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Located between Santa Cruz and San Francisco bay, David Kinch’s restaurant Manresa is named after a beach and it's not uncommon to see the liked of Ferran Adrià, Mauro Colagreco or René Redzepi dining there.
I met with Kinch during Care’s, the ethical chef event in Salina, Italy. As we sipped local Malvasia wine on an idyllic Italian terrace, we discussed Kinch's own idea of an 'ethical chef', why he felt the need to be at the event, and what obsesses him in life.
You have many things in common with Care’s manifesto. What made you jump on a plane from Santa Cruz to be here?
"I am lucky enough to have a supermarket consisting in over a hectare of natural land with a miraculous biodynamic vegetable garden. What I share with Care's, above all, is its accent on local products and the importance of protected areas. The topic of ocean sustainability is also very dear to me. Ten years ago, the coastal areas close to San Francisco Bay had very few fish. Ever since they became a protected area with a restriction on intensive fishing, they have had a new lease of life. Only a few fishermen have been allowed access to the area on a strictly regulated basis. Today Los Gatos abounds with bigger fish that are able to reproduce. I have anchovies, calamari and cod on my menu."
So you identify with the Pacific Ocean?
"I certainly do. I cannot help but do everything in my power to protect the sea and its living organisms. Respect means caring for the fish that travels from the quay to our tables. Sometimes bruised and worse for wear. The Californian microclimate is similar to the Mediterranean one. Wine is important and my valley is a miniature copy of the most authentic Mediterranean environment: we have olive oil, almonds, fruit and excellent wine varietals. I certainly have some French wines on my wine list, but most of them are Californian."
In your work environment, do you encounter a greater sense of responsibility towards environmental issues?
"Increasingly so in the younger generations. In today’s world, being an ethical chef is not so much a choice but a duty. I buy my ingredients from two farms in my neighbourhood and I have a couple of fishermen who serve me well. I need nothing else, apart from my creativity. I find it really rewarding to do manual jobs and be in close contact with nature. If I hadn’t become a chef, I would have chosen to be a naturalist.”
Every chef has an obsession, what is yours?
"I have two: ingredients and travel. Which merge into one. I travel a lot and the first thing I do is to get someone to take me to the local market to become familiar with the typical ingredients of the area and to chat with people. This is my real source of inspiration. It is what I have done here in Salina where I have discovered these fantastic capers and Malvasia wine."
How would you define your cuisine? Which dish represents you most? What has influenced your work?
"Mine is a contemporary Californian cuisine. No longer just French or Carolina-style but, above all, Japanese, following my travels in the land of the Rising Sun. As to the dish, it combines two purées: one made from tomatoes and the other from strawberries, which actually taste similar. In California there are many influences. As I said before, it is a small-scale Mediterranean-like environment, where excellent rice is produced by Japanese farmers. The older I get – I am now 56 – the more I realize that no chef should be overly preoccupied with himself. The guest is far more important. Whoever cooks must let the ingredients talk, allowing their personality to emerge without imposing his own ego on the resulting dish. The guest must never feel ill at ease, but gently guided towards a positive culinary experience."
Something has happened in your private life and career...
"A disaster which I managed to turn into a success. A few years ago, a fire totally destroyed my restaurant. I was disheartened and depressed, and then I started to reflect. From there I began the long climb back to the top. I started afresh and finally obtained the third star. I realized the importance of my team and that happy people produce good food. I learned to treat the brigade as adults rather than kids. An aggressive approach in the kitchen is uncalled for. With a pinch of irony you obtain much more."
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
"On a boat in the Caribbean as I cook a superb dish for myself. I don’t wish to end my days in a kitchen. "