12 Days of Christmas at Meadowood Napa Valley

12 Days of Christmas at Meadowood Napa Valley

Being invited as a guest chef for an event is always a bit nerve-racking. What’s the right menu? Where is the event? What are the kitchen and the staff like? Who are we cooking for…what's the expectation? If you have the wrong answer to any of these questions, your experience can be anything from disappointing to disastrous.

When I got a call from my old cook Christopher Kostow to join him at Meadowood Resort in Napa for their 12 Days of Christmas event it was an honor, and all for a great cause – Share Our Strength. Christopher is the chef of the Restaurant at Meadowood now, and just received his third Michelin Star, the only other restaurant in California besides The French Laundry to receive this highest of ratings.

The other chefs for this event were Masaharu Morimoto, Mathias Dahlgren from Sweden, Roland Passot (my own mentor), Michael Mina, Ludo Lefebvre, Mark Fuller, Linton Hopkins, Jeremy Fox, Shawn McClain and Nancy Silverton. Each of us was in charge of a single night, feeding 50 people a five-course tasting menu with three canapés, all paired with wine from a prestigious Napa winery. In my case it was with Duckhorn Wine Company, which was very appropriate since Duckhorn was the first winery that George’s ever did a wine dinner with back in the 80s.

We prepared most of our items in San Diego in our own kitchen where we could control every detail, packed it all in coolers and took it with us to the airport. After lugging all four heavy coolers through the airport and finally getting them checked (and paid for), I told my sous chef Alex that the hardest part was over. It turned out I was right.

When we arrived in San Francisco we were picked up and driven to Meadowood. Tucked into a canyon off the Silverado Trail it is a spectacular setting for a very small, secluded, beautiful resort. Kim, Chef Kostow’s sous chef, made sure we were taken care of and helped us get our ingredients organized and some prep done before our dinner reservation at The French Laundry.

After our six-hour meal at The French Laundry (where another of my former cooks is a senior sous chef and one of our former pastry chefs is a server), we crashed in our rooms, hoping to feel clearheaded the next day, which was our night to perform.

We got into the kitchen mid-morning after some coffee and pancakes, and with the help of Chef Kostow’s team finished up the prep for our dinner. Every one of his kitchen staff could be a chef or sous chef in any other restaurant—they were a serious and talented group, and made the work easy and fun.

We had a fantastic time. Our food could not have been executed better, the service staff was top notch and the reception we received after the dinner was payment for our efforts (not that any was needed). From pre-tasting the wines and trying to match them with our dishes, to agonizing over the final menu, and all the tasting and re-tasting of the dishes, it all paid off. Margaret Duckhorn thanked me and told me she thought the pairings were perfect, and how happy she was that we were paired together. I could not have asked for a better experience.

One of the joys of being a chef is the training and mentoring of young cooks. You can see the raw talent but that does not always make for a great chef. It makes me very proud when I look back at all the cooks who have worked for me and have gone on to be great. I honestly think they all would have ended up great anyway, but I’m glad I could contribute in some way.


Here’s the menu and some photos from the event:

Photos courtesy Creel Films

Day 8 – December 14, 2010
Fluke – Blood Orange, Fennel, Sweet Potato, Ginger, Cilantro                                  
2009 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Lobster – Miso Carrot, Poached Apple, White Truffle-Uni Emulsion 2009 Migration Russian River Valley Chardonnay  
Squab – Mole, Brussels Sprouts, Sesame, Foie Gras, Orange Dust
2007 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Gowan Creek Vineyard  
Niman Strip Steak and Braised Short Rib – Smoked Garlic-Onion Jam, Chanterelles, Potato Marrow, Red Wine Sauce
2001 Duckhorn Vineyards Howell Mountain Napa Valley Merlot
Quince, Date and Hazelnut Cake – Beets, Fennel, Goat’s Cheese Ice Cream            
2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Knights Valley Miel