the twelfth night.

The last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas is fraught with mixed emotions.  For the staff, there are nerves about the menu, which, year-after-year, seems to spring out of Christopher Kostow’s mind at the last minute.  There’s always a marked bump in energy, as the cooks reclaim their kitchen – without a guest chef to host, the workflow seems leaner, more efficient. There’s the anticipation of the holidays, and a much needed break from the exhausting run of the dinner series. And for a few, it’s the bittersweet end of a chapter; a move, a new job, the last shift.

I’m there somewhere right in the middle.  Although I’ve spent the last eleven posts talking about the guest chefs, their food, the vintners, and their wine, I’m going to take some time out of this report to tell you a little about my role and my perspective at the Twelve Days of Christmas.

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12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas: mattos… (2014)

•December 30, 2014 • 1 Comment

Ignacio Mattos


It has been quite an international Twelve Days of Christmas.  In fact, judging by past rosters, this was, perhaps, the most culturally diverse line-up at The Restaurant at Meadowood yet.

Kobe Desramaults (Day 3) is Flemish, Alexandre Gauthier (Day 4) is French.  Matthew Orlando (Day 1) is an American expat who opened a restaurant in Denmark, and Esben Holmboe Bang (Day 10), a Dane, is chef of a restaurant with a Finnish name in Norway. Corey Lee (Day 9) is Korean-born, though raised in the United States, where he now cooks. And then came Ignacio Mattos, an Uruguayan chef who owns Estela in New York City, the darling au courant of the American food media.  His dinner on the eleventh night, in collaboration with hosting chef Christopher Kostow, was paired with wines by DANA Estates.

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12 days: on the tenth day of christmas: holmboe bang… (2014)

•December 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In a clearing carpet of chickweed.


It had been raining every day for two weeks.  California was finally finding some much-needed relief from a severe, two-year drought.

So, when a rare window of blue sky opened up one morning, Cameron Cole Rahtz, the forager for The Restaurant at Meadowood, jumped on the opportunity.  He grabbed Esben Holmboe Bang and me, we grabbed our raincoats, piled into his car, and raced off towards the woods. We found the forest shaggy with moss and verdant with new growth.  Delighted by the abundance, Holmboe Bang started compiling a wish list of wild herbs and mushrooms for Rahtz to help him find for the dinner he was cooking the next day: California red bay, chickweed, Miner’s lettuce, sorrel, oyster mushrooms…

Esben Holmboe Bang is the Danish chef of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Maaemo in Oslo, Norway, where I had the chance to dine earlier this year. He was the tenth guest chef to cook at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas hosted by Christopher Kostow, with wines paired by Colgin Cellars.

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12 days: the ninth day of christmas: lee… (2014)

•December 28, 2014 • 1 Comment

9th Course: 56-Day Persimmon


Corey Lee, chef of the 3 Michelin-starred Benu, showed up looking like a sifu, and knocked my socks off with ham and black truffles wrapped in cabbage and glazed in a thick, gelatinous stew of fish maw.

This happened when Lee cooked with chef Christopher Kostow on the ninth day of the Twelve Days of Christmas at the Restaurant at Meadowood,  with wines paired by Matthiasson.

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12 days: on the eighth day of christmas: achatz… (2014)

•December 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Morning in the garden.


Of this year’s twelve dinners, I was most anxious about the eighth one: the night that Grant Achatz cooked.

Early in alinea’s life, I was one of the very few, if not alone, in my criticism of that restaurant – or, more accurately, that style of dining.  Now, eight years and four meals at alinea later, the restaurant has evolved, and my perspective has shifted.  I would venture to say that Achatz’s opinion of me (or, rather, his opinion of my opinion) has also changed.

I never questioned Achatz’s talent or inventiveness, of which I remain in awe.  Neither did I dare overlook his sense of adventure, or underestimate his partner Nick Kokonas’s keen sense of business – these are the traits that I have admired most in the two.  Thankful to have had a rather open (and, I think, rather honest) dialogue about my experiences at alinea with both of them over recent years, I’ve since narrowed the gaps, and, at the very least, have come to more fully appreciate the empire and world that they have created. Personal dining preferences aside, what they have built is very impressive.

To keep the alinea world spinning on its axis, with its three Michelin stars in orbit, is no small feat. But to set it spinning on another platform is a totally different story.  That is what the alinea team set out to do when it decided to transplant alinea to The Restaurant at Meadowood for one night.

As I watched Achatz’s 1,500-pound shipment of boxes being unloaded onto the dock at Meadowood Napa Valley the day before the dinner, I wondered how, or if this was going to work.

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12 days: on the seventh day of christmas: martinez… (2014)

•December 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

4th Course: Clams


Besides Joshua McFadden, who cooked on the sixth night, Virgilio Martinez is the only other chef on this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas roster whose restaurant I had never visited.

Martinez is chef and owner of Central, a high-end restaurant in Lima, Peru.  His colorful cooking, representing both the Peruvian coast, as well as the “high-altitude” ingredients of the Andes, together with dishes presented by hosting chef Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood, were paired with wines by the Mondavi family’s Continuum label.

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