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American chef David Kinch’s pop-up in Paris

Explore how David Kinch takes inspiration and instruction from French cooking, just like many Californian chefs and chefs the world over do. September, to mark the 15th anniversary of his three-Michelin-starred Los Gatos institution Manresa, set in the Santa Cruz foothills 50 miles south of San Francisco, chef-owner David Kinch shuttered the restaurant and took his entire staff to Paris to return the favour.

Dubbed The Residency and organised through Relais & Châteaux — one of the world’s most extensive global communities of hotels and restaurants — the two-week event was a year in the making. It incorporated four hands lunches and dinners at three culinary institutions: Le Taillevent in Paris first, Oustau de Baumanière in Marseille, and Le Petit Nice in Provence.

It’s the first time Kinch has taken Manresa on the road and when I ask him why he wanted to go to France, he tells me that every decision he made from the ages of 16 to 21 was to get to France as quickly as possible “to be a good cook”. Ultimately, he staged at the Najeti Hôtel de la Poste in Beaune in 1984 and L’Espérance in St-Père-en-Vézelay in 1992, and along the way discovered mentors that exert a great influence on him to this day.

David Kinch envisioned The Residency as a way to serve up similar learning experiences for his staff, many of whom had never been to Europe, and to share the culinary philosophy of Manresa — showcasing the finest seasonal products and the coastal Californian terroir — with his Gallic counterparts and diners.

“France was the obvious choice. It completes the circle, at least in my mind,” he explains.

His decision to up sticks to cook in France makes him an outlier among American culinary luminaries — it’s not something that American chefs do.

“A famous chef friend of mine in New York City said I was crazy and that he’d be afraid to go to France,” he says. “I told him he was probably right.”

But Kinch was resolute and in honour of the occasion, Relais & Chateaux threw a California Dreamin’-themed opening party at Le Taillevent, for which the restaurant’s rich, luxurious wood-and-marble interiors were reimagined for the evening in hues of pink and green and decorated with Tiki huts and surfboards, the latter in honour of one of Kinch’s passions.

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Light bites featuring caviar and truffle and small plates from both teams were sent out with flutes of Dom Perignon 2009 to eager, appreciative Parisian gourmands and socialites, fellow Relais & Chateaux chefs, and the film crew documenting Manresa’s 15th anniversary.

At breakfast the next day — and following a late-night wander through the city’s cobbled streets, culminating in a 4am-finish over pigs’ feet at the aptly named 24-hour eatery Au Pied de Cochon — David Kinch is excited about what that first night’s dinner would hold.

He says his team is looking forward to cooking in French kitchens, where its repertoire of specialities is steeped in tradition.

Conversely, Le Taillevent host Chef Alain Solivérès is appreciative of his team gaining insights into the Californian team’s modern, agile, expressive approach to cooking.

“In the US, I think because of our history and the waves of immigration, it’s been very easy to assimilate newer ideas because we don’t have this long tradition — everything’s open,” adds Kinch. “That’s a big deal; that’s what we can contribute.”

That contrast — vibrant Californian cuisine and the traditional familiarity of French cooking — flows perfectly together in a meal unlike any I’d had before.

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Courses have been developed to reflect the perspectives of both restaurants and the fact that it’s game season. Classics from each restaurant were tweaked in honour of the other team, interleaved with and accompanied by wines from the other country.

David Kinch
Kinch plating up at Le Taillevent during the residency

The first course is from Le Taillevent: A rich, creamy spelt risotto with spelt flour and cep and ormeaux mushrooms, which David Kinch says is a typical Californian ingredient, served with Au Bon Climat 2015 Chardonnay from Santa Barbara.

Then comes a dish from Manresa, which riffs on the classic bouillabaisse, prepared en gelée with blue lobster from Brittany and hazelnuts.

Because California’s climate is not dissimilar from that of France, there’s some gestalt in terms of seasonal ingredients, but hazelnuts aren’t something Kinch usually works with (it was Solivérès’s idea to incorporate them). Even the lobster was different. Whereas Kinch would normally use a North American lobster, this dish included homard bleu, a blue lobster from Brittany, which has a harder shell and takes longer to cook.

For the main course, the two teams offer complimentary interpretations of aged duck. Kinch’s team prepared two pieces of the breast, hand-rubbed with vinegar for two weeks, accompanied by five complimentary vegetal cigars — chickpea panisse, green onion, burdock root, grilled savoy cabbage and kohlrabi compressed with pickled beet juice — separated on the plate by a flourish of gobo and fermented carrot sauce and paired with Domaine Voge 2010 Cornas Les Chailles.

Then, Solivérès’s course: Two decadent pastries filled with confit of the leg of the same duck, accompanied by Bonny Doon’s delicious 2008 La Cigare Volant.

Even the dessert courses are emblematic of each restaurant. The Manresa team prepares a palate-refreshing sorrel granita with cereal, puffed grains, fig compote and frozen yogurt. Taillevent, a rich, decadent cylinder of guanaja chocolate and café du Bresil artfully plated with loops of crisp chocolate.

The service seems seamless, with the two teams working side by side — no mean a feat considering that they speak different languages and met only a day or two prior.

When he started to plan his year-long celebration of Manresa’s 15th anniversary, David Kinch originally outlined a restaurant takeover, but soon settled on a collaboration after realising he would need French teams at each property to properly serve the French-speaking dining public.

It was Chef Olivier Roellinger — who famously relinquished his three Michelin stars for his Brittany restaurant Maisons de Bricourt in 2008 — that inspired Kinch to start at Taillevent, partly because of its culinary heritage and partly because it’s home to one of Paris’s great cellars. Wine was, after all, always going to be integral to the story.

As the host and visitor cooks integrate and adapt to sharing the kitchen and style of operations, every dish offers a lesson and what could be the most prestigious cooking classes in the world emerge organically in breaks between services.

Enamoured with Taillevent’s pommes soufflés — perfect, uniformly crispy balloons of fried potato that take considerable skill to make — the Manresa team ask for a lesson. The host cooks responsible duly fetch their gear.

The Taillevent team are fascinated with the way their visitors cured fish, usually in a Japanese style — sometimes with a light brine, sometimes pressed between kombu — so the Manresa team instruct them on how to treat various types of fish to procure delectable complexities of flavour.

David Kinch
Manresa is known for “into the Vegetable Garden” an ever-changing dish based on the seasonality of ingredients

Reflecting on the journey, Kinch says The Residency went as well as he could ever have imagined. “I think we held our own both professionally and personally. I think we represented Manresa and California very, very well. I was very pleased with that. The food was delicious, the guests were all happy, the events were sold-out. It was wonderful.”

Continuing his celebration of Manresa’s 15th anniversary, Kinch has since held two dinners with Italian chef Niko Romito of three-Michelin-starred Reale in Castel di Sangro AQ in central Italy, and heads to Taiwan in December to cook three lunches and three dinners with eminent female chef Lanshu Chen at lauded restaurant Le Moût.

But before more standout events are announced, how are the Manresa team’s exploits in France translating into the Los Gatos restaurant experience?

“We’re about to find out!” David Kinch exclaims. “Everybody’s energised; as we go into our fall menus, our recent trip and experiences is informing us just as much as anything else.”

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