Last spring, JWU Providence culinary Devin Bogdan and baking & pastry student Kloey Cimakasky headed to St. Helena, in the heart of California’s wine country, to work for The Restaurant at Meadowood, one of only 5 three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the East Bay. (The others are Manresa, run by JWU alum David Kinch ’81, ’14 Hon.; Benu; Saison and the French Laundry.)
The culinary couple share an ambition to work for “the best people out there,” and their Meadowood experience more than lived up to their expectations.
Although they were only there for a little less than 3 months, they quickly felt welcomed as equals: “Chef [Christopher Kostow] was there every single day from the beginning to the end of service,” notes Devin. “He’s extremely connected to every part of the restaurant, from the kitchen to the dining room.” (They also worked very closely with the entire kitchen team, headed by Chef de Cuisine John Hong.)
Meadowood’s uniqueness is attributed both to the singular vision of Chef Kostow — whose focused, visually inventive cuisine earned him a 2013 James Beard Foundation “Best Chef: West” award — and to the location, as part of a 250-acre resort that includes such amenities as a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, and hiking trails.
The cuisine at Meadowood utilizes the best of California’s bounty. Much of the restaurant’s produce and herbs are picked fresh every day from their nearby garden, a two-acre spread shared with the St. Helena Montessori School and overseen by Zachery Yoder (head gardener) and Charlie Appel ‘10 (assistant gardener and JWU alum). (Another alum, David Guilloty '11, is responsible for the restaurant’s vegetable station.)
While the restaurant’s elaborate tasting menus fully reflect a refined sense of luxury, Devin and Kloey are quick to point out that the front- and back-of-house teams strive for a democratic and welcoming atmosphere where everyone is treated the same. “There’s no pretension,” adds Devin.
MEADOWOOD SIGNAGE + INTERIOR. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE RESTAURANT AT MEADOWOOD.
AT WORK IN THE MEADOWOOD KITCHEN
Devin: We didn’t stage before we went out to Meadowood for the 3 months — we did a Skype interview and then drove cross-country.
On the first day, they throw you right into the work.
Our primary roles were being part of the morning prep team. So we would both go in at 7am and get out around 6-7pm, sometimes later. There would be a specific AM prep list, including anything from stocks to veg prep, herb prep, etc.
The biggest responsibility for interns there was to make sure that when the harvest list from the garden came in that everything was cleaned, processed if needed, and put away properly.
Kloey after a little time there started to become more so responsible for the AM pastry prep, like mixing breads, preparing produce for candying, prep for the black apple dessert course, etc.
I did more knife and detail work. After some time there I became more so responsible for in-depth tasks such as making masa dumplings, perfect julienne cuts of celery and rhubarb, perfect turned artichokes, etc.
In are last two and a half weeks we switched to working service, coming in around 9am and leaving when service was almost over.
So when we first came in we had to help the two other interns with completing the AM prep list. Then when the cooks came in around 12-1pm we had to help them with certain parts of their daily prep, and then when service started we would help plate certain dishes within the tasting menu.
LEARNING UNIQUE TECHNIQUES
Devin: A lot of what they’re doing takes time to really understand — it’s not a kitchen you can just walk into and “get.” They do a lot of fermentation, drying and other processes to extend the seasons.
One of the coolest things is a Japanese process for quick pickling in rice sake lees [the byproduct of liquor making]. It’s a dry, rather than wet, pickling process that doesn’t leech color or change the texture. Chef Kostow details the process in his book — I started researching it because I wanted to better understand it. It’s really fascinating.
Kloey: One of the desserts I worked on was the black apple pebbles with kefir ice cream and clover. The “pebbles” are black walnut marzipan dipped in black apple jam and black apple glaze using liquid nitrogen. There would be 4 per order, and the total number needed was based on amount of covers each night. You could do two at a time. The finished dish looked deceptively simple, but an incredible amount of time, thought and effort went into it.
THE CULINARY GARDEN. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RESTAURANT AT MEADOWOOD.
THE CULINARY GARDEN
Devin: The Meadowood culinary garden was started specifically for the restaurant. Herbs always come from the garden, and much of the produce. [There’s also a hen house, which supplies fresh eggs.] On the menu, right before dessert, there’s a dish called “The Garden Candied” that showcases specific products from the garden.
Kloey: It’s the people who make the garden what it is. When Zach and Charlie talk about the garden, you can hear how much they love it!
Every quarter the restaurant partners with the St. Helena Montessori to help the kids make a 3-course lunch using produce from the school’s garden. We connected with the school for a menu and planned everything directly with Chef. We got to prep with the kids — then they cook lunch for their parents and other guests.
Kloey: The abalone was delicious. I’d never had it before. The process and time it takes to get the abalone dish to the finished point is what makes it what it is.
Devin: I loved the roasted cabbage layered with cod liver mousse and smoked cod loin. It’s a service piece that looks simple on the plate — like a whole roasted head of cabbage. But when you cut into it the layers of cod are revealed.
DETAILS FROM THE MEADOWOOD CULINARY GARDEN, LEFT-RIGHT: SQUASH CURING IN THE GREENHOUSE, RADISH FLOWERS + POULTRY PATTERNS. PHOTOS BY HEAD GARDENER ZACHERY YODER [@zyoder123 on Instagram]
WORKING WITH CHEF KOSTOW
Devin + Kloey: Chef Kostow doesn't fit what people say about 3-star chefs. He’d come in every day and give everyone a fist bump, ask how they were doing.
Every Saturday there is a staff lineup. Chef recognized us and the other two interns at the time, noting that we had re-invigorated his thoughts about continuing to have interns at The Restaurant. He’s such a great person to talk to and look up to as a mentor — he will give you 100% of his time if you give him yours.
Near the end of are internship Chef pulled us into the dining room and asked us what are goals were and where we wanted to go next. He thanked us so much for our time and called us an “asset to the team.” To two young cooks [like us], it really meant the world.
THE TASTING MENU
Devin and Kloey received a lovely parting gift before they completed their internship: They were able to enjoy a complete tasting menu. Below, excerpts and photos from Meadowood’s Spring menu.
- Smoked eel brushed with saba (made by reducing grape must), then torched and wrapped in beef tongue and grape leaf nori.
- Avocado soup with sunflower oil, sliced avocado, osetra caviar, sunflower sprouts.
- Monterey Bay abalone with brown butter bean puree, charred scallions, abalone vail (made from abalone stock), fermented onion vinegar + chive flowers.
- Potatoes cooked in beeswax with potato/beeswax puree, sorrel vinaigrette, potato gravel.
- Halibut cured and lightly cooked in a whey beurre monté with green peach juice.
- Cabbage roasted whole, then each individual layer is peeled apart and layered back together with cod liver mousse and smoked cod loin. Served with nettle oyster emulsion.
- Lamb tartare, layered with diced artichokes and 2-year-old garum, with artichoke puree covered in purslane served with baladi bread.
- Spice-rubbed duck aged for 10 days in the meat cellar, picked up in the jasper with duck fudge, rhubarb puree, pickled rhubarb and celery, pickled mustard seeds. Garnished with Chinese white celery, mustard greens + mustard flowers.
- Cheese with black truffle inlay, local honey, and Koji bread (almost like sourdough with brown rice, made with an 8+ month old starter; very dense).
- Olive oil custard made with arbequina olive oil, kumquat marmalade, citrus + puffed millet.
- Black apple with kefir ice cream. The pebbles are black walnut marzipan dipped in black apple jam and black apple glaze using liquid nitrogen.
What’s next for Devin and Kloey? In addition to continuing their studies at JWU, they have partnered with another student, Phillip Dylewski, on a private chef venture titled KDP Private Dining. Follow them on Facebook.
SELECTIONS FROM THE SPRING 2016 TASTING MENU AT MEADOWOOD. PHOTOS BY DEVIN + KLOEY.