Crowd Pleaser – Meadowood

Intense, focused and globally for his cooking at The Restaurant at Meadowood, chef Christopher Kostow has earned three Michelin stars at the acclaimed St. Helena restaurant, as sought-after a booking as Yountville’s The French Laundry.

His approach is to make delicately delicious food that doesn’t come off as pretentious or over the top. With culinary gardens from which to source at Meadowood, he’s a firm believer in the Napa Valley’s ability to grow menus for each season, inspiring him to forage for ideas and ingredients.

Kostow, 36, will prepare dinner for 1,000 guests and vintner hosts who will attend Auction Napa Valley on June 7 at Meadowood. We asked him how he gets ready for the event.

How much do you love being able to cook in the Napa Valley?

Very much. Coming here and discovering the people and products and wilds has made me a better, more honest chef.

Going from the intimacy of your Meadowood kitchen to cooking for hundreds of people must be mind-bending. What’s different about the way you work in each scenario?

I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy and we have to approach every event with great caution and detail and planning. We will be doing a far more casual, family-style affair for the auction, but we strive to maintain the same level of quality and creativity.

What’s the best way to approach a big event like Auction Napa Valley?

I rely heavily on the patience, talent and hard work of my team and the Meadowood team as a whole. Our continued collaboration and communication with the host vintners is key. We’re all very excited to make this year a celebration of Napa cuisine, products, wine and chefs so I’m happy we’re on the same page.

How do you plan the menu and when?

I’ve been contemplating it since we signed on, but the final details will definitely be determined by what’s growing really well in our garden at the time and by our relationships with local purveyors and artisans.

What says Napa Valley cuisine to most people? How would you define it?

Our conception incorporates four main principles: our reliance on our agricultural pursuits; the use of the wilds and foraging; a relationship with our local artisans; and an embracing of the products found here in the valley. These ideas, combined with an understanding of the valley’s history, serve as our blueprint for a burgeoning Napa Valley cuisine.

What’s the trick on riding the fine line between food that is crowd-pleasing and food that opens people’s minds?

Lots and lots of butter … In all seriousness, having that balance between derivative and esoteric is something we’re always conscious of. The key, I think, is to make sure the flavors are always balanced, straightforward and simply tasty. Food that doesn’t taste good makes no sense to me. Delicious has to come first.

What do you drink when the last plate of food has gone out and your day is done?

On a bad day? Scotch. On a good day? Scotch.

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