Chef of San Francisco Centurion Lounge is Out After 3 Months

I’m a huge fan of American Express Centurion lounges. They’re orders of magnitude better than what’s offered by US airlines. They’re stylish and offer good (complimentary) food and beverages. They even pair with a local celebrity chef for each lounge, as well as with a celebrity mixologist.

I was fortunate to attend the pre-opening dinner of the San Francisco lounge back in November. Unquestionably the food presentation was going to be at the top of its game, three-Michelin star chef Christopher Kostow was there supervising.

SF Eater reports that Kostow and American Express have split after the lounge had been open only a few months. (HT: Daniel W.)

According to a statement from American Express, the decision to depart the project was ‘mutual’ so that “he can focus on other projects.”

Kostow declined to comment on the reason for the severed ties, but some industry types assume that the differing desires of a Michelin-starred chef and an airport food service provider have something to do with it.

Here’s why it’s so hard to create decent food inside an airport. The challenges are truly mind boggling, and much greater than you’d realize at first blush.

In my view the food was very good, at least at the pre-opening, but I really like the LaGuardia lounge offerings a bit more. My favorite Centurion lounge dish was the original brisket from the Dallas lounge’s opening.
Chef’s — especially Michelin-starred chefs — can be tough to work with and uncompromising. This chef’s food in San Francisco was a bit less popular than the other lounges.

American Express deserves real kudos for going farther than anyone else has in the U.S. to deliver a top culinary experience across a variety of airports despite the challenges. This news does not surprise, although I wouldn’t have guessed it necessarily either.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • American Express plans to team up with a new chef for the San Francisco lounge.
  • The existing Kostow menu will be served until a new chef is onboard.
  • The real highlight of this lounge is less the food anyway and more the ‘wine wall’ with premium offerings that I actually want to drink.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Does anyone know offhand if this lounge is feasible if departing on USAir? “On paper/google”, it’s in another terminal (3 vs 1) and requires skytrain. I’d appreciate “real world” insight on how arduous the process really is. Thanks..

  2. The terminals aren’t connected you’ll have to go through security to get to this lounge, leave the terminal, clear security again at the terminal you’re departing from. Absolutely doable, but you’ll need to plan for a decent amount of time at the airport.

  3. :). I can’t complain about the current food; however, I’ve always thought it was the worst Centurion offer. I’m looking forward to the new menu.

  4. Colleen, I was in the exact same situation as you this past Monday and everything was ok. I had TSA precheck for terminal 1 and they let me use the precheck lane at terminal 3. I just told the TSA agent I was going to the Amex lounge. It took me about 12 minutes to walk from terminal 1 to terminal 3. Then I had to go through security again at terminal 1.

  5. Colleen, I visited the SFO Centurion Lounge a few weeks ago before my flight departed from one of the International terminals. I paid attention to how long it took me to walk over to the lounge after I checked my bag, so I could allow enough time for the walk back. I have pre-check, and I didn’t have any delay getting through TSA. TSA apparently didn’t care that I was entering a different terminal; they didn’t even ask why.

    I loved the wine wall. The menu was not quite what I wanted at lunch, but they did have turkey sandwiches on baguettes which were more to my taste.

  6. Interesting article. The food here was strange – and not enough to substitute for a meal in my humble opinion. On my last visit there was a pork bone and fennel something. It was more fancy snacky. . .

    It will be interesting if the new chef does more ordinary things like gourmet pizza…

  7. Gary, Eric and AAL – thanks so much for the very helpful information. I’m really looking forward to trying this lounge!

  8. I’ve been to the DFW lounge 4 times in the last month, and the food has been IDENTICAL every one of those 4 times (mind you, on different days of the week). They need to offer more variety.

  9. I spent some time with Kostow a few days after the lounge opened. He said this project was challenging, unlike anything he’s done before. You could see the frustration he was having with his name being on the food, and trying to keep the presentations the way he thought they needed to be. His approach has served him well at Meadowood, but that doesn’t translate to an airline lounge. I can only imagine the challenge that a buffet format and limited per plate budget posed for someone at his level.

  10. Tje food was very tasty nut not a lot of options, amd did not seem to change much through the day (I ended up camped for a while). He may have felt limited in his creativity.

  11. And by limited I mean by being prevented from doing more, not by him running out of ideas, of course 🙂

  12. The lounge rep said the LGA chef will be the interim chef until they find another.

    While the food is good, menu fatigue is real. It’s been the same stuff for four months now.

  13. I never understood why they never change up the menu? It’s the same offering every single day.

    Also pork as the main “meat” dish seemed strange given how that would exclude a not insignificant % of the customer base.

  14. Isn’t it pretty common to have a “name” chef open a restaurant and then can them once the routine is established?

  15. Beyond the food, my gripe is that the dining area is incredibly loud with all the kitchen noise. Perhaps they thought an “open kitchen” was a good idea but dining with exhaust fan going off regularly (or whatever the noise is) just isn’t pleasant at all.

  16. @Corky this is not the approach we’ve seen with the other Centurion lounges that have been open longer, and no I think it’s more common for the name chef just to stop involvement not to separate from the project entirely

  17. @jason – in my experience the lounges change up the menu a bit every 3-6 months. LaGuardia alternates days for their main dishes. I do wish they’d mix up the food more, I use the Dallas lounge VERY regularly, though I don’t really think the idea is that they’re catering to regulars like me 🙂

  18. the food was way too fussy for people who are passing through, looking for something to eat. I’m sure (based on his cookbook that we were given) that it was legitimately what he considers high-end comfort food, but for the average traveler it just wasn’t.

    I’m looking forward to the LGA menu style.

    Greg

  19. These lounges are so hyped and overrated. Have been many times to SFO and LGA and frankly they could use more function over style, as in more power outlets and seating.

    And stop spending on the pretentious chef thing and spend on some rotation variety.

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