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Famed chef David Kinch talks Michelin stars

Celebrity and famed chef, David Kinch, on his wish for a return to basics.

Over the last 15 years of running his fine dining California restaurant Manresa, triple Michelin-starred chef David Kinch has heard it all. There was the diner who made a point to tell the server: "I only eat white food." (As in the colour, not the race.) There was also the customer who mentioned: "I'm allergic to coriander but cilantro's OK." And then, there was this specification: "I don't eat anything that has a mother. Anything that has eyes."

Kinch is rhyming off some of his most memorable requests during a discussion about how his Los Gatos restaurant and fine dining have evolved over the last decade.

It's noon on an unseasonably warm, sun-dappled fall day in Paris, and Kinch is a few hours from cooking for his second pop-up dinner at Taillevent restaurant as part of a Relais & Chateaux Residency series that will also take him to Oustau de Baumanière in the Les Baux-de-Provence and Le Petit Nice in nearby Marseille.

It's a celebratory event to mark Manresa's 15th anniversary -- a lifetime in the restaurant industry.

Kinch's arrival in Paris coincides with a particularly buzzy week in the world of haute gastronomy, as a chef in southern France has buckled to the pressure and publicly announced that he wants to give back his three Michelin stars. While he softens his next statement by saying he respects Sebastian Bras's opinion and thinks him a good chef, Kinch points out that they're not his stars to give back.

"Michelin makes a guide for consumers, not for chefs," Kinch says. "They're Michelin's stars so he doesn't have anything to give back. The stars are on loan. They can give it to you, but they can also take them away." The same goes for his own cooking vis à vis Michelin, Kinch says. "I personally don't cook for stars. I don't cook for Michelin. I don't feel any pressure, I just do my job. I cook."

Kinch uses the word "cook." But many of his diners, critics, and confrères have used much more colorful and evocative words to describe his contemporary Californian cuisine such as "dazzling," "genius" and "perfection." Nightly tasting menus are inspired by the seasons and dishes developed around a primary ingredient, sourced from local farms. "We try to find connections in the dish that are comforting and perhaps familiar. But then also another element that might be thought-provoking or in contrast that adds a certain uniqueness to the dish. We then try to pare things down to make sure we don't have too much on the plate."

Given the amount of thought and creativity that goes into each dish, Kinch's best advice for diners making their first foray into the world of fine dining is to educate themselves. "It's like classical music or a painting, the more you know the background and why something is done a certain way, the more you can appreciate it and derive pleasure from it."

When asked to ruminate about the future of fine dining, Kinch waxes nostalgic for the good old days when restaurants were the fruition of a vision -- not focus groups -- and offered a strong sense of place. He bristles at the emergence of theatrical, multi-sensory dining experiences. "I might be old-fashioned but is it a place you go to a second time?" he asks. "I'd like to see a return to the basics."

The next season of Manresa opens Oct. 11. Kinch cooks his final collaborative Relais & Chateaux dinner Oct. 6 with chef Gerald Passedat, chef of Le Petit Nice in Marseille, which fetes its 100th anniversary this year. Lunch is €350 and dinner €590.


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