Best New Chefs 2009

Christopher Kostow

Meadowood, St. Helena, CA

Born: Highland Park, IL; 1976.

Experience: Georges at the Cove, La Jolla, CA; Le Jardin des Sens, Montpellier, France; Chez Georges, Paris; La Terrasse, Côte d’Azur; Elisabeth Daniel and Campton Place, San Francisco.

We loved: Bolinas goat poached in whey with wheatgrass, sea salt and olive oil.

How he started cooking:
“When I was in high school, I had a summer job at Counterpoint, the café at Ravinia, the music-festival-center outside Chicago. I made fried chicken and hamburgers. I was obsessed with fried chicken—I’d come in at 9 in the morning and play the same Beastie Boys CD over and over again and just make fried chicken. My parents were freaked out because I wouldn’t go to summer school, I’d just go and fry chicken.”

Humbling moment:
“When I started at La Terrasse, I worked for the most intense guy you’ve ever met. He was 6-foot-4 with a handlebar mustache. He was insane. We did a freestanding savory cheese soufflé with a paper-thin savory tuile cracker outside and a poached egg inside. For the first two weeks, every soufflé I made fell. Finally, the chef pushed me out of the way—he knocked me to the floor—whipped the egg whites and made a perfect soufflé. I lost 15 pounds in two weeks, I was so freaked out by this soufflé.”

Equipment obsession:
“I’m using my combi oven [a multifunctional oven that also steams and poaches food] more than ever. I use it for steaming things like squid omelets and slow-cooked eggs.”

Childhood food memory:
“I used to go fishing with my dad in Ontario, Canada, with a Native American guide. There are thousands of acres of lakes there, and we’d catch lake trout, pike, walleye. We’d bring a bag of cornmeal, a skillet and some lard, white bread, butter, lemon...We’d fry up the fish, and it was the greatest thing in the world.”

Memorable meals:
Dinner at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris (“The orchestration of the meal was out of control”); dinner at Mathias Dahlgren in Stockholm (“The meal was based on his memory of his mother’s food, and he brought out aquavit he’d made. It was stupid good.”)

Favorite snack food:
Cereal. “I live for cereal. Special K Red Berries, Special K Original, Honey Bunches of Oats (all flavors), Frosted Flakes, Chex, Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Mini-Wheats. Truth be told, cereal and milk is all I have in my house to eat.”

Dream restaurant:
An old-school Jewish deli featuring house-made and locally sourced ingredients. “I’d go and stage at Katz’s in New York City for a couple months.”

Food trend he dislikes:
“People think that just because they’re treating food in a rustic manner that it’s soulful. If you say, ‘That’s bad,’ they’ll say, ‘You’re just jaded because it’s not fine dining.’”

Favorite cookbook:
Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras and The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. “There’s never been a better cookbook than French Laundry. All my cooks say that book made them want to cook.”

Best New Chef Recipes & More:

Smoked Salmon Crisps
Thomas Keller's salmon cornets (tuiles shaped into tiny cones and topped with crème fraîche and fresh salmon) are a famous kickoff to his luxe and whimsical meals. The original recipe appears in The French Laundry Cookbook. Shaping the tuiles into cones is tricky and involves working very quickly with a cornet mold. Instead, leave the tuiles flat, like crackers, and top them.
Summer Radishes with Chèvre, Nori and Smoked Salt