Here's the dreamy Manresa: An Edible Reflection by California chef David Kinch, co-written by Bon Appetit's Christine Muhlke. The book is an elegant introduction to Kinch's northern California sphere: it tells the story of Kinch's two Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa, but also profiles his purveyors. Especially interesting is the story of Cynthia Sandberg's Love Apple Farms, which provides produce (and other goods) for Manresa in what Kinch calls "a handshake agreement that has blossomed into a symbiotic relationship." He credits Sandberg's produce, in fact, for making Manresa what it is today: using "it was a big shift — one that cemented my maturation as a chef."
Manresa serves as documentation of that maturation, although perhaps a better word is evolution. The book begins with Kinch opening Manresa in 2002, continues through his partnership with Love Apple Farms and their subsequent co-development, and ends up exploring the restaurant's current status as a beloved (yet ever-changing) fine-dining establishment. This is a great example of the benefit in waiting until you have a bit of a career behind you to publish a book. Kinch actually has a story to tell (unlike some chefs who publish cookbooks the second their restaurant hits the national spotlight). Short essays on what it means to grow and learn as a chef make the book satisfying, giving depth and context to the recipes. Kinch isn't trying to prove anything to the reader; he's not here to convince you of Manresa's worth. He's simply here to explain it.
In Search of Balance
Kinch writes about tides of food movements, like when elBulli-mania was at its peak and restaurants were rushing to use high-tech equipment and ingredients in new ways. He says he felt "like the voice in the wilderness, like people were saying, 'Oh, look at David, growing his beets. He's never going to be the one to figure out how to make hot ice cream.'" But trends subside and balance is found: Kinch now says he uses a pacojet from time to time, and trades seeds with world-famous chefs like René Redzepi and Alain Passard.
At one point, Kinch writes, "I should write BALANCE in capital letters throughout the book, because that's what cooking is really all about: it's about understanding the power of moderation." The same can be said for cookbooks themselves: a little restaurant history, a few recipes, nice big photos, profiles of purveyors, a smattering of art from the restaurant, essays on the philosophy of cooking, and more. It's a nicely rounded portrait of Manresa.
Recipes as Legacy
The book is mostly made up of recipes, which Kinch points out in the intro are "no fun" to write and are "written exactly how we do them at the restaurant." That said, there is some stuff here for an adventurous cook to try at home, from Manresa's butter recipe to cocktails and more. (And, sure, why not, Kinch's tips on how to cultivate your own salt from seawater.)
But a book like this doesn't necessarily need to be cooked out of to be appreciated. Readers may use Manresa as a souvenir of their trip to the restaurant, or to discover what they're missing if they haven't been. Certainly professionals will use a volume like this to find out not only what Kinch is up to in terms of plating, inspiration, and more, but also to engage with the technique behind the finished dishes. That's not something you'll get out of dining at a restaurant, no matter how well your server explains the meal. Not to mention the historical value: decades from now, how invaluable will books like Manresa (and Daniel, and Coi, and D.O.M.) be?
A Sense of Place
It's hard to overemphasize how tightly Manresa-the-restaurant is connected to its surroundings, and that carries over to Manresa-the-cookbook. Beyond locally sourced ingredients, the restaurant is decorated with woodcuts from local artist Tom Killion, who uses wood from the area to create prints that depict the area around Santa Cruz. The book is filled with his prints as well, providing a nice visual parallel to Kinch's story.
Further tying the book to the Santa Cruz area is powerful photography of the nearby ocean. It contains a chapter called "The Pacific as Muse," in which Kinch writes, "When Manes struggled in the beginning, just having a chance to surf before going into work really saved me." The ocean not only provided the restaurant with bounty, but also gave personal support for its chef. This is a man who (as previously noted) creates his own finishing salt from seawater. Rare is the restaurant with this level of commitment to its surroundings; rarer still is the restaurant cookbook that holistically references this commitment through its art and photography.
Manresa: An Edible Reflection comes out October 22 from Ten Speed (pre-order on Amazon). There's a foreword by Eric Ripert, an epilogue by writer Charles Bowden, a section on drinks by Manresa beverage director Jeff Bareilles and San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné, a brief "Illustrated Farm" with drawings of various produce, and more. Take a look inside: