Regional Champion

Christopher Kostow wants to change how we see--and taste--the Napa Valley

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Dwight Eschliman for TIME

Christopher Kostow

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Kostow also has a firm grasp on the synergy of community relations and public relations. "We want the Restaurant to be like a city on the hill, to exemplify good things in the community," he says. He requires every chef who cooks during Meadowood's Twelve Days of Christmas event--a dozen guest-star dinners held in December, which have featured the likes of Masaharu Morimoto and Marcus Samuelsson--to speak to students at the nearby Culinary Institute of America.

Last year, Kostow broke ground on a one-acre garden at St. Helena Montessori. Alongside Kostow and his staff, the students (from preschoolers to adolescents) grow fruit, vegetables and grains and tend chickens, goats, beehives and wooden pens of future escargots. After harvest, they plan and eat a lunch at the Restaurant made from their bounty.

Kostow is impatient to transform the perception of the valley from elitist enclave to vibrant artisan haven cum locavore utopia: a city on a hill where Kostow is mayor and magistrate. "I want to do it all now. I want to do it all right," he says. "I want to do these other restaurants, and I want to make changes to the existing restaurant." He pauses, throwing his hands up. "And let's have a baby!" he says, laughing. (Kostow's wife Martina is due in February.)

But doing it all is done one plate at a time, and right now Kostow has both eyes trained on his food. This evening, a young couple from San Francisco sprang for the $500 seats at the chef's counter. Kostow served most of the couple's dishes himself: granola with sunchoke and sea lettuce, lily stuffed with spot prawn, a plane of poached pheasant. But it was a cook who arrived with their shabazi-spiced lamb, which was sauced tableside. Upon taking a bite, the woman burst into tears. "It's just so beautiful," she said.

Kostow glanced at her plate, took the sauce from the cook who had served them, approached the chef's counter and spooned more onto their lamb. "He was too stingy with this," he explained, before high-fiving the crying woman and returning to his post.

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