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David Kinch on Manresa, Fine Dining and Finding Balance

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David Kinch’s restaurant Manresa is often described as the epitome of California cuisine — but that’s not the whole story. Manresa is indeed a temple of sun-kissed produce, fresh seafood and the kind of hyper-locality that East Coast restaurants can only dream of. But Kinch’s culinary influences defy borders.

Perhaps no single influence is as strong as that of New Orleans, where Kinch grew up. Transfixed by the city’s deep food culture, he naturally gravitated to restaurant work: “I started out in the dining room, but found myself fascinated by what was going on in the kitchen — I’d go through the doors and there was this group of profane pirates working with fire.”

From there, JWU was a natural progression: “To be a well-rounded chef, I’d need an understanding of the financial realities and JWU had a good foundation in place.”

After graduating, Kinch spent 15 years cooking all over the world, with stints in New York City (including five years at Barry Wine’s iconic Quilted Giraffe), France, Japan, San Francisco, Germany and Spain. As he puts it, “I regarded staging as finishing school. My goal was to work in the best kitchens I could find.”

In 1993, he settled in San Francisco and worked on opening his own restaurant. Debuting in 1995, Sent Sovi had only 30 seats and “a kitchen the size of a broom closet.” While the food that emerged from that tiny kitchen put Kinch on the culinary map, he and his staff quickly outgrew the space. In 2002, he opened Manresa to unanimous accolades.

In 2013, “Manresa: An Edible Reflection” (Ten Speed) was released and immediately became a New York Times bestseller. The gorgeous cookbook was packed with 300+ recipes and a wealth of cooking techniques, plating ideas and sheer visual inspiration.

In 2014, a two-alarm fire ripped through the restaurant. While it was being rebuilt, Kinch and his team subverted what could have been a devastating blow by rethinking the menu, beverage program and overall customer experience from the ground up.

To Kinch, fine dining serves a real purpose in our increasingly over-scheduled lives: “These are special occasions where you’re giving yourself over to someone’s vision. To this day, I still love that when I was a young cook I would save my money to go eat at a great restaurant and I still do that — I love going to see what great chefs can do.”

With this ideal in mind, Manresa focuses as much on superlative service as it does on superlative food. The restaurant seats 60 diners per night, with a dedicated server for every 4 diners. Menus are tailored to individual dietary preferences. Not one but two master sommeliers are on the floor at all times to share information about the wines and to answer diners’ questions.

The San Francisco Chronicle called the revamped restaurant “even better than before”; Kinch showcased this creative rebirth in the PBS series “Mind of a Chef.”

In 2016, Kinch opened The Bywater, an elegant tribute to his New Orleans roots, and Manresa earned a coveted third Michelin star. As the flagship turns 15, Kinch is juggling multiple projects, including expanding Manresa Bread and conceptualizing a new endeavor.

Through it all, he maintains a surfer’s belief in balance: “I understand going full speed and being passionate. But at a certain point you realize it’s not about working longer, it’s about working smarter.”

RELATED READING
Chef David Kinch Returns to JWU
Into the Garden: My Internship at Manresa

TOP: DAVID KINCH + MITCH LIENHARD OF MANRESA PLATING THE EPICUREAN DINNER AT JWU WITH STUDENT CHRISTINA MARTIN (right). Photo: Peter Goldberg | BELOW: Manresa exterior at night by Nick Vasilopoulos // The Classic Manresa Dish “Into the Garden” photographed by Eric Wolfinger

Manresa Exterior by Nicholas Vasilopoulos

Into The Gardenby by Eric Wolfinger

Topics: Alumni David Kinch