ACCLAIMED LOCAL CHEF DAVID KINCH
by Stefanie Berntson
David Kinch may be the chef and proprietor of the Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos ("Without a doubt, one of the greatest restaurants in the world," says Ferran Adrià), but you’d never know it from his humble and unassuming nature. His laid-back style is perfect for Santa Cruz, which he has called home since 1997. In partnership with Love Apple Farms in the Santa Cruz Mountains (which grows or raises most of the ingredients used at Manresa), Kinch creates dishes that are beautiful, inventive, and showcase the unique flavors, seasons, and sensations of our particular part of the world.
Kinch will be joining us for a book talk and signing of Manresa on Tuesday, October 29th, at 7:00pm. (More about the event here.)
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with David about Manresa, his new book, and his love of reading.
STEFANIE: I read that you consider Manresa: An Edible Reflection more of a souvenir than a cookbook.
DAVID: The restaurant turned 11 years old this past July. And I really think the restaurant was just another restaurant until we started our relationship with Love Apple Farms. The book is the story of our restaurant told through narrative, photographs, and recipes. It’s just what we wanted it to be. We didn’t want it to change the face of gastronomy as we know it, we just want to tell the story of who we are and what we are.
SB: How long did it take to put the book together, and since your menu is always changing, how similar is the book to what is served at Manresa today?
DK: It took 15 months to put the book together, including photo shoots every 3 to 4 weeks. There are just shy of 90 completed recipes, but with sub-recipes there are several hundred. When we first considered doing the book we thought, well, we’ll reach back and do 11 years worth of recipes, but what we ended up doing is we captured a year. I’d say about 15 to 20 percent of the recipes are signature dishes or dishes that have represented our past, but it’s usually because they are still on the menu seasonally; they kind of come and go. But it ended up being more of a snapshot of the past year.
The interesting thing was that after we were finishing up after a full year and looking at the recipes that we shot at the beginning, we were like, hmm, is that what we were doing a year ago? But I think that’s part of the dynamics of a restaurant and being able to change the menu: You’re constantly moving forward.
SB: Manresa is a two-star Michelin restaurant. Are there recipes in the book that are accessible to the home cook"?
BK: None of the recipes are dumbed down. All of the recipes are done exactly how we do them at the restaurant. We wanted to make sure that people had the opportunity to do that. That said, there are some recipes that are more ambitious than others, and there are also a lot of very, very simple recipes in the book. And some of them are our most favorite—some of the most iconic recipes in the book are the simplest ones, so I encourage people to cook more because I think the book is incredibly accurate—to cook some of the simple ones but also at some point in time to challenge yourself and to make yourself a better cook by trying something with a bit more ambition.
SB: What ingredient do you love that’s the hardest to work with?
DK: Abalone. It has great taste and is an iconic ingredient of the coast here, but almost every method you can do very quickly can toughen it up and make it rubbery. Abalone is tricky, but it’s well worth the effort.
SB: I know you’re out on the water a lot [Kinch loves to surf and sail—he even collects seawater and makes his own sea salt!]. Do you do any diving?
DK: You know, I try to do as much as possible on the surface of the water and not underneath it. I’m not good under water.
SB: Do you read cookbooks? Do you get inspired by reading?
DK: Yes, I read, I read a lot. I like a lot of different things. I read a lot, obviously, of titles that come out by my contemporaries and peers, especially in Europe and Japan. I like to keep abreast of what’s going on. I also like older cookbooks, antiquated cookbooks, because [...] you learn a lot about how there’s not really that much new anymore. A lot of things have been done. You glean a lot of ideas and information from older books.
A book that was really influential in my thinking as a chef and wanting to be a chef and taught me the passion that was required was a book that came out around 1977. It was called The Great Chefs of France by Quentin Crewe and Anthony Blake. It was the first kind of opening up of what went on inside these great kitchens before anybody really knew. That book made it—glamorous is the wrong word, but look, you’re working with your hands and you’re making people happy. That was the appeal to me. It had a kind of restless, creative side to it. I liked the idea of working with my hands; I liked the idea of working with fire. And creating things that were very organic in terms of it’s here and then it’s not. And you had an instant gratification—either people liked it or didn’t like it, and I bought into that, too, I liked that. We all seek approval, right? And that came every night [...] either approval or disapproval, depending on how you did your job. And I found all of that appealing. I still do--that’s why I still do it. I think if that feeling leaves me, then I leave the business, because it’s a terrible business to be in if you don’t like it. It will beat you up real quick.
Stefanie Berntson has been the cookbook buyer at Bookshop Santa Cruz for more than 20 years.