travel: in dazzling relief… (2019)

•May 14, 2020 • 1 Comment


Cologne and wood smoke hit me as I peered through my camera for the first time in weeks. The lingering evidence of where I had last used it was a jarring telescope of just how far away two months ago feels.

As I tap out this tardy review of 2019 from my fastness on the edge of the prairie plains, I have been isolating at home now for 67 days.

From here, I’ve watched the cycles of grief and panic play out online as a generation, spoilt by decades of nearly unhindered convenience, grapples with stoppage and sacrifice. I’m quietly horrified by the daily doses of trauma porn that have streamed across our screens, and the reaction among those who have succumbed to them. Having little patience for doom, I’ve turned off the spook show and look to the better angels among us for the kind of sensible solutions and hope that will carry us out of this pandemic. Thankfully, there is plenty of triumph to be found – among the frontlines and the innovators, and in the everyday acts of kindness and generosity that get drowned out by the Chicken Littles of our day.

La Sagrada Familia

Suddenly confronted, in stark terms, with the degree to which my role in society is “non-essential,” I am now increasingly grateful for the luxury of having been able to indulge my non-essentialness for so long. But being sidelined during this pandemic has heightened a sense of uselessness, an unsettling feeling at a time when there is so much to be done for the world.

So I’ve focused on bettering my little corner, and have learned to be useful in it. Fortuitously, this pause has enabled me to minister to a string of scary, family health crises that would have been unthinkably stressful to handle from the road, not to mention during a viral outbreak that preys upon the compromised.  It has also allowed me time to address a backlog of projects that requires the kind of stationary attention that had been sorely lacking in my life.  Most of them have been mundane tasks, like cleaning out closets and backing up hard drives: my archive of nearly two decades’ worth of photographs and data has finally found a safer, second home up in the cloud.  Some have been fun detours, to add color to the blandness of endless isolation: between FaceTime and Zoom chats, I’ve finally gotten around to watching the “Sopranos,” for example, and finishing Ron Chernow’s epic encomium on Alexander Hamilton. And I’ve happily disappeared for hours into old Graham Norton shows, and geeking and gawking on Hodinkee.

But the bulk of my attention has been devoted to quiet creativity.  I’ve updated my photography website. It now more accurately reflects recent work, some of which I will write about here shortly.  Having toyed with starting a podcast, I’m finally finding audio hardware arriving at my doorstep (advice and suggestions are welcome).  And, most importantly for you, the readers of this blog, changes are afoot: this is the last time you’ll be reading a post from this site, as you’ve known it. Thanks to a chance meeting and the generosity of WordPress, which has hosted this site for well over a decade, this blog is getting a much needed facelift.  The next post you read will be on a far more handsome and robust platform, which, I am hoping, will encourage me to deliver more content more consistently. This blog has been the most regrettable collateral damage of my growing busyness over the years – 2019 saw the least number of posts since I started writing here some 15 years ago.  And I intend to use this relaunch to correct that.

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12 days of christmas: kostow (2019)

•May 6, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Frying trout skin.

The last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas is a tangle of excitement and exhaustion that is well-documented in previous years on this blog (a complete, hyperlinked list of every single dinner since 2012 can be found at the bottom of this post).  For the cooks there’s the afterglow of having hosted eleven guest chefs, and the relief of having the kitchen back to themselves. There’s the anticipation of the busiest night of the series – seats at this finalé, starring host chef Christopher Kostow and his kitchen team, reliably sell out faster than any other night. And there are goodbyes put on hold, while every corner is deep-cleaned in preparation for the restaurant’s brief holiday closure.

For the young and new, it is an initiation to a ritual cherished by those who, like me,  have been there before.  However unslept and longing for home, in these final hours, I always harbor a sadness that another magical December in Napa – this, my seventh – draws to a close.

This year, on the twelfth night, Christopher Kostow marked his 132nd dinner of the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days of christmas: cantu… (2019)

•April 30, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Pork collar.

It seems only a short while ago that Val Cantu was hosting a pop-up in San Francisco.  Those early previews of Cantu’s modern, but studied approach to Mexican cooking generated considerable excitement.  Before I knew it, he had opened a small restaurant in the Mission and earned a Michelin star.  It was in those early days of the restaurant that I first visited Cantu at Californios.

The penultimate chef to cook at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas, Cantu joined hosting chef Christopher Kostow on the eleventh night.

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12 days of christmas: lee… (2019)

•April 22, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Plating cod.

On the recommendation of a friend during a three-day layover in Singapore, I had the pleasure of eating at Candlenut.  That was the summer of 2016, just before the Michelin Guide arrived in Singapore, where it would award chef Malcolm Lee and his Peranakan cooking a worthy star later that year.

Lee brought his Sino-Malay cuisine to The Restaurant at Meadowood on the tenth night of The Twelve Days of Christmas, where he cooked with hosting chef Christopher Kostow.

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12 days of christmas: charles… (2019)

•April 21, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Oxheart carrot.

I hadn’t heard of Jeremy Charles, or his restaurant Raymonds in Newfoundland.  But after doing a little reading, I uncovered an approach to cooking simpatico with my own perspective and preferences. In an age when social media make it easy for chefs to appear closer to nature, here you have a chef who seems genuinely so.  He doesn’t just hunt and fish to appear rugged and idyllic, or in parcel to a packaged narrative.  He hunts and fishes because that is a way of life in Newfoundland (it’s the only province of Canada where it’s legal to serve wild game in restaurants).

Charles cooked on the ninth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood with hosting chef Christopher Kostow.

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12 days of christmas: williams… (2019)

•April 12, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Brady Williams, Daniel Kim, and Zachary Yoder

I first heard of Brady Williams when he was hired to become the head chef at Canlis in spring of 2015.  And since then, he has catapulted into the national spotlight as a rising star (twice a finalist in the Rising Star category for the James Beard Foundation Awards, and winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest in 2019).

Williams was the eighth chef to cook with chef Christopher Kostow at the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days of christmas: nørregaard… (2019)

•March 28, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Squab in the Josper.

I first ate at kadeau in Copenhagen in early 2013.  What I loved about it then was how simple, delicious, and straightforward the food was compared to the New Nordic zeitgeist at the time.  Chef Nicolai Nørregaard showcased the flora and fauna of Scandinavia without veering into the bizarre.

Although I haven’t followed chef Nicolai Nørregaard as diligently as I’d like, I have managed to check in at his restaurants a couple of times over the years.  In 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting the original kadeau, on the beautiful Danish island of Bornholm, where I caught the last day of service in late summer before its seasonal closure. And at the top of 2016, I returned to kadeau in the city, after the Copenhagen location moved down the block.  But I hadn’t seen him since.  So I was especially happy to see him on this year’s roster of guest chefs at the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Nørregaard was the seventh chef to cook with hosting chef Christopher Kostow at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days of christmas: chan… (2019)

•March 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment

1st Course: Tigernut, Carrot

I was wrong about Jeremy Chan and his cooking.

When I first heard about his restaurant Ikoyi near Piccadilly in London, friends described the food as West African.  Not having much experience with West African cooking, I couldn’t say whether it was or wasn’t.  Some of the food that I had there seemed West African (there was a version of jollof rice, for example), but a lot of it didn’t. Honestly, I didn’t know what to make of my dinner at Ikoyi in September of 2019.  The one thing that did stick with me was how flavorful and delicious – and especially how daringly spicy – the food was.

The false assumptions and misconceptions about what Chan is doing at Ikoyi – in my case, admittedly abetted by my own lack of due diligence – are common (there was a whole article written about it). Maybe it’s because his friend and business partner Iré Hassan-Odukale is Nigerian, or that the restaurant is named after a posh neighborhood in Lagos.  And then there’s the fact that, indeed, Chan does use ingredients from West Africa.  But, having come to the professional kitchen from a career in finance, he said that he doesn’t ascribe to any one type of cuisine. His approach to cooking and flavor is wholly his own. And I’d say that’s evident.

Jeremy Chan was the sixth chef to cook at the Twelve Days of Christmas with Christopher Kostow at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days of christmas: park… (2019)

•March 19, 2020 • Leave a Comment

6th Course: Quail

If there was one guest chef who seemed to draw the most enthusiastic diners this year, it was the affable Junghyun Park.  Born and raised in South Korea, Park arrived in New York in 2012 to work at the then newly opened Jungsik before splitting off to open his own restaurants. Now he’s the chef and owner of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Atomix, and its more casual sister restaurant Atoboy, both in New York City.

Park was the fifth chef to cook with Christopher Kostow at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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12 days of christmas: avillez… (2019)

•February 21, 2020 • Leave a Comment

In the garden.

The Portuguese empire spanned the globe, from Brazil through southern Africa all the way to the warm waters of the South China Sea, where it held the last European colony in Asia until 1999, when it relinquished Macau to China.  To understand Portuguese cuisine today, is to understand the trading routes that made the Iberian peninsula an important hub of ingredients, spices, and culture for centuries.

Jose Avillez traces these flavors in his cooking.  He is the chef and owner of over 20 restaurants in Portugal, including the two Michelin-starred Belcanto in Lisbon. And he was the fourth chef to cook at the Twelve Days of Christmas hosted by Christopher Kostow at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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