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.

Continue reading ’12 days of christmas: avillez… (2019)’

12 days of christmas: calvert… (2019)

•February 15, 2020 • Leave a Comment

1st Course: Drunken Quail

Each night of the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood, hosting chef Christopher Kostow writes a personal note about that night’s guest chef, which is printed with the menu. His note for Daniel Calvert, who cooked on the third night, was far more eloquent, precise, and personal than anything I could muster, and I include it here:

“I have had the good fortune of dining at Belon on more than one occasion, and have been struck by the multitudes contained in the dining experience there — the juxtaposition of finesse and warmth; of tradition and intuition; of East and West.

An alumnus of some of the world’s greatest restaurants, chef Calvert has the ease and grace of a chef who has mastered traditional techniques, while possessing the humor and wit that makes the application of such techniques a joy to witness.”

Continue reading ’12 days of christmas: calvert… (2019)’

12 days of christmas: shieldses… (2019)

•December 17, 2019 • 1 Comment

7th Course: Aged Pork

In April of 2011, my friends and I arrived in the sleepy town of Chilhowie, Virginia. We had driven eight hours from Charleston to eat at John and Karen Shieldses’ restaurant Town House.  The meal was as exciting and delicious as I had heard, and it was the beginning of a friendship that would bring John Shields to my hometown of Kansas City later that year, coincidentally, where he would cook alongside Christopher Kostow, chef of The Restaurant at Meadowood.

The next year, 2012, the Shieldses were invited to The Twelve Days of Christmas, which, as it so happens, was the very first year I was invited to attend the event (see the photos at the very bottom of this post).

In the years since those early encounters, I have met the Shieldses all over the world, mostly to eat – from New York to St. Louis and San Francisco; in Denmark, Sweden, and Spain (where we had first met, even before I had visited them at Town House). And of course, I’ve had dinner at their two Michelin-starred restaurant Smyth a couple of times since they opened in the West Loop of Chicago in August of 2016, once with Christopher and Martina Kostow.

All of this is to emphasize the many intersections in my life where Shieldses and Kostows meet. And to add one more, John and Karen Shields were invited back on the second night of the Twelve Days of Christmas this year to cook with Christopher Kostow and his team at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

Continue reading ’12 days of christmas: shieldses… (2019)’

12 days of christmas: camara… (2019)

•December 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

5th Course: Pork Belly

I remember the first time I met Gabriela Camara. My friends and I were standing on the sidewalk outside of her new restaurant Contramar in Mexico City.  The sun was bright, the sky was clear, and spirits were high. Yet Camara managed to outshine all of it with her colorful entrance.

Mexican by birth, but having Italian heritage, Camara is animated and fun, warm and spunky.  And all of that comes through in her cooking.

Chef, businesswoman, and now cabinet member in the administration of Mexican President López Obrador, Gabriela Camara was the first guest chef took with hosting chef Christopher Kostow at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurnat at Meadowood.

Continue reading ’12 days of christmas: camara… (2019)’

december dozen…

•September 3, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The Restaurant at Meadowood

The email I hope to get each year finally arrived.

Christopher Kostow and The Restaurant at Meadowood will be hosting its eleventh annual Twelve Days of Christmas, which will benefit the St. Helena Preschool for All.  And for the seventh year, I’m the lucky guy who gets to go to Napa Valley in December to photograph it all.

Continue reading ‘december dozen…’

favorites of 2018: the restaurant edition…

•January 20, 2019 • 2 Comments

Sole, bream, turbot.

Last year, I got pretty worked up about an insultingly bad meal I had in 2017.

This year I have no barns to burn; only good news to share.

Continue reading ‘favorites of 2018: the restaurant edition…’

kansas city: talking food…

•January 16, 2019 • 1 Comment


Did you know that salmon not only find their way up rivers to spawn, but they’re able to find the specific feeder branch, upstream, where they hatched?   It’s amazing.

But in Norway, scientists have noticed that wild salmon are struggling to find their home streams. Wild salmon that have been tagged and tracked by marine biologists are showing up far off track in spawning season.  And it’s becoming a problem.

Scientists suspect the increasing population of farmed fish in the Norwegian fjords are partly to blame.  Not only have these caged fish introduced diseases to endemic species, but they may also be disorienting local salmon and interfering with their natural spawning cycles.  I first learned of this issue at a salmon hatchery in Norway in 2013, and wrote about it on this blog shortly thereafter.  Informative conversations, like this one, that I had with Norwegian chef Christopher Haatuft during this trip inspired him to create and host a series of events at his restaurant Lysverket. He asked me if I would help him, and I eagerly agreed.  The Friends of Lysverket series would bring me back to Haatuft’s breathtakingly beautiful corner of the world more than a dozen times over three years to learn about the incredible culture and unique foodways of that region.

Continue reading ‘kansas city: talking food…’

favorite desserts of 2018…

•January 14, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Flan de Queso Fresco

I have little to add to the thoughts that I previously recorded about pastryland in 2016, and which I reiterated in 2017.

The majority of desserts I encounter in restaurants continues to be overwrought.  Sadly, excessive plating remains a popular style.  And pastry chefs haven’t lost their interest in unorthodox (sometimes bizarre) ingredients. In 2018, I had desserts made with mushrooms, plankton, caviar, and seaweed.  I’m not saying these ingredients can’t be successfully used in pastries (to the contrary, one of my favorite desserts last year incorporated caviar magnificently), but most attempts that I’ve encountered have been… challenging.  I wonder how much further pastry chefs will stretch concepts and comfort zones.

Continue reading ‘favorite desserts of 2018…’

favorite dishes of 2018…

•January 13, 2019 • 1 Comment


Before I get on with telling you about my favorite whatnots from 2018, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.  What follows is partly an explanation, partly an admission, and all of it a disclaimer.

Continue reading ‘favorite dishes of 2018…’

travel: field and stream… (2018)

•January 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Lord of the flies.

Some of my happiest moments in 2018 were spent waist-high in cold water.  On especially good days, the sun glinted off the rushing stream, and glistened at the seams of the slow-moving eddies and pools into which my mind swirled.  In those peaceful afternoons, tiny flies hung in the air like a thousand points of light, stirring hope from the deep.

I pulled trout from the crisp, mountain streams of Utah, and beautiful cod from the inky abyss of Greenlandic fjords.  In the mauvey glow of morning, with San Francisco twinkling in the distance, sea bass fought my line, only to be swiped clean off the hook by a seal waiting opportunistically nearby.

Mauvey morning.

But those were the highlights.  As any fisherman knows, with the good, there is plenty of bad: long days in the pouring rain, or set against gust and gale, casting into sound and fury.  I had plenty of those in 2018 too.

A seemingly endless day spent tracing the icy banks in the snowy expanse of Nevada yielded nothing.  The second day was just as hopeless. As the sun disappeared behind the mountains, we shrugged.  And, turning to each other to call the day, I watched the slack line suddenly go taught.  You just never know.

But the tally never mattered. What endure are the many scenes from 2018 set amidst field and stream, all of them spectacular. Despite the excruciatingly early mornings, creaky cots, mosquitos nets, and the sweaty miles squishing along in waders, the adventure was great. And I am grateful for every minute of it.

Continue reading ‘travel: field and stream… (2018)’