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Christopher Kostow on the Meadowood Revamp and the Historic Continuity of Foie Gras

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Continuing Eater Lounge coverage from the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Right now: The Restaurant at Meadowood chef Christopher Kostow.

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[Photo: Eater.com]

So what are you up to? We did a demo yesterday and we're doing one today. We also have a tasting later. It's our second year here and I brought four cooks. You bring people to help with the heavy lifting and then you schmooze and whatnot. It's nice. For me, coming out here and doing nothing is a treat.

Talk about the Meadowood revamp? We reopened the 23rd of March. It's been very busy, which is great. We changed the conversation we have with guests and got rid of menus alltogether. When people hear that, they're a little freaked out, but it's great because each table's menu is personalized. The servers are engaging with the guest and seeing where they're coming from. We get a feel for who they are and then we craft a menu once we know a little more about them. We have our huge bullpen of menu items, and we're able to customize each experience and really listen to our guest. Frankly, at that price point, they should be listened to. It's been really good for the back of the house because we're not bound to a strict menu format, so we're able to really do something special for people — it's really seamless. When we started talking about this, we thought there would be issues, but it's been a really fun personal experience. The only thing that makes fine dining beautiful is that personal touch.

What's been the biggest challenge? I think the hardest thing was getting the front of the house to trust themselves to have that conversation with people.

What kind of conversations are servers having with each table to gather the necessary information? Our food is very light, acidic and vegetal, so that's something that gives us a lot of direction. They'll ask, "How do you feel about organ meats?" or "How are we feeling tonight?" And that actually elicits a lot of things, and sometimes to the negative. Even when people are being difficult, we're able to make them really happy, and at this price point, we need to make everyone really happy.

Do you go out to table? I go out to the dining room time to time. We're crafting a menu for each table, and not each person, so it's important to get to know the table. We have a small room — 44 seats in the dining room, and 22 on the terrace — so I do try and talk to everyone. I'm very much on the forefront of everything and the guests expect to see that I'm there. I believe at that price point, and considering the journey people have to take to get there, they deserve some personal attention. In terms of the experience, if you're able to put a smile to it and a hand on someone's shoulder, it goes really, really well.

What are your thoughts on the foie gras ban? We did a few special dinners and I've written some pieces. Beyond the fact that I like foie gras it comes down to historic continuity. Foie is a perfect example of something that's been passed on by generations. That's the saddest thing — the loss of that historic tie is really, really sad. But we've already moved on from it. The issues are relevant — I don't think gluttony is the best counter balance to a stupid law. Disregard the political questions of big government and look at what this ban is doing to the industry.

Question from Paul Qui: What are your future plans? That's the toughest question. My future plans for Meadowood — I think with Meadowood right now, as a restaurant, the product is superlative — I say that in the service of people who do the work. I believe that diligence and persistence is at the core of what we're doing — what we're doing is as great as what everyone else is doing. Since we reopened, if people come in and are surprised, there's a misconception to what we're doing. I really believe that the one thing we need to improve upon is messaging.

· Al Christopher Kostow Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Aspen Coverage on Eater [-E-]

The Restaurant at Meadowood

900 Meadowood Lane Saint Helena, CA 94574

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