The 2013 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef in the West, 36-year-old Christopher Kostow, of St. Helena’s Restaurant at Meadowood, is also chef to the stars…. critical stars, that is. Having garnered two stars from the prestigious Michelin organization when he was executive chef at the French-inspired Chez TJ, in Mountain View, California, Kostow won a third star at Meadowood, for the food he calls “evocative, not provocative.” The San Francisco Chronicle upped the ante in 2010: they gave him four. And in 2018, Meadowood, with its 2,500-plus list of wines was named to the Wine Enthusiast Restaurant Hall of Fame.

The Chicago native studied philosophy in college, and his love of deep thinking extends to his cooking, where what the seasonal market (and the on-premises gardens) offer up is always the starting point. He then crafts individualized menus for guests—with dishes like goat poached in vadouvan (a curry-like spice blend), with dates, yogurt, and black lime; and slow-roasted sturgeon with poached bone marrow, crispy Brussels sprouts, and compressed apple. With these, Kostow says, he hopes to evoke “shared food memories” and create new experiences.

In 2017, Kostow took a simpler, neighborhood approach to food, opening Charter Oaks, in St. Helena, with co-owner and Meadowood restaurant director Nathaniel Dorn, and chef Katianna Hong, a 2018 Food and Wine magazine pick among Best New Chefs. Small plates of local ingredients like crispy potato “tostones” with Mendocino sea lettuce and browned butter or entrées of hearth-cooked smoked beef rib or pork shoulder and ember-roasted vegetables are on the menu.

His own launch in the kitchen was with chef Trey Foshee, in La Jolla’s George’s at the Cove. And then to France, in 2001, where from a Paris bistro he worked his way south, to Michelin-starred Le Jardin des Sens, in Montpellier. Returning to California, his tutelage continued under chef David Patterson at restaurant Elizabeth Daniel, and Daniel Humm at Campton Place, where pristine ingredients, masterful technique, and a joy in experimentation proved infectious to the young chef.

It’s not all serious eats, though. Kostow infuses his sophisticated food philosophy with humor. When Food & Wine magazine selected him as one of their Best New Chefs, in 2009, and asked him what his fantasy restaurant would be, he shot straight: “An old-school Jewish deli with local, house-made ingredients. “I’d stage at Katz’s in New York City for a few months.” No wonder he was thrilled to work with his Moveable Feast mates, the duo behind Wise Sons Deli.