NEW YORK (Reuters) - David Kinch, chef-proprietor of Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos, California, believes the great dishes are usually the simpler ones.
"The food that lingers in peoples' memory is not the fancy molecular food with tons of ingredients and complexity," said Kinch. "The dishes that linger are usually simple, well-thought out, and well contextualized by a chef who knows when to say no."
Manresa, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, has held two Michelin stars for five years. It ranked 48th in Restaurant Magazine's 50 Best Restaurants list for 2012.
Kinch spoke to Reuters about cutting-edge Northern California cuisine, his sense of place, and the premium he puts on creating a hedonistic, customer-friendly dining experience at his restaurant.
Q: Did you always want to be a chef?
A: "Working in a restaurant has been the only job I've ever done. I grew up in New Orleans, which has a great food and restaurant culture, and I started working in restaurants after school. My experience has always been in restaurants."
Q: How would you describe the cuisine at Manresa?
A: "I would describe the food at the restaurant as very, very personal. At a very basic level, we cook food we like, don't cook food we don't like. We're trying to create a northern California experience with the restaurant so it's not only reflective of who we are, but where we are. We bring in a lot of influences, but we try to stay within the context of where we are.
Q: How does the food reflect where you are?
A: "We try to use products that are associated with the region. We have this great culture of farming and small farms and counter culture co-ops. All around the world, California is known for the quality of its ingredients. That's what we try to tap into. We want people to see these things extolled as the virtues of Northern California on the plate. We want them to taste it at the restaurant."
Q: Are there ingredients characteristic of Northern California cuisine?
A: "Artichokes, garlic, abalone, black cod, pacific salmon, and Dungeness crab ... We have 2,000 miles of coastline and several different climates from warm water to cold water."
Q: Do you have a culinary philosophy?
A: "I think the best way to improve a dish is to buy better quality ingredients. Cooks are not magicians. You cannot take a mediocre product and turn it into a superlative dish. To me great cooking is taking the best product and gently coaxing out the best that product has to offer. That is the genius of a cook, that is the greatness of a chef."
Q: Is there a signature dish at Manresa?
A: "Into the Vegetable Garden" is the one dish that's always on the menu. It's a mixture of anywhere from 40 to 60 ingredients from Love Apple Farms. We've been in partnership with them since 2006."
Q: What's on the horizon?
A: "We're looking forward to the next 10 years. We just completed another renovation, and we've just started serving cocktails crafted from the local produce. That's been very well received."
Q: Your inspiration and creativity seem very tied to Manresa.
A: "The restaurant is my life; my professional life. It's how I express myself. It's where I'm most comfortable. Sometimes it's really difficult to do an event outside because I'm outside of my comfort area -- my own kitchen and my own ingredients."
2 ½ lbs. strawberries, greens removed
8 oz. white onions, thinly sliced
8 oz. red bell peppers, seeded, and thinly sliced
10 oz. cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 ea. clove of garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
10 g. tarragon, just leaves
100 ml. Balsamic Vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Make the strawberry consommé (recipe below). Crush strawberries by hand over a bowl. Add all the other ingredients, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Allow to marinate for 1-2 days.
Puree in a blender, then strain. Adjust the thickness by thinning the puree down with strawberry consommé. Adjust the seasoning with fine sea salt.
Hull several pounds of ripe strawberries and place in a bowl. Wrap the bowl tightly in plastic wrap and place the bowl over a double boiler. Simmer until the strawberries have given up their liquid and nothing remains. Strain the consommé, letting it drain for a bit without pressing, and chill. This is the liquid that you use to thin down the gazpacho.
Reporting by Dorene Internicola; Editing by Patricia Reaney