The circuitous four-lane highway cuts through a dense blanket of trees, creating a flickering image of the distant view. I quickly peer down the steep slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hoping to catch a glance of the Pacific Ocean, but instead I see fold after fold of dense tree growth: oak, pine, Douglas fir, madrone, and redwood. CA-17 connects the quaint coastal towns of the San Francisco Peninsula to the urban enclaves of San Francisco’s South Bay. This is the same breathtaking route that chef David Kinch travels daily from his beachside home to his world-renowned restaurant, Manresa, in the boutique town of Los Gatos, California, on the fringes of Silicon Valley.
Manresa has received two Michelin stars for six consecutive years. It was named one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” by Restaurant Magazine, “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” by Gourmet Magazine, and has received four stars from The San Francisco Chronicle. In 2009, Chef Kinch won the ruthlessly competitive TV series Iron Chef America and in 2011 he was named “Chef of the Year” by GQ magazine. Furthering his acclaim, in 2011, Kinch won “Best Chef” award for the Pacific region from the prestigious culinary non-profit the James Beard Foundation.
"David Kinch knows more about vegetables than any non-farmer that I’ve ever known"
Based on the philosophy of le terroir, “of the earth,” or what Kinch describes as “a sense of place,” his California fare is shaped by the tastes of French, Catalan, and Japanese cuisine. For the past seven years, Kinch has partnered with Cynthia Sandberg, owner of Love Apple Farm, a 20-acre plot of land located just 13 miles from the restaurant. The farm’s vegetables are grown exclusively for Manresa, a collaborative endeavor that has required the utmost commitment from both Kinch and Sandberg. The extensive ingredient list, from hay to the sweetly sour yuzu fruit, and complex harvesting schedule are just two of the endless details that make for the peerless quality of ingredients and unusual flavor medleys found only in a Manresa dish.
“David Kinch knows more about vegetables than any non-farmer that I’ve ever known,” Sandberg explains as we stroll through raised beds of flowering radish, yarrow, and Fava beans. Just within earshot, the whispers of indie rockers Wilco pulse through an outdoor speaker. Stephan, Quinn, Adam, Claire and Brendan – the elite Love Apple apprentices – are immersed in their morning routines: watering crops, weeding the terraces, checking for frost damage.
Sandberg continues: “Take David’s knowledge of vegetables and extrapolate it over every possible edible thing: the fine details, the taste profiles, the purveyors, the production – he knows it all. This is why he’s so phenomenal.”
Kinch explains, “What we do is about control. To achieve quality ingredients, the logical step for us is to grow our own. You have a whole network of farmers’ markets, here in Northern California. For the first four years of Manresa, my mornings consisted of going to markets. I’d find great Swiss chard, great strawberries, great artichoke, but there’d be two chefs in front of me and three chefs behind me and as good as the produce was, everyone was buying the same thing. So the question was, how do you create that degree of separation? Somewhat naively, I thought, we’ll just grow our own.”
Le terroir also extends to Manresa’s Wine and Beverage program, directed by artist turned sommelier Jeff Bareilles. Creating cocktails begins with a unique selection of seasonal ingredients from the farm. Bareilles then carefully chooses a complementary spirit. This process is quite unusual; a reverse engineering akin to songwriting starting with the guitar and vocals and working your way back to find the base beat. His divine elixirs include the aromatic Fieldnotes, made with vodka, tangy garden sorrel, a lemongrass infusion, celery bitters, and lime; or the refreshing Shizuka, made with gin, tonic, green chartreuse liqueur, aloe, and Love Apple cucumber and shiso. Santa Cruz 75 is a spin on the classic French 75. Bareilles’ interpretation, inspired by the farm’s homemade honey, includes brandy, lemon, Love Apple honey, and champagne.
The Peninsula has a range of microclimates. Along the coast, sandy soil accompanies the influx of cool, morning fog and warm, sun-drenched afternoons. Tucked away in the mountains, ten miles inland the farm sits at a slightly higher elevation, where the climate is relatively temperate and the clay soils are loaded with nutrients. Sandberg has adapted methods of biodynamic farming, characterized by an acutely orchestrated closed-circuit system of growth, consumption, compost, and re-growth. Not only is this process efficient, sustainable, and localized, the operations at Love Apple also align with Kinch’s meticulous process, supporting his culinary vision.