Martina Kostow: A Fixture in Napa’s Food Scene

When Martina Kostow moved to Napa Valley in 2010 after leaving CFM Strategic Communications, she thought she would settle into her new home at a slow, comfortable pace. She was wrong.

Well known in West Coast “foodie” circles, Martina soon found herself sought after to work on PR projects. Clients wanted her advice on websites, social media, contests and communications strategy. Others wanted her fresh eyes on their marketing plans.

“My plan for some time off was short-lived,” Martina says. “I had offers to work in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay area in the food and beverage space.” Ultimately, she decided a consulting practice would allow a wide-range of clients (with fewer hours commuting), while still having the ability to work in collaboration with PR firms and like-minded professionals.

Although the trips to the city were welcomed, there was a stronger draw in Napa Valley – the chef at The Restaurant at Meadowood. In 2010 under a Christmas tree, Christopher Kostow popped the question. He and Martina were married in 2011 and since then, life has been very good for the couple.

That same year, Christopher and The Restaurant was awarded three stars from the Michelin Guide, and has retained this rare accolade for the past seven consecutive years. Martina assisted in implementing social media and marketing strategies for The Restaurant and played a growing role in cultivating brand partnerships with her chef husband.

Kostow has received Food & Wine Best New Chef, the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in the West and this year was a finalist for the Outstanding Chef of the Year award, presented in Chicago. Kostow hails from Illinois, so “We trained from the city to Highland Park and spent the day walking around and eating in the town he grew up in,” Martina says.

The couple now is working on their dream project – The Charter Oak, a casual, family-style restaurant in downtown St. Helena slated to open early next month. The new restaurant will share the same 2.5-acre culinary garden Christopher started in 2011 in partnership with the St. Helena Montessori School and Farm. The garden will be the primary source of fresh produce for the restaurant, featuring frequently changing and seasonal menus ­ grilled meats, beautiful vegetables, local wines and craft cocktails.

In addition to managing two restaurants and a blossoming culinary career, the Kostows are the proud parents of two energetic girls – Daisy, who is four and takes after her dad, and Lulu, who will turn two in August and is a clone of her mother.

“We have a full and busy life,” Martina says, which requires “24/7 attention and a military operation to keep going.” That said, “It is a life full of love for our family and our work.”

A chef with a growing international reputation is in demand and on the road. Luckily, Martina says, they have been to places you would expect like New York City, as well as places like Abu Dhabi where they spent two weeks attending a major food event – and several hours searching for hidden bars that serve martinis.

Martina led the CFM team that handled PR for Tillamook Cheese. Under her leadership, CFM launched Tillamook’s national Macaroni and Cheese contest, started its social media outreach and oversaw brand expansion efforts, especially to Hispanic consumers, in several Western states. Even though that was just a decade ago, Martina sees lots of changes in PR today.

“The biggest change is the transition to digital media,” she says. “There is less vetting, more reactive content and a focus on edgy headlines that invite clicks.”

To protect the culinary reputation of her husband, Martina carefully vets inquiries to see how a partnership or event can build his brand. She also devotes time dreaming up proactive ideas. “We have to look for opportunities that are worth the time we invest in,” Martina says.

The next time you are in Napa Valley, stop by The Charter Oak, grab a seat in the courtyard lined with mulberry trees or enjoy a spot at the indoor/outdoor bar with great views of the cooks plating food from the black steel hearth. You might just see Martina, Christopher, Daisy and Lulu.