12 days: on the eighth day of christmas: keller… (2017)

– On the eighth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the hills above Los Angeles were on fire. Not two months earlier, it had been the hills of Sonoma and Napa, where fires had spread quickly and destroyed indiscriminately.  Monumental efforts and vast resources were poured into saving lives, property, and priceless vineyards.  Meadowood […]


On the eighth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the hills above Los Angeles were on fire.

Not two months earlier, it had been the hills of Sonoma and Napa, where fires had spread quickly and destroyed indiscriminately.  Monumental efforts and vast resources were poured into saving lives, property, and priceless vineyards.  Meadowood Napa Valley evacuated.  The French Laundry closed.  The smoke was so thick, and the air quality so bad, that some were even leaving San Francisco.

I monitored the events from afar, as friends left their jobs and homes for safety.  And, I read about the heroic battle to contain and extinguish the fires.

Not only was the devastation still visible when I arrived in Napa Valley in early December for the Twelve Days of Christmas, but it became a renewed topic of conversation as the southern part of California started to burn.  I even met a few people who had fled north to the valley for refuge among family and friends.

And so, when I saw a volunteer fireman one morning at the Model Bakery in St. Helena, where I often began my day with coffee and one of its buttery English muffins, I stopped to thank him for his service.  A few days later, he walked into the kitchen of The Restaurant at Meadowood wearing a blue apron.  It turns out, he’s also the executive sous chef of The French Laundry.  His name is Elliot Bell.

Plating canapés. The French Laundry Chef de Cuisine

If there was a high-water mark for this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas, it was the night that the two culinary powerhouses of Napa joined forces.  This was a moment when the professionalism and experience of two highly accomplished and experienced chefs and their well-oiled machines shined.

Thomas Keller’s blue apron brigade showed up in force.  The French Laundry dispatched no fewer than ten of its team members, including the general manager (Michael Minnillo), the chef de cuisine (David Breeden), the executive pastry chef (Elwyn Bowles), the executive sous chef (Elliot Bell), an expediter, a dishwasher, and at least four cooks.  Owing to proximity, they brought their own plates, serviceware, and all of their courses mostly prepped (all of which they had to repack and take with them after dinner service).*

This was the longest menu of the 12 nights: five canapés – all of them presented by The French Laundry; eight courses, divided equally between Keller and Kostow; and two desserts by Bowles, plus a flood of mignardises and chocolates, all from The French Laundry.

Yet, despite this ambitious run of show, with all hands on deck, firing on all cylinders, it ended up being the shortest dinner. From seating to finish, it was a brisk two hours.  And their efficiency (in addition to the extra bodies in the kitchen) made photographing this dinner particularly challenging, as dishes were flying off the pass at a clip.

8th Course: Frenching lamb.

The highlights were many, the luxury notable.  Where else might you find Keller’s “oysters and pearls” passed around as a canapé?

Everything served on this night was exceptional.  So, I will only briefly mention a few of my favorites.

Most who read this blog know that I favor the classical, which is Keller’s wheelhouse.  On his side of the menu, there was a delicate royale of Dungeness crab blossoming with petals of black truffles; vintage Keller at its best. The steamed egg custard was incredibly delicate. And, what I particularly liked about this dish is that it was served piping hot.

Keller’s ragout of red rice was bold and daring. Sanguine, the porridge was rich with duck gizzards and topped with crispy duck tongue.

And humble potatoes arrived in various textures, including a buttery purée, and a crisp windowpane rosette, as well as a version of Vichyssoise. Keller dazzled guests by going out into the dining room with a white truffle the size of a donut and shaving it generously over it all.

9th Course: Lamb

1st Course: Rock Scallop

Kostow replied with a number of dishes that have become classics at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

There was black cod dusted with sunflower petal powder.  And Kostow also presented his “bird in bread” – whole chickens baked in nigella seed bread.  As with the squab in clay presented on the seventh night, the breaded dome was opened, the chicken paraded around the room, and the remaining birds carved and plated.  The chicken was served with melted onions and schmaltz.

There is a particularly meaty rock scallop that Kostow served to me at the restaurant the night before the Twelve Days of Christmas started.  It reappeared on this night, warmed in its shell and topped with a thin shaving of red walnuts (these gorgeous, purplish walnuts come from Pete de Santis in Fresno, California).

Perhaps my favorite of Kostow’s courses this night was his lamb dish. The racks had been frenched, and the juicy loins were topped with aged plums and spooned with marigold sauce at the table.  It was simple and immensely flavorful.

Below, you’ll find the menu from the eighth night of the Twelve Days of Christmas with Thomas Keller.  To see all of the photos from this dinner, CLICK HERE.



“Knell Ham”
Celeriac, fennel pollen.

Chartreuse Carrots “Chaud-Froid

“Oysters & Pearls”

“Ritz Crackers”
Caramelized onion mousse.

Chickpea Pakora


First Course 
Rock Scallop
Red walnut.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Second Course
Mt. Lassen Steelhead Trout
Pickled onion gastrique.

Third Course 
Dungeness Crab Royale
Soft-scrambled hen egg, black truffle.

Fourth Course 
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Fifth Course 
“Ragout de Riz Rouge et Gesiers de Canarde”
Crispy duck tongues, cured winter radishes,
Navarin glaze.

Sixth Course
Chicken in Bread
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Seventh Course
“Degustation de Pomme de Terre”
Maple-lacquered pork jowl, Vichysoisse,
White Alba truffle.

Eighth Course
Plum and marigold.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood)

Ninth Course
Persimmon Dessert

Tenth Course 
K+M Chocolate Dessert


Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt
Riesling Auslese
Scharzhofberger Saar, 1988

Malartic Lagraviere
Pessac-Leognan, 2009

Pinot Noir
Hood River, 2015

Giuseppe Quintarelli
Valpolicella, Classico Superiore

Joseph Phelps
Cabernet Sauvignon
Backus Vineyard, Napa Valley, 1987


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)
Manish Mehrotra (Indian Accents; New Dehli, India; New York, New York; London, U.K.)
Jeremiah Stone & Fabián von Hauske Valtierra (Contra & Wildair; New York, New York)
Jeremy Fox (Rustic Canyon & Tallula’s; Santa Monica, California)
Ben Sukle (birch & Oberlin; Providence, Rhode Island)
Sean Brock (McCrady’s, McCrady’s Tavern, Husk, & Minero; Charleston, South Carolina)
Yoshiaki Takazawa (Takazawa; Tokyo, Japan)
Thomas Keller (The French Laundry; Yountville, California)

* By comparison, guest chefs who travel from afield usually only bring one assistant.  The only other time I have seen such a large transplant of staff was when Grant Achatz brought a sizable team to the Twelve Days of Christmas in 2014.

Photos: The Restaurant at Meadowood’s cod course with sunflower; cooks from The French Laundry, including executive sous chef Elliot Bell (right) prepping; The French Laundry chef de cuisine David Breeden; “Degustation de Pomme de Terre;” frenching racks of lamb; lamb with plum and marigold; rock scallops ready for service; Christopher Kostow and Thomas Keller at line-up; Micah Clark pouring sparkling rosé for the kitchen at the end of the night; The French Laundry executive pastry chef Elwyn Bowles and Thomas Keller.


Categories 12 days 2017

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