12 days: on the first day of christmas: lundgaard nielsen… (2017)

– At the start of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood, I had been to the restaurants of eight of this year’s 12 guest chefs – some of them many times; and, mostly by coincidence, I had been to the restaurants of half of the guests chefs in this year […]


At the start of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood, I had been to the restaurants of eight of this year’s 12 guest chefs – some of them many times; and, mostly by coincidence, I had been to the restaurants of half of the guests chefs in this year alone.  It is with this invaluable, personal context that I eagerly look forward to spending a fifth December with my Meadowood family in Napa Valley.

This year’s guest chef with whom I have the most contact in recent years is Mark Lundgaard Nielsen. I first ate at his restaurant in 2015, shortly after he became head chef of that ancient and storied cellar in Copenhagen called Kong Hans Kælder. In the two years since, I’ve not only eaten at his restaurant nearly a dozen times (in just about as many trips to Denmark), but have become quite good friends with him.  I’ve gone hunting and camping with him, traveled around the U.S. together, spent Christmas with his family in southern Denmark last year, and attended his son’s baptism in September.  So, I was particularly excited that Nielsen was invited to kick off this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

Stuffing poussin.

Despite being a Danish landmark – Kong Hans Kælder is in the oldest building in Copenhagen (the fairytale writer H.C. Anderson once lived upstairs) – its first chef, Michel Michaud, a Frenchman, is credited with bringing haute French cuisine to Denmark. It was here that Michaud earned Denmark its first Michelin in the early 1980s, establishing Kong Hans Kælder as one of the most important restaurants in Danish fine dining.  Now, nearly 40 years later, it remains a benchmark for refinement in continental-style service and cuisine, not only in the country, but, in my opinion, in all of Europe.

Mark Lundgaard Nielsen specializes in classic, French à la minute cooking techniques.  And that is what he brought with him to Napa Valley.

When you’re cooking à la minute, timing is everything.  And that was the biggest challenge with Nielsen’s ambitious menu, which included deboned and stuffed poussin, as well has halibut baked in a salt crust. These dishes had to be carefully timed, both for cooking and for service, as Nielsen wanted them presented and carved tableside, like they are in his restaurant. [In Denmark, not only are cooks required to have a four-year culinary degree in order to work in a professional kitchen, all wait staff are also required to undergo four-years of formal, service education. Before they can work in a restaurant, Danish servers must pass tests in bird-carving and filleting fish (both round and flat).]

Snacks: Venison Tartare

As I had alluded earlier, Nielsen is an avid hunter. And one of the dishes he serves at Kong Hans Kælder is inspired by his hunts: venison tartare, carved off the carcass tableside, hand ground, and served with caviar and crème fraîche. He recreated this during the pre-dinner reception, when guests are invited in the kitchen for drinks and canapés.

Another canapé Nielsen presented were mini (Dungeness) crab melts, inspired by the crab melt he had when I took him to Duarte’s Tavern off of the Pacific Coast Highway 1 in Pescadero a couple of years ago.

Nielsen sealed scallops in their shells with a rim of puff pastry, and baked them to gently warm the the sliced muscles within.  Unhinging the shells tableside, they were finished with a smoked mussel-butter sauce with caviar mixed in.

The poussin was presented whole, then sliced crosswise, revealing a heart of mushrooms and foie gras.  The turbot, which had been left bone-on, was baked in a salt pastry shell, portioned 8 or 10 per fillet. The golden domes were uncapped in the dining room, releasing a fragrant steam of fish and fresh thyme.  The fish was skinned and filleted off the bone, and portioned onto plates, coated in a blanquette made with olive oil.

And the racks of lamb, which had been larded (threaded through with strips of pork fat), were sliced and served with spoonful of polenta and a flavorful and colorful sauce studded with mustard seeds, green olives, and dried tomatoes.  This was one of the first dishes Nielsen served to me at my first dinner at Kong Hans Kælder, and it remains one of my favorites.

Given the time-sensitivity of Nielsen’s menu, Kostow’s team stepped back to give Nielsen the stage, and opted to present a simpler dish. Echoing Nielsen’s hunter approach to cooking (Kostow entitled this dinner “The Wilds”), Kostow presented locally foraged matsutake mushrooms, pan-seared, and finished with a sauce of abalone.

The two chefs met at the end of the menu, each presenting a dessert.  Nielsen presented his version of the traditional Danish dessert “citronfromage.” Normally a tangy lemon mousse, Nielsen’s version bifurcated the elements, setting fromage blanc mousse at the bottom of the bowl and sealing it with a tart layer of lemon gelatin on top.  Served with yuzu sorbet, it was a bright and refreshing segue to Kostow’s dessert of gjetost ice cream (gjetost is a Scandinavian brown cheese made from caramelizing the whey of either cow or goat milk) studded with pieces of local apples that had been blackened in a proofer, and topped with a granité of green apple.

Nielsen ended the evening with classic, French petits fours: canelés and pastry puffs piped with crème Chantilly.

Below, you’ll find the menu from the first night of the Twelve Days of Christmas with Mark Lundgaard Nielsen.   To see all of the photos from this dinner, CLICK HERE.


Shigoku Oyster
Blood orange, olive oil.

Venison Tartare
Caviar, crème fraîche.

Prawn Tartlets
Cognac mayonnaise, tomato dust.

(Lundgaard Nielsen)

Brioche and Butter

Amuse Bouche

Scallop “En Croute”
Smoked butter, caviar.

First Course 
Abalone sauce.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Second Course
Halibut in Salt Crust
Black truffles, olive oil blanquette.
(Lundgaard Nielsen)

Third Course 
Stuffed with mushrooms and foie gras,
Sauce vin jaune.
(Lundgaard Nielsen)

Fourth Course 
Larded Rack of Lamb
Polenta and vadouvan glace.
(Lundgaard Nielsen)

Fifth Course 
Lemon Fromage
Yuzu sorbet.
(Lundgaard Nielsen)

Sixth Course 
Black Apple
Gjetost ice cream.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Petits Fours 
Pastry Puffs with Crème Chantilly
(Lundgaard Nielsen)

Domaine de l’Ecu
Expressions de Gneiss
Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine 2009

Bodegas Hidalgo la Gitana
Pastrana Manzanilla
Pasada Sanlucar de Barrameda N.V.

Bonneau de Martray
Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, 2014

Jean-Louis Chave
Farconnet Hermitage, 2012

Didier Dagueneau
Les Jardins de Babylon
Vendage Tardive Juraçon, 2012

Oyster talk.

Below are links to my posts and photos from all of the Twelve Days of Christmas dinners I have attended over the past four years at the Restaurant at Meadowood. Each chef is listed with the restaurant with which they were cooking at the time they participated in the event (some have moved on to other projects and restaurants).


Scott Anderson (Elements; Princeton, New Jersey)
John & Karen Shields (Formerly of Townhouse; Chilhowie, Virginia)
Phillip Foss (EL Ideas; Chicago, Illinois)
Stuart Brioza & Nicole Krasinski (State Bird Provisions; San Francisco, California)
Jason Franey (Canlis Restaurant; Seattle, Washinton)
Matthias Merges (Yusho; Chicago, Illinois)
Mori Onodera (Formerly of Mori Sushi; Los Angeles, California)
James Syhabout (Commis; Oakland, California)
Nick Anderer (Maialino; New York, New York)
David Toutain (Agapé Substance; Paris, France)
Josh Habiger & Erik Anderson (The Catbird Seat; Nashville Tennessee)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Portland, Oregon & New York, New York)
Rodolfo Guzman (Boragó; Santiago, Chile)
Carlo Mirarchi (Blanca and Roberta’s; Brooklyn, New York)
Tim Cushman (O Ya; Boston, Massachusetts)
Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner; Raleigh, North Carolina)
David Chang (Momofuku; New York, New York)
Matthew Accarrino (SPQR; San Francisco, California)
Mark Ladner & Brooks Headley (Del Posto; New York, New York)
Rasmus Kofoed (Geranium; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Nicolaus Balla & Cortney Burns (Bar Tartine; San Francisco, California)
David Kinch (Manresa; Los Gatos, California)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Matthew Orlando (Amass; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Frank Castranovo & Frank Falcinelli (Frankies 457, Prime Meats; New York, New York)
Kobe Desramaults (In de Wulf; Dranouter, Belgium)
Alexandre Gauthier (La Grenouillère; La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France)
Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn; Lummi Island, Washington)
Joshua McFadden (Ava Gene’s; Portland, Oregon)
Virgilio Martinez (Central; Lima, Peru)
Grant Achatz (Alinea; Chicago, Illinois)
Corey Lee (Benu; San Francisco, California)
Esben Holmboe Bang (Maaemo; Oslo, Norway)
Ignacio Mattos (Estela; New York, New York)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, NoMad; New York, New York)
Nenad Mlinarevic (Focus; Vitznau, Switzerland)
Christian Puglisi (relæ; Copenhagen, Denmark)
Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil; Mexico City, Mexico)
Joshua Skenes (Saison; San Francisco, California)
Matthew Wilkinson (Pope Joan; Melbourne, Australia)
Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan ([One]; Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
Isaac McHale (The Clove Club; London, The United Kingdom)
Kyle Connaughton (Single Thread; Healdsburg, California)
Atsushi Tanaka (A.T. Restaurant; Paris, France)
Justin Yu (Oxheart; Houston, Texas)
Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)


Mark Lundgaard Nielsen (Kong Hans Kælder; Copenhagen, Denmark)

Photos: Racks of larded lamb on the sear; Mark Lundgaard Nielsen and his sous chef Robert Sandberg deboning and stuffing poussin; sealing halibut in salt dough crust; Christopher Kostow plating matsutake, with Nathaniel Dorn; venison tartare; searing larded racks of lamb; plated lamb course; stuffed poussin ready for presenting; searing matsutake; unmolding canelés; dusting pastry puffs with powdered sugar; pre-service practice run with Christopher Kostow and Mark Lundgaard Nielsen.



Categories 12 days 2017

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