Carmel was crawling with world-renowned chefs at this weekend’s Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest, including the Bay Area’s very own David Kinch. Manresa is a newly-inducted Relais & Châteaux property, so Kinch was on hand to give a demo and cook at two of Friday’s meals (as was his pastry chef Stephanie Prida).
Kinch’s demo was a hit, with Kinch preparing the restaurant’s famous "Into the Vegetable Garden," a custard topped with vegetable veloute and 35 to 40 picked leaves, flowers and herbs from Manresa’s gardens. The chef arranged the garnishes with tweezers while fielding questions from the audience, including "how to get the most out of Manresa as a guest," which seemed to hit a nerve.
Eater caught up with the recently-crowned three-Michelin-star chef on what life’s been like since catching his third star, and what’s on the horizon.
ST: What is the difference in clientele you’ve seen once you got that third Michelin star?
DK: Well, the restaurant got really busy, really fast. The phone rang and we booked about three months out in about 36 hours. The type of traveler that we had seen only once in awhile, we now see on a regular basis. For me that's really interesting. They tend to be sophisticated, well-traveled, educated, know a lot about food and wine, and the third star has brought those people to Los Gatos. Los Gatos is off the beaten path. It’s one thing to get to San Francisco; it’s another thing to rent a car and drive an hour south. So we’re seeing a lot of that. And It hasn’t slowed down.
For me, the single most important thing is that it’s been an incredible staff motivator. Everyone has a sense of pride in that sort of thing, and they're really motivated not only to get, but now to keep them.
At the demo you talked about disagreeing with people who think the Michelin guides are outdated.
I just don't think it’s true. Nobody's perfect, but I think Michelin tends to get it right more often than they don’t. I grew up reading and worshipping the Michelin guide; for me it was always the bible for when I traveled. For us it makes a big difference. Hipsters might not like it, but in the great big world, there are a lot of other people who understand the prestige and how much work goes into it.
During the demo, an audience member posed the question, "How do you recommend a guest get the best possible experience at Manresa?"
On any given night, 60 percent of people want to change the menu, and we’re talking about people who have preferences or restrictions because of likes or dislikes, not allergies. I have a staff of 40 people who work incredibly long days and our whole life is creating the best possible experience for people coming into the restaurant. We work on portion sizes, diversity, flavor, all that. So for someone to come in like that, they're handcuffing us to create the best possible experience. Just let us drive. If it continues, restaurants will start charging a supplement for changing the menu. It's more labor cost, we have to buy extra food and special ingredients. It's a lot of angst, money and manpower, and you have a lesser experience. It's a lose-lose situation.
Do you ever think about being one of the chefs who is taking the old-guard, French style of hospitality and bringing it forward in a modern way?
No, it’s just the way we operate. I think a lot of the trends you see in restaurants nowadays are more about the chef and the restaurant being convenient for the chef and the restaurant and not for the guest. Sometimes it's just a pain in the ass. And that doesn’t mean you design a computer program to make your life simpler and more difficult for the customer. I think that's the wrong approach.
For me, it’s hospitality, it’s a sense of generosity and a genuine warmth. And people remember that. You know, Manresa is a really expensive restaurant. I want them when they leave, to think, "I can’t wait to come back. It was expensive, but it was worth every penny. The value was there. They really care." And you can't teach that. you have to instill that in the staff by leading with your own actions. You can’t tell people to be nice, and then not be nice yourself. All the different genres of guests, different people go to restaurants for different reasons, but I think the one thing they can all agree on that really resonates with them is they feel they’ve been really welcomed.
So how are you applying that in a more casual concept like The Bywater?
It’s the same tools: making eye contact and the smile is genuine. That tells them that you care. And you can't fake that.
How is The Bywater doing?
It’s been great; it’s been busy.
I would imagine it’s a different part of your brain.
Completely. I can go there and mindlessly shuck oysters for a couple hours and be the happiest guy in the world.
How are you splitting your time?
Pretty good. I mean they’re really close; it’s about a quarter mile. I’m gonna get a bike. When I go into work, I stop by The Bywater really quickly just to check in, a little before lunch service starts. Then I go and spend my day at Manresa. The Bywater opens at 5 o’clock so I’m there by 4:30 for lineup. I get them open at 5 o’clock. Manresa opens at 5:30, so I stay at The Bywater until about 6, get it going, and then I go back to Manresa and I spend the night at Manresa. I’m happy as a clam. Really busy but happy.
You’ve had a lot going on lately; are you focusing on that, or is there anything coming up?
I might have a couple things in the works. The bakery [Manresa Bread] is opening up a new location in Los Altos. We’re considering a third location, as yet undetermined. We might have a concept or two in us still. But not fine dining. It won’t be fine dining.