Restaurants

Love Conquers All

Christopher and Martina Kostow, of 3-Michelin-star The Restaurant at Meadowood, survived the wildfire that could have destroyed their dream.

A view of the mustard grass and the vineyards along highway 128 at sunset on the way to Charter Oak restaurant.
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DURING A BRIEF lull in the cool December rainstorm that was drenching Napa Valley, I looked up to see a panorama of fluffy white and dark blue clouds interwoven with the jagged, protruding edges of the Vaca Mountains.

It was hard to keep my eyes on the road, driving north from St. Helena to Calistoga, because the sight of a glistening, soaked, vast stretch of northern Napa and its post-traumatic-stress-inducing burn scars is a real rarity these days.

I rolled the windows down and inhaled — there is nothing in the world as wonderful as the scent of wet California wine country and its heady mix of saturated ancient redwoods, live oaks, and manzanitas, together with whirling hints of mustard flowers, sagebrush, bay laurel, and old wooden barns.

It’s this aromatic panoply of the same ancient and new natural ingredients growing here that inspired acclaimed chef Christopher Kostow and his wife, Martina, to make Napa Valley their permanent home.

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In 2010, Kostow was elevated into the pantheon of great chefs when he earned his third Michelin star while helming the Restaurant at Meadowood. But almost exactly a decade later, on the night of September 27, 2020, the Glass Fire ripped through St. Helena, sending embers high into the air that leapfrogged the Meadowood golf course and descended upon the Restaurant, igniting and reducing it to ashes within hours.

While driving to meet the Kostows, I thought about that night. I had interviewed them the day after the ordeal while they huddled together in a hotel room with their two daughters and dog — unsure if their own house in Calistoga had been spared. They were resilient and upbeat and more concerned for the TRAMily, the affectionate family name given to the team members of TRAM (an acronym of the Restaurant at Meadowood).

Heavy rain had commenced by the time I arrived at the Lola Winery tasting room in Calistoga to interview them this time, more than a year later. In the foyer, we kibitzed about the rain (where the hell was it in October of 2020?). “That last service,” started Christopher, “— and this isn’t with the benefit of hindsight — was the best food we’d ever done. The best service we’d ever had, the most excited I’ve ever been about that restaurant.”

“This is not just a job for us,” said Martina. “It’s our life, and I think we spend more time in these restaurants working and with our kids than we do in our own home. Our home is the restaurants. That was one of our homes for a very long time, and we had a lot of people that have come through that space who are still a very important part of our life.”

“But look,” offered Christopher, “there are greater fucking tragedies in the world. Eight hundred thousand people have died during COVID [in the U.S., at the time of this interview].”

We moved into a charming dining room with a fireplace and talked late into the night. In the presence of it, the Kostows’ love and admiration for one another is palpable. They’ve formed a solid bond, which has been tested and weathered by the heights of culinary fame and the lows of personal and private devastation.

Deep thinkers, they’re both highly opinionated, ruefully articulate, and undeniably striking. Martina is compact and strong, all grace and charm, sporting high cheekbones, perfectly parted hair, and a pointed chin, testaments to her youthful days as a dancer. The baby-faced Kostow the world met in 2010 has aged gracefully, his face longer, his smooth forehead belying the years spent working almost every minute of the day, and his salt-and-pepper-streaked beard is neat and trimmed. They’re a handsome couple, and both have worked hard to make it here.

Trust and Fate

When Martina agreed to move in with Christopher in 2010, “it was much more of a risk on her part,” he explains. She was inches away from making partner at a communications firm. “But I kept my job, and I kept my place. It was hard for me to let someone into my life, frankly,” says Christopher. “I was crazily fixated on work, and anything that got in the way of that was just like — ah, no. I can’t do that.”

“We fought a lot,” admits Martina. “Our relationship, I would say, is passionate. And from the get-go, it was passionate in positive and negative ways. But I think that it helped us both work ourselves out and grow up — we were both hot messes at times, early in our relationship.” How could it be otherwise? Christopher’s meteoric rise in status as the third-youngest American-born chef to earn a third star (he was 32) coincided with a series of “super domestic” life changes, as he puts it — a serious relationship, a new family, a dog, and pressure.

Martina and Christopher met in April of 2009. She held a high-profile role at CFM Communications, based in Portland, Oregon, and was at Pebble Beach Food & Wine representing a client. Kostow, who had been named one of the Best New Chefs, was doing a cooking demo. “He was serving some fancy dish, and I walked up and said, ‘What do we have here, chef?’” Kostow handed her a puffed pillow-shaped cracker full of whipped fromage blanc and herbs. She smiled, thanked him, and that could have been that, but she remained within earshot as another woman vied for Kostow’s attention. “This I do remember,” he interjects. “She said, ‘You’re so cute, are you married?’ And I was like, ‘No ma’am, I’m not; I’m single.’”

Later that night, Kostow bellied up to the bar at Traps at the Inn at Spanish Bay. “The bartender says, ‘You know, the young lady over there wanted to buy you a drink.’ And I look over, and there is Martina!”

That kind of recognition almost validates every missed wedding and every lost friendship and every shitty night and every early morning.

She sent him a bourbon — the first time she’d ever bought a man a drink. “I was not looking for a relationship at the time, nor were you,” Martina reflected. “We were both very career focused. I wanted to be a partner in my firm before I turned 30.” But the attraction was strong.

In 2010, after almost a year of long-distance dating, Martina moved to Christopher’s duplex apartment at the quiet corner of Hunt and Monte Vista avenues in St. Helena. They did what many new, nervous couples do: They adopted a puppy. He was a shepherd-ridgeback mix and they named him Charlie. Christopher would take Charlie for walks in a vineyard behind their duplex, which is when he began to notice the abundance of local ingredients growing in plain sight in and around his own backyard — that heady mix of sagebrush, manzanitas, mustard flowers, and more. These observations would ultimately lead to his debut cookbook, “A New Napa Cuisine,” in which Kostow pens a series of letters that describe in great detail the “ancient and new” ingredients he would soon harvest as a forager, making “locally-sourced” the cornerstone of his dishes at TRAM.

Five months after moving in together, on a Tuesday in late October, the sun was beginning to wane, and Christopher hadn’t heard from Jean-Luc Naret of the Michelin Guide. He was hopeful that he’d at least retain the two stars he had. Trying to distract themselves, he and Martina took Charlie for a walk. They were on a deserted back road when the call finally came in.

Martina took the leash. Christopher walked in front of her, phone in hand. Time slowed. The seconds seemed like hours, until, suddenly, “He dropped to his knees and held up three fingers,” recalls Martina. They wept together for a long time. And after composing themselves, they walked to their local coffee shop in a state of shock and got in line for coffee, speechless.

Christopher, reflecting on it all now, says, “There are very few moments in any career where there’s some sort of finite recognition, right? And I don’t believe in the objective reality of any of the awards. But it still meant a lot. That kind of recognition almost validates every missed wedding and every lost friendship and every shitty night and every early morning. But I didn’t realize what it meant for my career and life. I just remember being excited to share it with the team.”


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Hard Work if You Can Get It

Born in 1981, Martina Lainu Kostow was raised in Canby, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, within the Willamette Valley. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. While attending Oregon State, enrolled in a liberal arts program with a focus on communications, she used every spare moment to work — washing dishes, sweeping messes at smokeless tobacco bars, and as a cart girl for a country club.

Meanwhile, Christopher worked country club jobs and cafe cook gigs during summer music festivals, while pursuing a liberal arts degree with a concentration in philosophy at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Born September 3, 1976, he grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, just half an hour north of Chicago, but moved west to San Diego after college to work in restaurants.

He hounded and finally convinced acclaimed chef Trey Foshee to let him work in the kitchen at George’s at the Cove. Kostow loved it and figured he needed some real experience to cut it in the culinary world. After three years with Foshee, he navigated through critical stages in Montpellier, Salon-de-Provence, and Paris, France. Back stateside in 2006, he landed the sous-chef position at Campton Place in San Francisco, working for Daniel Humm. When Humm departed, so did Kostow, who landed at Chez TJ in Silicon Valley a year later, in 2007, coinciding with the first year the Michelin Guide would rate restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. Incredibly, that year, he earned one Michelin star. The following year: two.

When the chef at the Restaurant at Meadowood (also a 2-Michelin-star establishment at the time) departed to open a new restaurant in Sausalito, California, Kostow, with his 2-star fame, was offered the position. It was hard work, day in, day out. “That’s the tie that binds us,” says Christopher, talking about his wife. “We were both very hard-hard-working people. We both value work.”

Race to the Next Stop

The next decade would move at a lightning pace. At the tail end of 2010, the Kostows celebrated their first Christmas together. (Christopher is Jewish; Martina was raised in the Catholic, Christian, and Buddhist faiths; neither considers themselves deeply religious, with Martina a self-described “very spiritual person.”) Kostow devised what he figured was the best possible Christmas present — an antique wedding ring, which he delivered on bended knee on Christmas Eve. They tied the knot in the summer of 2011 at Cade Winery on Howell Mountain.

A year later, Martina was pregnant, but complications resulted in a miscarriage and unplanned surgery on New Year’s Eve. “This was a defining moment in our relationship,” recalls Martina. “A moment that brought us closer and that I think about often. He didn’t try to fix anything. He let me go through all the emotions of loss without any judgment.”

After the loss, they both realized how much they wanted to grow their family together. A second, healthy pregnancy gifted them with Daisy Kostow, born in 2013. “It was a natural birth, no drugs,” says Martina, proudly, “and Christopher was telling people, ‘my wife’s a fucking badass,’ and wanted to do it again. I thought he was one and done!”

Not quite. Two years later, in 2015, their second daughter, Lulu, was born. Today, they are a tight-knit club, absolutely in love with the idea of family — both girls have traveled everywhere with their parents. “Daisy was in Abu Dhabi at six months,” boasts Christopher, who is among the rare breed of parent that adores spending time in hotels with his children.

When not on the road, the cooking at home is very rustic. “I’m a one-pot cooker,” says Martina. Christopher says he’s the same. They never look at a cookbook — not even their own. Family time and simpler meals at home provide a respite from the pressure of maintaining a third star, year in and year out.

“The challenge is the manner in which we cook, which is hyperseasonal and contingent on what we grow,” says Christopher. “At a 3-star level, we have to constantly create new dishes at that level. We don’t have signature dishes; we don’t have dishes that stay on the menu for long periods of time. We were almost reinventing the Restaurant all the time.”

Yet through it all, with raising a family and successfully maintaining the Restaurant’s third star, both Martina and Christopher have come to view themselves as underdogs of the fine-dining world. There was no master plan back in 2010 — no road map for obtaining that third star, nor for what to do afterward. And there was never any mountain of cash. Investors, yes. “But we’re still working as hard as we can,” says Christopher, as Martina nods in agreement.

As life has evolved, Martina has found her place in the Kostow empire. Though never really part of the outward narrative, she has been actively involved in all aspects of the Restaurant for the last decade, putting to use her talents as a marketer to work on brand partnerships and growing the family business. She does the same with the Charter Oak, which the couple opened together in 2017.

Modeled on restaurants like La Huella in José Ignacio, Uruguay, or Contramar in Mexico City — or even like Husk back in the day in Charleston, South Carolina — the Charter Oak is a large, boisterous restaurant serving up delicious, local ingredients. And the TRAMily culture lives on differently there, “but still in a positive way,” says Christopher.

With Ensue, the restaurant they opened in August of 2019 atop Futian’s Shangri-La Hotel in Shenzhen, China, Martina works with the partners on everything from branding and media relations to partnerships and collaborations — many of which have yet to come to fruition due to the pandemic. The Kostows had every intention of spending a lot of time in China to dive deep into the country’s cuisine. Instead, they found solace in one particular English cookbook writer, Fuchsia Dunlop, whose focus is on Chinese cooking. “During COVID, we did a lot of her recipes,” says Christopher.

And with the debut of Loveski, a Jewish deli slated to open this winter in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, they continue to be all-in together — Team Kostow. “There were takeaways from COVID and the fires and all those things,” remarks Christopher. “I think it was the desire to do something that was wholly our own.”

The name is based on Christopher’s family’s pre–Ellis Island name, Koslovski. “It’s a play on that, but it’s not Katz, it’s not Langer,” he explains, referring to two of the most famous, traditional Jewish delicatessens in New York and Los Angeles. “But it has an element of those places. It’s also kind of funky and flavorful and fun, and more representative of our family than it is something from the shtetl.”

“I think the traditionalists will love and appreciate it, but I also think that it gives an opportunity to add some new life to it,” adds Martina. “We’re not the traditional Jewish family.”

It was getting very late and the rain was relentless, meaning roads would be closed and we all had yet to have dinner. But I ventured to ask if there was a limit to how big a chef’s world could become. “I think the limit is whatever you can properly handle, and that is defined by the team that surrounds you. If it was just me on an island, I could do one thing, but we can do three things if it’s Martina and me.”

The Kostow team certainly recognizes that bond. When two of their core team members got married, they asked the Kostows what advice they had for newlyweds, to which Christopher answered: “Just remember, you’re on a lifeboat together, meaning you could fight and yell and scream, but at the end of the day, you wake up and you’re still on the same boat. Whatever you guys are doing, you’re in it together. And if you think in those terms, you’ll be successful.”

The Best Places to See, Stay, Eat, and Shop in Napa

  • The Station

    This Joel Gott–owned former gas station is now a sunny spot for brilliant, fresh, ingredient-driven salads, wraps, and the best egg sandwich in the world (Green Eggs No Ham). The bread is off the charts.

  • Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

    This wine shop and marketplace on St. Helena Highway has an extraordinary selection.

  • The Ink House

    A chic four-room boutique inn inside a gorgeously restored estate house just south of downtown St. Helena.

  • K. Laz Wine Collection

    Napa Valley’s destination for top-shelf cult wines and collector’s items. Tastings here are unforgettable. (You can buy Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova caviar here too.)

  • Auberge du Soleil

    Sun-drenched luxury in the heart of Napa. Beautiful rooms and suites, with access to local wineries and boutique shopping.

  • The Culinary Institute of America at Copia

    A foodie’s dream, the institute’s downtown Napa campus is a great place for dining experiences, hands-on food-enthusiast classes, and shopping. Visit the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum to see 4,000 culinary artifacts.

  • Acres Home and Garden

    A lovely shop in St. Helena for unbelievably real-looking fake flowers (because water is precious in California). There’s plenty of other cool stuff here for outdoor living.

  • The French Laundry Gardens

    The garden that supplies produce to the French Laundry, an iconic Yountville restaurant, is just across the street and open to the public. Visit for a beautiful up-close view of the farm-to-table philosophy in action.

  • Poetry Inn

    This exclusive boutique hotel is down a gated driveway, with suites named after poets. There are top-notch spa services and an indulgent complimentary breakfast. A wonderfully private romantic getaway.

  • Model Bakery

    The famous bakery’s outpost at Oxbow Public Market in Napa. A great stop for artisan breads, spectacular sandwiches, and Stumptown coffee. (Little known secret: Try the pepperoni pizza. You won’t be sorry.)

  • V Marketplace

    This shopping center housed in the historic, 137-year-old Groezinger Winery complex features upscale home, garden, and bath boutiques; fine art galleries and restaurants; a wine tasting cellar; and a hot air balloon company.

  • The Station

    This Joel Gott–owned former gas station is now a sunny spot for brilliant, fresh, ingredient-driven salads, wraps, and the best egg sandwich in the world (Green Eggs No Ham). The bread is off the charts.

  • Acres Home and Garden

    A lovely shop in St. Helena for unbelievably real-looking fake flowers (because water is precious in California). There’s plenty of other cool stuff here for outdoor living.

  • Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

    This wine shop and marketplace on St. Helena Highway has an extraordinary selection.

  • The French Laundry Gardens

    The garden that supplies produce to the French Laundry, an iconic Yountville restaurant, is just across the street and open to the public. Visit for a beautiful up-close view of the farm-to-table philosophy in action.

  • The Ink House

    A chic four-room boutique inn inside a gorgeously restored estate house just south of downtown St. Helena.

  • Poetry Inn

    This exclusive boutique hotel is down a gated driveway, with suites named after poets. There are top-notch spa services and an indulgent complimentary breakfast. A wonderfully private romantic getaway.

  • K. Laz Wine Collection

    Napa Valley’s destination for top-shelf cult wines and collector’s items. Tastings here are unforgettable. (You can buy Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova caviar here too.)

  • Model Bakery

    The famous bakery’s outpost at Oxbow Public Market in Napa. A great stop for artisan breads, spectacular sandwiches, and Stumptown coffee. (Little known secret: Try the pepperoni pizza. You won’t be sorry.)

  • Auberge du Soleil

    Sun-drenched luxury in the heart of Napa. Beautiful rooms and suites, with access to local wineries and boutique shopping.

  • V Marketplace

    This shopping center housed in the historic, 137-year-old Groezinger Winery complex features upscale home, garden, and bath boutiques; fine art galleries and restaurants; a wine tasting cellar; and a hot air balloon company.

  • The Culinary Institute of America at Copia

    A foodie’s dream, the institute’s downtown Napa campus is a great place for dining experiences, hands-on food-enthusiast classes, and shopping. Visit the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum to see 4,000 culinary artifacts.

DURING A BRIEF lull in the cool December rainstorm that was drenching Napa Valley, I looked up to see a panorama of fluffy white and dark blue clouds interwoven with the jagged, protruding edges of the Vaca Mountains.

It was hard to keep my eyes on the road, driving north from St. Helena to Calistoga, because the sight of a glistening, soaked, vast stretch of northern Napa and its post-traumatic-stress-inducing burn scars is a real rarity these days.

I rolled the windows down and inhaled — there is nothing in the world as wonderful as the scent of wet California wine country and its heady mix of saturated ancient redwoods, live oaks, and manzanitas, together with whirling hints of mustard flowers, sagebrush, bay laurel, and old wooden barns.

It’s this aromatic panoply of the same ancient and new natural ingredients growing here that inspired acclaimed Chef Christopher Kostow and his wife, Martina, to make Napa Valley their permanent home.

In 2010, Kostow was elevated into the pantheon of great chefs when he earned his third Michelin star while helming the Restaurant at Meadowood. But almost exactly a decade later, on the night of September 27, 2020, the Glass Fire ripped through St. Helena, sending embers high into the air that leapfrogged the Meadowood golf course and descended upon the Restaurant, igniting and reducing it to ashes within hours.

While driving to meet the Kostows, I thought about that night. I had interviewed them the day after the ordeal while they huddled together in a hotel room with their two daughters and dog — unsure if their own house in Calistoga had been spared. They were resilient and upbeat and more concerned for the TRAMily, the affectionate family name given to the team members of TRAM (an acronym of the Restaurant at Meadowood).

Heavy rain had commenced by the time I arrived at the Lola Winery tasting room in Calistoga to interview them this time, more than a year later. In the foyer, we kibitzed about the rain (where the hell was it in October of 2020?). “That last service,” started Christopher, “— and this isn’t with the benefit of hindsight — was the best food we’d ever done. The best service we’d ever had, the most excited I’ve ever been about that restaurant.”

“This is not just a job for us,” said Martina. “It’s our life, and I think we spend more time in these restaurants working and with our kids than we do in our own home. Our home is the restaurants. That was one of our homes for a very long time, and we had a lot of people that have come through that space who are still a very important part of our life.”

“But look,” offered Christopher, “there are greater fucking tragedies in the world. Eight hundred thousand people have died during COVID [in the U.S., at the time of this interview].”

We moved into a charming dining room with a fireplace and talked late into the night. In the presence of it, the Kostows’ love and admiration for one another is palpable. They’ve formed a solid bond, which has been tested and weathered by the heights of culinary fame and the lows of personal and private devastation.

Deep thinkers, they’re both highly opinionated, ruefully articulate, and undeniably striking. Martina is compact and strong, all grace and charm, sporting high cheekbones, perfectly parted hair, and a pointed chin, testaments to her youthful days as a dancer. The baby-faced Kostow the world met in 2010 has aged gracefully, his face longer, his smooth forehead belying the years spent working almost every minute of the day, and his salt-and-pepper-streaked beard is neat and trimmed. They’re a handsome couple, and both have worked hard to make it here.

Trust and Fate

When Martina agreed to move in with Christopher in 2010, “it was much more of a risk on her part,” he explains. She was inches away from making partner at a communications firm. “But I kept my job, and I kept my place. It was hard for me to let someone into my life, frankly,” says Christopher. “I was crazily fixated on work, and anything that got in the way of that was just like — ah, no. I can’t do that.”

“We fought a lot,” admits Martina. “Our relationship, I would say, is passionate. And from the get-go, it was passionate in positive and negative ways. But I think that it helped us both work ourselves out and grow up — we were both hot messes at times, early in our relationship.” How could it be otherwise? Christopher’s meteoric rise in status as the third-youngest American-born chef to earn a third star (he was 32) coincided with a series of “super domestic” life changes, as he puts it — a serious relationship, a new family, a dog, and pressure.

Martina and Christopher met in April of 2009. She held a high-profile role at CFM Communications, based in Portland, Oregon, and was at Pebble Beach Food & Wine representing a client. Kostow, who had been named one of the Best New Chefs, was doing a cooking demo. “He was serving some fancy dish, and I walked up and said, ‘What do we have here, chef?’” Kostow handed her a puffed pillow-shaped cracker full of whipped fromage blanc and herbs. She smiled, thanked him, and that could have been that; but she remained within earshot as another woman vied for Kostow’s attention. “This I do remember,” he interjects. “She said, ‘You’re so cute, are you married?’ And I was like, ‘No ma’am, I’m not; I’m single.’”

Later that night, Kostow was belly up at the bar at Traps at the Inn at Spanish Bay. “The bartender says, ‘You know, the young lady over there wanted to buy you a drink.’ And I look over, and there is Martina!

She sent him a bourbon — the first time she’d ever bought a man a drink. “I was not looking for a relationship at the time, nor were you,” Martina reflected. “We were both very career-focused. I wanted to be a partner in my firm before I turned 30.” But the attraction was strong.

In 2010, after almost a year of long-distance dating, Martina moved to Christopher’s duplex apartment at the quiet corner of Hunt and Monte Vista avenues in St. Helena. They did what many new, nervous couples do: They adopted a puppy. He was a shepherd-ridgeback mix and they named him Charlie. Christopher would take Charlie for walks in a vineyard behind their duplex, which is when he began to notice the abundance of local ingredients growing in plain sight in and around his own backyard — that heady mix of sagebrush, manzanitas, mustard flowers, and more. These observations would ultimately lead to his debut cookbook, “A New Napa Cuisine,” in which Kostow pens a series of letters that describe in great detail the “ancient and new” ingredients he would soon harvest as a forager, making “locally-sourced” the cornerstone of his dishes at TRAM.

Five months after moving in together, on a Tuesday in late October, the sun was beginning to wane, and Christopher hadn’t heard from Jean-Luc Naret of the Michelin Guide. He was hopeful that he’d at least retain the two stars he had. Trying to distract themselves, he and Martina took Charlie for a walk. They were on a deserted backroad when the call finally came in.

Martina took the leash. Christopher walked in front of her, phone in hand. Time slowed. The seconds seemed like hours, until, suddenly, “He dropped to his knees and held up three fingers,” recalls Martina. They wept together for a long time. And after composing themselves, they walked to their local coffee shop in a state of shock and got in line for coffee, speechless.

That kind of recognition almost validates every missed wedding and every lost friendship and every shitty night and every early morning.

Christopher, reflecting on it all now, says, “There are very few moments in any career where there’s some sort of finite recognition, right? And I don’t believe in the objective reality of any of the awards. But it still meant a lot. That kind of recognition almost validates every missed wedding and every lost friendship and every shitty night and every early morning. But I didn’t realize what it meant for my career and life. I just remember being excited to share it with the team.”

Hard Work if You Can Get It

Born in 1981, Martina Lainu Kostow was raised in Canby, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, within the Willamette Valley. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. While attending Oregon State, enrolled in a liberal arts program with a focus on communications, she used every spare moment to work — washing dishes, sweeping messes at smokeless tobacco bars, and as a cart girl for a country club.

Meanwhile, Christopher worked country club jobs and cafe cook gigs during summer music festivals, while pursuing a liberal arts degree with a concentration in philosophy at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Born September 3, 1976, he grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, just half an hour north of Chicago, but moved west to San Diego after college to work in restaurants.

He hounded and finally convinced acclaimed chef Trey Foshee to let him work in the kitchen at George’s at the Cove. Kostow loved it and figured he needed some real experience to cut it in the culinary world. After three years with Foshee, he navigated through critical stages in Montpellier, Salon-de-Provence, and Paris, France. Back stateside in 2006, he landed the sous-chef position at Campton Place in San Francisco, working for Daniel Humm. When Humm departed, so did Kostow, who landed at Chez TJ in Silicon Valley a year later, in 2007, coinciding with the first year the Michelin Guide would rate restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. Incredibly, that year, he earned one Michelin star. The following year: two.

When the chef at the Restaurant at Meadowood (also a 2-Michelin-star establishment at the time) departed to open a new restaurant in Sausalito, California, Kostow, with his 2-star fame, was offered the position. It was hard work, day in, day out. “That’s the tie that binds us,” says Christopher, talking about his wife. “We were both very hard-hard-working people. We both value work.”

Race to the Next Stop

The next decade would move at a lightning pace. At the tail end of 2010, the Kostows celebrated their first Christmas together. (Christopher is Jewish; Martina was raised in the Catholic, Christian, and Buddhist faiths; neither considers themselves deeply religious, with Martina a self-described “very spiritual person.”) Kostow devised what he figured was the best possible Christmas present — an antique wedding ring, which he delivered on bended knee on Christmas Eve. They tied the knot in the summer of 2011 at Cade Winery on Howell Mountain.

A year later, Martina was pregnant, but complications resulted in a miscarriage and unplanned surgery on New Year’s Eve. “This was a defining moment in our relationship,” recalls Martina. “A moment that brought us closer and that I think about often. He didn’t try to fix anything. He let me go through all the emotions of loss without any judgment.”

After the loss, they both realized how much they wanted to grow their family together. A second, healthy pregnancy gifted them with Daisy Kostow, born in 2013. “It was a natural birth, no drugs,” says Martina, proudly, “and Christopher was telling people, ‘my wife’s a fucking badass,’ and wanted to do it again. I thought he was one and done!”

Not quite. Two years later, in 2015, their second daughter, Lulu, was born. Today, they are a tight-knit club, absolutely in love with the idea of family — both girls have traveled everywhere with their parents. “Daisy was in Abu Dhabi at six months,” boasts Christopher, who is among the rare breed of parent that adores spending time in hotels with his children.

When not on the road, the cooking at home is very rustic. “I’m a one-pot cooker,” says Martina. Christopher says he’s the same. They never look at a cookbook — not even their own. Family time and simpler meals at home provide a respite from the pressure of maintaining a third star, year in and year out.

“The challenge is the manner in which we cook, which is hyperseasonal and contingent on what we grow,” says Christopher. “At a 3-star level, we have to constantly create new dishes at that level. We don’t have signature dishes; we don’t have dishes that stay on the menu for long periods of time. We were almost reinventing the Restaurant all the time.”

Yet through it all, with raising a family and successfully maintaining the Restaurant’s third star, both Martina and Christopher have come to view themselves as underdogs of the fine-dining world. There was no master plan back in 2010 — no roadmap for obtaining that third star, nor for what to do afterward. And there was never any mountain of cash. Investors, yes. “But we’re still working as hard as we can,” says Christopher, as Martina nods in agreement.

As life has evolved, Martina has found her place in the Kostow empire. Though never really part of the outward narrative, she has been actively involved in all aspects of the Restaurant for the last decade, putting to use her talents as a marketer to work on brand partnerships and growing the family business. She does the same with the Charter Oak, which the couple opened together in 2017.

Modeled on restaurants like La Huella in José Ignacio, Uruguay, or Contramar in Mexico City — or even like Husk back in the day in Charleston, South Carolina — the Charter Oak is a large, boisterous restaurant serving up delicious, local ingredients. And the TRAMily culture lives on differently there, “but still in a positive way,” says Christopher.

With Ensue, the restaurant they opened in August of 2019 atop Futian’s Shangri-La Hotel in Shenzhen, China, Martina works with the partners on everything from branding and media relations to partnerships and collaborations — many of which have yet to come to fruition due to the pandemic. The Kostows had every intention of spend a lot of time in China to dive deep into the country’s cuisine. Instead, they found solace in one particular English cookbook writer, Fuchsia Dunlop, whose focus is on Chinese cooking. “During COVID, we did a lot of her recipes,” says Christopher.

And with the debut of Loveski, a Jewish deli slated to open this winter in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market, they continue to be all-in together — Team Kostow. “There were takeaways from COVID and the fires and all those things,” remarks Christopher. “I think it was the desire to do something that was wholly our own.”

The name is based on Christopher’s family’s pre–Ellis Island name, Koslovski. “It’s a play on that, but it’s not Katz, it’s not Langer,” he explains, referring to two of the most famous, traditional Jewish delicatessens in New York and Los Angeles. “But it has an element of those places. It’s also kind of funky and flavorful and fun, and more representative of our family than it is something from the shtetl.”

“I think the traditionalists will love and appreciate it, but I also think that it gives an opportunity to add some new life to it,” adds Martina. “We’re not the traditional Jewish family.”

It was getting very late and the rain was relentless, meaning roads would be closed and we all had yet to have dinner. But I ventured to ask if there was a limit to how big a chef’s world could become. “I think the limit is whatever you can properly handle, and that is defined by the team that surrounds you. If it was just me on an island, I could do one thing, but we can do three things if it’s Martina and me.”

The Kostow team certainly recognizes that bond. When two of their core team members got married, they asked the Kostows what advice they had for newlyweds, to which Christopher answered: “Just remember, you’re on a lifeboat together, meaning you could fight and yell and scream, but at the end of the day, you wake up and you’re still on the same boat. Whatever you guys are doing, you’re in it together. And if you think in those terms, you’ll be successful.”

The Best Places to See, Stay, Eat, and Shop in Napa

  • The Station

    This Joel Gott–owned former gas station is now a sunny spot for brilliant, fresh, ingredient-driven salads, wraps, and the best egg sandwich in the world (Green Eggs No Ham). The bread is off the charts.

  • Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

    This wine shop and marketplace on St. Helena Highway has an extraordinary selection.

  • The Ink House

    A chic, four-room boutique inn inside a gorgeously restored estate house just south of downtown St. Helena.

  • K. Laz Wine Collection

    Napa Valley’s destination for top-shelf cult wines and collector’s items. Tastings here are unforgettable. (You can buy Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova caviar here too.)

  • Auberge du Soleil

    Sun-drenched luxury in the heart of Napa. Beautiful rooms and suites, with access to local wineries and boutique shopping.

  • The Culinary Institute of America at Copia
  • Acres Home and Garden

    A lovely shop in St. Helena for unbelievably real-looking fake flowers (because water is precious in California). There’s plenty of other cool stuff here for outdoor living.

  • The French Laundry Gardens

    The garden that supplies produce to French Laundry, an iconic Yountville restaurant, is just across the street and open to the public. Visit for a beautiful up-close view of the farm-to-table philosophy in action.

  • Poetry Inn

    This exclusive boutique hotel is down a gated driveway, with suites named after poets. Top-notch spa services and an indulgent complimentary breakfast. A wonderfully private romantic getaway.

  • Model Bakery

    The famous bakery’s outpost at Oxbow Public Market in Napa. A great stop for artisan breads, spectacular sandwiches, and Stumptown coffee. (Little known secret: Try the pepperoni pizza. You won’t be sorry.)

  • V Marketplace

    This shopping center housed in the historic, 137-year-old Groezinger Winery complex, features upscale home, garden, and bath boutiques; fine art galleries and restaurants; a wine tasting cellar; and a hot air balloon company.

  • The Station

    This Joel Gott–owned former gas station is now a sunny spot for brilliant, fresh, ingredient-driven salads, wraps, and the best egg sandwich in the world (Green Eggs No Ham). The bread is off the charts.

  • Acres Home and Garden

    A lovely shop in St. Helena for unbelievably real-looking fake flowers (because water is precious in California). There’s plenty of other cool stuff here for outdoor living.

  • Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

    This wine shop and marketplace on St. Helena Highway has an extraordinary selection.

  • The French Laundry Gardens

    The garden that supplies produce to French Laundry, an iconic Yountville restaurant, is just across the street and open to the public. Visit for a beautiful up-close view of the farm-to-table philosophy in action.

  • The Ink House

    A chic, four-room boutique inn inside a gorgeously restored estate house just south of downtown St. Helena.

  • Poetry Inn

    This exclusive boutique hotel is down a gated driveway, with suites named after poets. Top-notch spa services and an indulgent complimentary breakfast. A wonderfully private romantic getaway.

  • K. Laz Wine Collection

    Napa Valley’s destination for top-shelf cult wines and collector’s items. Tastings here are unforgettable. (You can buy Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova caviar here too.)

  • Model Bakery

    The famous bakery’s outpost at Oxbow Public Market in Napa. A great stop for artisan breads, spectacular sandwiches, and Stumptown coffee. (Little known secret: Try the pepperoni pizza. You won’t be sorry.)

  • Auberge du Soleil

    Sun-drenched luxury in the heart of Napa. Beautiful rooms and suites, with access to local wineries and boutique shopping.

  • V Marketplace

    This shopping center housed in the historic, 137-year-old Groezinger Winery complex, features upscale home, garden, and bath boutiques; fine art galleries and restaurants; a wine tasting cellar; and a hot air balloon company.

  • The Culinary Institute of America at Copia

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Our Contributors

Jonathan Cristaldi Writer

Jonathan Cristaldi is an established wine writer with more than a decade of professional experience. His articles on wine, spirits, and beer appear in both local and national print and digital platforms, including Decanter, Food & Wine, Departures, the SOMM Journal, Tasting Panel Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Thrillist, and Time Out Los Angeles. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Amanda, and daughter, Penelope. When Cristaldi isn’t visiting vineyards in the Bay Area, he’s on the hunt for a great McIntosh apple.

Aya Brackett Photographer

Aya Brackett is a commercial fine art photographer who shoots portraits, still-life, food, travel and conceptual work.

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