David Kinch, Famed Manresa Chef, Talks Santa Cruz And The Farm

09/12/2011 05:53 pm ET | Updated Nov 12, 2011

Who: David Kinch
Years in the Bay Area: 22

Current Neighborhood: Santa Cruz
Gig: Executive Chef and Proprietor of Michelin Awarded Manresa Restaurant; Named Best Chefs in America for the Pacific region from the James Beard Foundation

From Japan to Spain, you’ve lived all over the world. How’d you end up in the Bay Area?
My family moved here in the early 80s, and after visiting several times and suffering East Coast winters, it was just a matter of time before I came out. Plus, being in the restaurant industry and realizing how great the produce, environment and customers are here was really appealing; it was kind of a done deal after the first visit.

In your constantly changing menu, what’s one dish that’s a regular at Manresa?
The menu is tweaked on a daily basis; we keep it very seasonal and make sweeping changes every four to six weeks. We have one dish on the menu where the name is always the same but the dish is always different called Into the Vegetable Garden. We have a relationship with the Love Apple Farm and the dish is an edible reflection of anything and everything that comes from the garden on every given day. It’s much different in winter and fall than the spring and summer. The rule is everything on the plate must be from the garden. It’s an edible snapshot of what’s on the farm at any given time.

How has your relationship with Love Apple Farm influenced the menu?
It has fundamentally changed the way we write the menu and how we look at the seasons. Before, we’d see what was available and products would magically appear. Now, we know what’s in the ground, what’s growing and when it’s going to be ready. For example, we know in three weeks we’re going to have cabbage so we have to be prepared to use it; the garden drives our menu.

What do you love most about living in Santa Cruz?
What’s not to love about Santa Cruz? It offers a great balance to my professional life. I have a 25-minute commute. I drive up Highway 17 and go up and down a mountain and enter another world. It’s important to stay healthy and balanced with what can be a long, stressful day. Plus, it’s by the water and it’s a college town. I live close to downtown so I can walk to markets, movie theaters, book stores. It’s the relaxing, peaceful, beach lifestyle that I’m really attracted to.

What are some of your favorite local spots?
There’s a great wine bar that serves casual small plates a few blocks from our house that we love to pop in to on our days off. It’s called Soif, the French word for burst. We do a lot of cooking on our days off too. We love to do simple meals and have friends over and eat, that’s our favorite thing to do.

What about the city? What’s the last amazing meal you’ve had in SF?
Flour and Water. I’ve been several times and it has this great thing going on; every meal I go to is better then the last. Another place I like called La Ciccia out on 31st and Church. It’s a Sardinian, Sicilian spot. It’s comfortable, welcoming and the couple who runs it is really warm and welcoming; it’s everything I like about San Francisco restaurants.

In all your global culinary travels, what other countries have left the biggest influence on you in the kitchen?
As a general rule, Manresa is seeped in European cooking traditions. A lot of our techniques are based on American and European culture. However, the one culture that has be excited quality known how would have to be Japan. There’s no place in the world I can’t wait to get on a plane to more than Japan.

What do you think of the recent pop-up and food cart explosion in the Bay Area?
I don’t know much about it. My life centers around the South Bay, but anything getting out good food to more people that’s customer supported, I’m in big favor of. I recently did a pop-up myself in New York City, actually. If it’s in good fun and people being happy, I’m all for it.

What’s your cocktail of choice?
Cocktails for me are an aperitif, the starting of a meal. I like Negronis, anything with gin, and I like citrus too. I like aroma and flavor--if I’m going to drink a cocktail that’s what I’ll gravitate towards.

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