Upended by the Pandemic, Haute Chefs Move Into Hotels


Yogis and nature fans have lengthy flocked to Ojai, a verdant mountain enclave 90 minutes north of Los Angeles — gastronomes, not a lot. That modified throughout the pandemic, when the Ojai Valley Inn turned its sprawling, indoor-outdoor farmhouse — formally a marriage venue earlier than the coronavirus upended plans — right into a stage for a revolving forged of high-end cooks.

Among the marquee names: Christopher Kostow, the government chef of California’s three-Michelin-starred paragon of advantageous eating, the Restaurant at Meadowood. Located greater than 400 miles to the north in Napa Valley, it burned down in a September wildfire.

“That, on top of Covid, gave us this feeling like, ‘God only knows what’s going to happen next,’” Mr. Kostow mentioned.

To pay his employees, Mr. Kostow must arrange store elsewhere. Before the fireplace, he’d had the foresight to look right into a Plan B outdoors Napa, conscious that continually shifting restrictions may maintain companies in wine nation shuttered whereas different elements of the state had been open.

It turned out that Howard Backen, the similar architect liable for the plush environs of Meadowood, had additionally not too long ago constructed the Ojai Valley Inn’s Farmhouse, geared up with an open kitchen and state-of-the-art Viking home equipment. One name led to a different, and Mr. Kostow and his workforce determined to quickly shift their operations to Ojai, the place they engineered a tasting menu of can’t-cook-this-at-home delights like “champagne-bubbled” oysters and caviar dressed with eucalyptus and broccoli.

“I hadn’t been to Ojai before,” mentioned Mr. Kostow. “It’s like what I imagine California might have been like in the 1930s: rolling hills, rustic, really bucolic.”

The partnership between the Restaurant at Meadowood and the Ojai Valley Inn exemplifies an accelerating pattern: in the wake of the pandemic, motels have turn out to be havens for high-end cooks. Whether displaced by catastrophe, like Mr. Kostow, in search of to make up for misplaced income, desirous to discover new markets or just craving a possibility to check out new issues, well-regarded cooks are flocking to motels not essentially recognized for his or her delicacies. Last 12 months chewed up and spit out the fine-dining playbook: now, there’s a possibility for reinvention.

“Serving outside on a lawn or in a space that’s not your own is not ideal, but it does make you scratch your head, like, ‘Oh, this is cool. What other cool things could we be doing?’” mentioned Mr. Kostow, who additionally owns a extra informal eatery, The Charter Oak, in Napa Valley. “I think the result, post-pandemic, regarding fine dining, will be more license, more fluidity. All the old rules are blown up, at this point.”

“The Restaurant at Meadowood Residency” began on March 3. Over the course of five weeks, it got the culinary equivalent of a standing ovation: all 44 dinners Mr. Kostow presided over at the Ojai Farmhouse sold out, including a finale weekend of meals in May that featured wine pairings from the renowned Krug Champagne house and Harlan Estate, a famed Napa Valley producer of Bordeaux-style blends. Tickets for that dinner cost $999 per person.

“They sold out within the first hour,” said Ben Kephart, the Ojai Valley Inn’s director of operations. “It’s crazy. That’s about as much as you can charge for a dinner anywhere. It shows you how much of a demand there is, and it speaks to people wanting to get out and support a venture that they feel is deserving.”

One of Mr. Kostow’s March dinners in Ojai offered 13 courses, several pours of wine, and, maybe most importantly, the opportunity to dress up and people watch (from well over six feet away). It felt like the opposite of sitting on the couch, numbly chewing Postmates by the glow of Netflix. Apparently, people want that.

“We could have had a month of these dinners, straight,” said Mr. Kephart. “That’s how many people tried to book them.”

Besides Mr. Kostow, the Farmhouse has played host to chefs such as Nancy Silverton, the grande dame of Italian food in Los Angeles. Next month brings David Castro, the chef of Fauna in Baja California, which was recently honored by World’s 50 Best, one of the hospitality industry’s major ratings organizations, as well as Neal Fraser, the owner of the revered eatery Redbird in Los Angeles.

Across the country and south of the border this summer and fall, similar guest chef-resort collaborations are in the works:

“It’s meant a lot,” Ms. Bloomfield said of her residency. “I’ve been able to hire some of my staff from New York and therefore keep them employed. It’s been great to have them experience the country and the produce it has to offer. We feel very grateful for the experience and to be of service.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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