Napa by the (Cook) Book


When chef Christopher Kostow moved to Napa in 2008, he had just earned two-Michelin stars at TJ’s in Silicon Valley and was looking for a bigger stage for his cooking.

The opportunity to run the kitchen at The Restaurant at Meadowood freed Kostow to reimagine himself as an innkeeper with a dining room that lured gastronomic tourists with his innovative cuisine, a kind of modern day haute-aubergiste. It’s an idyllic image, but of course Meadowood is a five-star hotel built into the St. Helena hillside in the heart of wine country.

Something else happened to chef Kostow when he arrived there. Rambling with his dog Charlie along the region’s riverbanks, he discovered the other Napa. Beyond the classic cabernets and manicured gardens he found uncultivated passages where wild prune and walnut trees -- holdouts from the orchards that were a mainstay of the valley before it became devoted to vineyards -- growing among miner’s lettuce and rutabagas. It affected his cooking.

Kostow is the kind of chef who thinks deeply about his choices. As the title of his magnificent new coffee table book, A New Napa Cuisine, suggests, he has transplanted the values of The New Nordic Cuisine (pristine local ingredients and a freedom from traditional French techniques) to the bountiful landscape of northern California. The result is cooking that is both deeply personal and reflective of the “somewhereness” that is the Napa Valley.

For Kostow, quality is the new luxury, not just for the ingredients themselves, but also for their cooking vessels and the dishes on which they are served. He cooks potatoes in beeswax, sturgeon over coals and serves them in ceramic bowls and on slabs crafted by local artisans.

You probably won’t cook much from A New Napa Cuisine, but reading it is like a long leisurely meal in the company of one of the finest chefs of our generation.