Spread Kitchen Makes Waves

Lebanese-Inspired Spread Kitchen Helmed by Former Super-Yacht Chef Christina Topham


When Cristina Topham was living in New York City, she once went on a blind date to the Caribbean. “The guy was okay, but Anguilla was great,” she recounts. So the Wall Street tech-worker-turned-chef-caterer returned to the city and scoured job boards for culinary work in warmer climes.

This is how she soon found herself on a 120-foot sailing yacht in the middle of 40-foot seas in the Bermuda Triangle. She wasn’t cooking, she was tracking coordinates inside the captain’s station in case a crew member went overboard, when someone shouted, “Get away from the glass!” and a broken boom shattered through the window where she stood, barely missing her. She ran downstairs to her cabin and passed out from the shock, only to revive to the captain yelling at her to wake up and make them lunch.

And yet instead of hanging up her life vest, Topham made it to St. Bart’s, quit her job with the reckless captain, and spent the next few years hopping from one floating kitchen to the next. Her adventures as a super-yacht chef brought her into contact with celebrities like Meryl Streep (who jokingly called her a show-off for making fresh pasta at sea) and into the kitchens of local islander women who taught her how to make fish stew with breadfruit.

But after years of being a private chef, Topham realized, “I didn’t want to be a fly on the wall of other people’s lives anymore.”


It was time to search for a new job. For Topham, who’d left the tech industry on Wall Street for culinary school when she was 27, this process of reinvention came naturally. Before her work on yachts, she’d trained at the original Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, worked for $7.50 an hour as a line cook, and run a gourmet food store which was awarded best chocolate chip cookie in NYC. She’d also spent the year after 9-11 processing the grief of losing former colleagues by working alongside her father at the St. Helena’s farmers’ market.

But in 2013, on a whim, Topham sent in an application video for the very first season of Guy’s Grocery Games—an American reality-based cooking television game show hosted by Guy Fieri—and she won! She took her $20k prize and opened a private catering business in Napa, leaning heavily into her Lebanese and Mediterranean roots. Her pita bar, complete with shawarma and falafel, was a huge hit—and helped to keep her afloat during the pandemic, when she offered prepared-foods delivery all over Marin and San Francisco.

A couple of years ago, feeling ready to root, she bought out a restaurant space in Boyes Hot Springs, on Sonoma Highway, not far from where her mom has lived for 25 years, and became a first-time restaurateur in her 50s. But unlike catering, where you know how many people you are feeding and exactly how much food to prepare, the restaurant business is notoriously unpredictable with much smaller profit margins. “I’ve made some very costly, very painful mistakes,” Topham admits, including opening too staff heavy.


Her appreciation for top-quality ingredients is evident in the way she talks about where she sources them: a mix of local and imported goods including produce from Oak Hill Farm, beans from Rancho Gordo, her thinner Lebanese-style pita bread from a Palestinian family bakery in Sacramento, and a za’atar spice blend straight from southern Lebanon by way of a company in Michigan.

Topham’s flavorful food tastes complex but is deceptively simple—like her toum, a creamy whipped garlic sauce, made from just garlic, lemon juice, salt, and high-quality, non-GMO canola oil. She makes five gallons every other day, and it’s easy to see why: it compliments all of her food, from juicy chicken shawarma to the addictive “dirty fries” with feta and pickled onion.

Main menu items like grain plates, lavash wraps, and dip plates are highly customizable. Customers can choose between lamb or beef kofta, falafels, or fried cauliflower, and five different dips, including a whipped feta and beet dip with preserved lemon and a Beiruti hummus with a whiff of cumin. The robust beverage menu includesv orange blossom lemonade, peach-apricot iced tea, beer, cider, and wines from Lebanon, Tunisia, and Armenia. Be sure to save room for the delectable desserts. But don’t bother choosing between the rich tahini brownie and the flaky, not-overly-sweet baklava that Topham used to make with her grandmother and mother; best to get both.

Those with allergies never fear: “I love feeding the public and being able to cater to vegan and gluten-free people,” Topham says.

So settle in and enjoy a special culinary adventure at Spread Kitchen in Sonoma. And as the weather warms up, it’s hard to beat the large, shaded, kid-and-dog-friendly patio where you can cast off your worries and relax with family, friends, and good food.

spreadkitchensonoma.com  |  707.721.1256

Wednesday-Monday  |  11am-8pm

18375 Highway 12, Sonoma

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