Chicago-native Christopher Kostow has planted himself as a fixture in California, working under chef Trey Foshee at Georges at the Cove in La Jolla and with Daniel Humm at Campton Place in San Francisco. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Kostow’s first brush with Michelin stars was while he was cooking at Chez TJ in Mountain View—he earned one star in 2007 and a second one the year following.
In 2008, Kostow began cooking at The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena. His thoughtful and personal cuisine in his tasting menu was matched with two Michelin stars in 2009. The Restaurant at Meadowood earned its third coveted star a year later—making Kostow one of the youngest chefs ever to receive Michelin’s highest honor—and has retained the accolade since.
Kostow uses his same thought and personal touches at The Charter Oak, a more casual restaurant which he opened earlier this year.
Here, we ask the humble chef who celebrates California simplicity what it was like when he got the call.
What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
I had worked in France for quite some time at 1, 2 and 3 star restaurants, so I was pretty familiar with it. When the Guide came to California, it coincided with my first year of running a restaurant. But I don’t think I was that cognizant of getting Michelin stars when I first started. I don’t think we had any inclination. We got a call asking for information for the publication, the address and phone number. I just kept my head down. And then I started thinking and I was like, 'huh…' but that seemed unlikely and realistic.
What were your thoughts when you knew you received your stars?
At Chez TJ, I got the call at the restaurant because I lived there. I was super excited. We were a small mom-and-pop shop in the Silicon Valley. And that accolade was super exciting for the chef, the owner and the kitchen team and it was a very cool feeling. We got a first star the first year and then a second star the second year and that was f***ing bananas.
At Meadowood, it was crazy. I was with my girlfriend—who is now my wife—and we were walking the puppy through town when we got the call. It was an emotional experience. It sort of changed the trajectory of some things. Three stars are a world unto itself—both in terms of the eye of consumers and the industry—it’s a bit of a different look. It changed who we were as a kitchen. And we are a much better restaurant now than when we first got three stars. A lot of that improvement comes from the wind at your back.
How did you celebrate?
We celebrated with the team, and it involved drinking. And that’s the joy of stuff like this—to celebrate with your team. And then we had a party in San Francisco.
How will having a star change the direction of your restaurant?
I was too young to put it on lockdown when we got three stars. I don’t really think about stars and all those things, I just know what we’re trying to achieve. What we’re sourcing from the farm, our products are second to none. It’s really, really good food right now.
What advice do you have for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars?
Pursue your own vision. If you’re happy with it, that’s everything. You can’t please everyone. Know what you want to do. Hold yourself to a high standard. Block out the noise. Focus on what you’re trying to do.
All photos courtesy of The Restaurant at Meadowood, photography by Kelly Puleio.