Meet the Chefs Behind Some of Napa Valley’s Best Restaurants

  • Food
  • by JEN SCHMITZ
  • on DECEMBER 22, 2017
  • 1836
  • 0

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Napa Valley may be known for its wine, but world-class dining is right on par. With abundant eateries speckling the landscape and restaurants ranging from Michelin-starred to delicious roadside stops, there’s a reason why foodies venture to Wine Country to eat their fill.

There’s a passion for food here, partially because of the bounty of delicious year-round produce and artisanal products, partially because Napa Valley has become a mecca for inventive cooking. But, the region wouldn’t have left its food-centric mark without talented chefs opening restaurants and calling Wine Country home.

We’ve tapped the creative culinary minds of four top Napa Valley chefs, curious to learn about their personal connection to food, the region, and their recommended local favs (beyond their celebrated restaurants) for travelers making their way to northern California Wine Country.


Chef Charlie Palmer


Image: Paige Green

You can find him in Napa Valley at Harvest Table and Charlie Palmer Steak.

What inspired you to get into cooking?

When I was in high school, I enrolled in Home Ec class on a dare from the football team. I thought it was a great opportunity to be one guy in a big group of girls, but I ended up loving it. My teacher, Sharon Crain, was my inspiration, and I still talk to her regularly and just put her Christmas card in the mail.

If not cooking, what else would you do?

I definitely keep busy. I’m in the kitchens a lot, but I’m also on a plane back and forth to NYC, Vegas, and more just as much. I also try and jog most mornings, whether that’s in Healdsburg or in NYC or somewhere in between. In addition, I’ve got 4 sons, grown now and ranging from 20 – 24, but I try and spend as much time with them and my wife Lisa as possible.

What’s your current favorite ingredient or dish?

I’m a huge fan of game birds, always. Especially in the winter. Right now I’d really like a roast quail.

How would you pair it?

I’d pair it with a really rich pinot. I think the gaminess and richness of the meat need a more robust pinot than a lighter one.

What’s your greatest extravagance?

I’m not really an extravagant guy, but I do love to travel with my family. My wife Lisa and I go to Paris once a year. We’re headed there in January, and we always stay at the Hotel Le Bristol.

What’s your favorite Napa Valley wine to enjoy at home?

So hard to choose just one, but if I’m drinking cabs, I usually go for Silver Oak or Raymond. On the white side, I’m usually a sauvignon blanc or chablis drinker, so Whitehall Lane or Twomey.

What would be three places you’d recommend for first time Wine Country visitors?

Raymond. It’s a trip and unlike any other winery or tasting room in Napa. Go visit the new CIA Copia. And finally, this is somewhat shameless self promotion, but this is what I would tell anyone who asks: come visit us at the new Charlie Palmer Steak at the brand new Archer Hotel Napa. The happy hour deal is incredible!

Follow on Instagram @chefcharliepalmer


Chef Christopher Kostow


You can find him in Napa Valley at The Restaurant at Meadowood and The Charter Oak.

What inspired you to get into cooking?

While working the register at a music festival, I quickly realized all the fun was happening in the kitchen. After frying chicken for several summers and graduating from college, I decided I wanted to immerse myself into the culinary world and I began working in restaurants from California to France.

If not cooking, what else would you do?

Be a nomad.

What’s your current favorite ingredient or dish?

Probably the new seasonal Dungeness crab dish at The Charter Oak. It’s grilled and served with Mendocino sea lettuce butter and toasted garlic babka.

How would you pair it?

Mad Fritz Beer. We’ve partnered with Nile Zacherle to create a selection of beers designed to match the flavors of our menu. Nile ferments the beer with an assortment of wild and foraged ingredients from our farm and from local growers.

If you’re not in the kitchen, where would we find you?

You would find me spending time with my wife, Martina, and two daughters, Daisy and Lulu.

What’s your favorite Napa Valley wine to enjoy at home?

There are so many amazing wines coming from the Napa Valley right now from both established and upcoming vintners. We like to support everyone, but we tend to drink more white wine varietals at home.

What would be three places you’d recommend for first time Wine Country visitors?

Bothe State Park where the old Bale Grist Mill is, hiking up Oat Hill Mine Trail, and scheduling a walking tour with one of the local historical societies.

Follow on Instagram @ckostow

Chef Christopher Cosentino


Image: Mark Mediana

You can find him in Napa Valley at Acacia House.

What inspired you to get into cooking?

I started cooking as a young kid in New England, working on commercial fishing boats and helping my great grandmothers, Rosalie and Helen, cook. It was so amazing to have two people who brought so much joy to people through food, whether the food was Italian or new England specialties, it was always made from scratch and with love. That was the game changer for me, everything made sense from there.

If not cooking, what else would you do?

If I wasn’t cooking, I’m not sure what I would be doing. As a young man, I had dreams of being a pro-athlete. In my late 20’s, I tried going pro as a cyclist but that was derailed due to injury. The whole time I was racing, I was working in the kitchen – I was working two full time jobs at once!

What’s your current favorite ingredient or dish?

Right now, I am enjoying working with chicories. They are so delicious and a true winter specialty. I also love castelfranco, treviso and puntarella, each has a great new use that can be so delicious when paired with rich foods; both seafood or meats.

How would you pair it?

Pairing chicories would really depend on what they are being served with. For puntarella, I would serve it with fish which I would then pair with a crisp, mineral driven white wine with no oak. For the Treviso, I would pair this with meat and then with a pinot noir.

If you’re not in the kitchen, where would we find you?

When I am not in one of my kitchens, Cockscomb in SF, Jackrabbit in PDX or Acacia House in Napa, I am either spending time with my family or riding my bike. Riding my bike gives me clarity so I can focus on all the things that are important. I find that being out of the restaurant is just as important as being in the restaurant, it gives you real perspective.

What would be three places you’d recommend for first time Wine Country visitors?

My first recommendation, I would say Terra Restaurant. It’s a must go to for sure, the food is always delicious, it’s a very special place for me. I think Hiro & Lissa are amazing and a very important part of the Napa culinary scene. I love the Oxbow Market, it’s a really cool place to get a great taste of the Valley. You can find local wines and beers as well as local meats, cheeses, produce and products. It’s also located in a really central place which gives you access to Napa. I would also recommend Mumm for sparkling wine. They have an amazing view of the entire Valley that you can enjoy while sitting outside, enjoying one of their sparkling wine flights.

Follow on Instagram @chefchriscosentino


Chef Sharon Li


You can find her in Napa Valley at PRESS.

What inspired you to get into cooking?

I went through a vegan phase in college, which forced me to cook a lot from scratch. My first knife was a butter knife I “borrowed” from the cafeteria so I could dice onions in my dorm. Originally I planned to study art and music, but after many changes in my major, I earned a B.A. in Business Management. I realized that by working in restaurants, I could combine my passion for an environment that fostered both the creative and managerial aspect of the business.

If not cooking, what else would you do?

If I was not cooking, I’d love to be a world renowned photographer and work for National Geographic or something of the like. Document life as it happens. Or, a spear fisherman.

What’s been your most memorable experience?

It’s hard to pick one. Every single day of my life is a challenge. I would probably say it’s the late nights at the bar with my sous chefs, when we laugh and cry and let our frustrations and fears go and realize it’s just food, and we’re still kicking.

What’s your current favorite ingredient or dish?

Cilantro. I almost don’t want to be friends with people who don’t like cilantro.

What’s your greatest extravagance?

Sushi. Caviar. Tomatoes. Food in general! I will spend $700 on a meal without batting an eye, but question my life existence if I have to fork over $300 for a new TV. Priorities.

If you’re not in the kitchen, where would we find you?

At a taqueria or at a restaurant at the bar, eating enough food for a family of four.

What would be three places you’d recommend for first time Wine Country visitors?

Besides PRESS (of course), my top 3 places that I personally love and would recommend:

Oenotri. Great wine list, charcuterie (get the selection of ten), Margherita Pizza, Mixed Greens salad and creamy polenta with parmesan.

Kenzo. Pricey, but absolutely worth every penny. Everything about this place is a choreographed ballet. Beautiful in every sense of the word.

La Taberna. Wine bar and tapas, order one of everything. Great late night vibe.

Follow on Instagram @shrncopter


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Author

Jen Schmitz

Jen Schmitz has been writing and producing creative content since 2014. She has written for VSCO, Lonny, and contributed to countless other outlets in and out of wine country. She is a lover of all things art, culture, and wine, and prefers to “summer” in Napa Valley to taste all it has to offer and to escape foggy San Francisco any time she can. Follow her on Instagram at @jeneschmitz.