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Matthew Lightner at Meadowood's 12 Days of Christmas

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Christopher Kostow (left), Matthew Lightner (right)
Christopher Kostow (left), Matthew Lightner (right)

[Photos: Molly DeCoudreaux]

The annual star-chef-studded 12 Days of Christmas festivities at Napa's three-Michelin-starred Meadowood are winding down. Last night, Night 9, executive chef Christopher Kostow and his kitchen staff hosted Matthew Lightner, future chef of New York's forthcoming (and somewhat mysterious) Atera in Tribeca. The lovely family team behind Brown Estate winery was charged with choosing the wines to go with a rather challenging menu as far as pairing's concerned. As mentioned in Eater's coverage of Night 1, the 12 dinner holiday extravaganza attracts high-rollers the world over who come to eat a tasting menu made by a breakout chef. Last night was no exception. Click through to see what went down behind-the-scenes, including more taunting hints as to what to expect in Lightner's New York chef future. Check the gallery highlights above for additional color.

· Setting the tone for the evening were some explosively flavored passed amuse bouche: small apple meringues filled with fish roe, wafer-thin sesame "granola bars" coated in burnt hazlenut butter, little cornbread "cupcakes" folded with bacon fat, and Asian pear spheres coated in spruce and lime zest that tasted like Christmas rolled into one edible ball.

· When asked if the food for the evening would be anything like what's coming at Atera, Lightner said it certainly was. He added that his cooking isn't the usual foie-, caviar- and steak-forward New York fare, describing it as "unexpected." Lightner's personal highlight from last night's dinner, for example, was a beet coated in ash, served atop sea urchin and a smooth whip of "crustacean emulsion".

· Other courses from the evening tasting menu included a roasted boneless squab with sunchoke puree and chips, seaweed and tarragon; a bbq glazed lamb collar atop cabbages, wheatgrass and winter greens; and—for dessert—"Birch Wood," a sweet and salty play between green juniper, a cooked double cream roulade and pine nut butter.

· Lightner, on delays with Atera: "We're building out a new kitchen in the basement of Atera, so it's causing delays with the city. The building is historic, so it's protected. It's taking extra time. At this point, I'm hoping we'll be open this winter."

· Kostow mentioned that each of his three sous chefs take turns leading the charge during 12 Days. "They battle it out over the visiting chefs they want to work with," he added. His star sous chef Kim Floresca assisted Lightner.

· The Meadowood PR team worked with fatigued thumbs and fingers. They've been live tweeting every single 12 Days dinner. Check out the full Twitter feed with a play-by-play here.

· Restaurant Director Nathaniel Dorn remarked that the event's charity on record Share our Strength has received over 120K from Meadowood since 12 Days began in 2008. He also shouted out special thanks to Napa Valley Hospitality, United Airlines, and "several bars in town"—all instrumental in the chef's trips.

· Two generations of the Brown Estate winery family sat at the event's communal table. Explaining the pairings were brand manager Coral Brown and her brother, winegrower David Brown, who keep things current at the winery their parents founded 30 years ago.

· Coral Brown remarked that the "composite materiels, wood, and spices" in the food made for a challenge in pairing. But the family's cache of Zinfandels and other blends ended up faring well with Lightner's often unexpected flavors. In one of Coral Brown's pairing explanations, she proudly remembered the dinner at the Obama White House where their 2006 Chardonnay was served.

· In the chefs' final goodbye speech, Kostow opened by calling out his new doppelgänger Matt Lighter, "He's got the glasses, the chef coat, he's biting my style," laughed Kostow. He kept the room laughing: "Next week we'll be doing the 12 Days of Hanukkah, the kitchen is going to love it."

· Kostow, on Lightner's food: "It's stupid good. The precision, technique, everything. I haven't learned this much in a long time."

· Lightner said goodbye, noting it's a difficult time for him, what with opening his first New York restaurant and all some time this winter. "But it's so nice to get away, I went on a long hike as soon as I arrived here," he said. "Meadowood is such a gracious host." Word on the street is Lightner joined some chef buddies at Thomas Keller's Bouchon after the event for a night cap.

· The Twelve Days of Christmas at Meadowood [Official Site]
· All Michael Solomonov Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Matthew Lightner Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Hangover Observations Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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