By Susan Hathaway
For the Mercury News
Posted: 06/04/2013 03:00:00 PM PDT
Updated: 06/04/2013 03:26:07 PM PDT
tasty new food venture that, he says with droll delight, “has turned out to be quite the roaring success.”
Backstabbing and profanity may be the route to becoming a television top chef, but David Kinch did it the slow, old-fashioned way, honing his craft over a few decades into the culinary equivalent of a 10th-degree black belt.
In recent years, Kinch and his renowned Los Gatos restaurant, Manresa, have perched at or near the top of all the “best” lists — garnering two Michelin stars for six straight years and multiple James Beard awards — and he has become something of a mild-mannered cooking deity.
The thoughtful late bloomer, now 52, is embracing his growing fame with a cookbook — his first, due out this fall from Ten Speed Press — as well as TV appearances, cooking events from Australia to Paris, and a Carboholic foodies line up long before the Campbell farmers market opens on Sundays so they can snag some swoon-inducing chocolate brioche, super-seedy pumpernickel rye, exotic buckwheat cherry boule or whatever extravagant treat might be available through the Manresa Bread Project.
With the line lengthening weekly, customer Kathy Finley of San Jose hops into the queue earlier each Sunday morning. “The bread is addictive,” she says. “Now I can’t have other bread. It’s not the same.”
Even prices up to $12 per loaf don’t deter the enthusiastic crowds, and the Manresa offerings sell out in a couple of hours. Staffing the booth is Kinch’s baker, petite blonde Avery Ruzicka, who spends all night creating up to 500 items in the Manresa kitchen, then hauls them to the market in the morning.
“It’s a workout,” she says. “But this is my baby.”
Such passion is a hallmark of Kinch and his staff, and it is being poured into another much-anticipated project, the “Manresa: An Edible Reflection” cookbook, which lands October 22. Co-written with well-known food editor Christine Muhlke, the book showcases Northern California’s tremendous local ingredients and shares some of Kinch’s cerebral yet practical techniques for making better-tasting food, including umami principles such as plopping a bit of sun-dried tomato or kombu into a chicken stock during cooking to deepen flavors.
The project has long been on Kinch’s mind. “Every chef hopes to do a book at some point in time,” he says.
This one offers some signature recipes, such as his sweet-tart strawberry gazpacho and crispy, herby garden beignets.
Kinch may be enjoying the book deal and plaudits, but the typical next step of chef stardom — endless Manresa Cafes popping up coast to coast — isn’t likely to occur. But one new restaurant? “I wouldn’t rule it out,” he says, carefully. Ditto on any discussion of a brick-and-mortar bakery.
Given all the acclaim, it’s easy to forget that Kinch cooked in far-flung restaurants in semi-obscurity for years before opening his first place in the mid-’90s and Manresa in economically challenged 2002. He admits there were moments in those early years when he thought about closing. The economy may have wobbled, but his cooking never did. His search for hyperlocal perfection has him gathering seawater near his Santa Cruz home for cooking fish and making in-house salt. His kitchen churns its own butter from cream produced by local cows. And since 2006, the restaurant’s produce has been grown at nearby Love Apple Farms, the biodynamic farm that Bon Appétit magazine dubbed “The Michelin Garden.”
“Love Apple is a huge part of who we are, where we are and the recognition that we get,” Kinch says.
Manresa spends three times more on this grown-for-the-restaurant produce than what a conventional approach would cost, Kinch says, but these estimable veggies enable buzzed-about courses, such as the gorgeous “Into the Vegetable Garden,” a 40-ingredient seasonal extravaganza that is Kinch’s homage to a legendary French dish called Le Gargouillou, originated by three-star chef Michel Bras.
Many locals consider Manresa the French Laundry South, citing Kinch’s increasingly refined, intricate, painstaking dishes. Cooking, Kinch says, “is a dynamic endeavor. If it stays the same all the time, you’ll wither and die.”