Q&A with David Kinch: the celebrated California chef on terroir, Terroir and Toronto

Q&A with David Kinch: the celebrated California chef on terroir, Terroir and Toronto

David Kinch at last year’s Terroir (Image: Alexa Clark) 

Last week, we brought you a Q&A with “nose-to-tail” pioneer Fergus Henderson (St. John Bar & Restaurant), who will be making the keynote speech at tomorrow’s Terroir symposium. Recently, we also had the opportunity to speak with last year’s keynote speaker, David Kinch, about his impressions of the event (he’s attending this year as well). Kinch, chef and proprietor of Manresa in Los Gatos, California, is renowned for his terroir-driven cuisine, made possible by an exclusive partnership with LoveApple Farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. His food has garnered high praise from critics and gourmands, winning him the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Pacific in 2010. Manresa also has two Michelin stars and is listed as the world’s 86th best restaurant by Restaurant magazine.

How would you explain the concept and importance of terroir to those unfamiliar with it?
If you’re talking about terroir, you’re talking about products that are representative of an area. It’s about research, finding out the history of a region, the products that you’re famous for, and then exploring that product. Like wine in Niagara, for example.

What makes North American terroir so special?
One of the great things about North America is our diversity. I think the multiculturalism that Ontario and Canada are famous for is the diversity of the ethnic cuisine. The farms that are growing what [ethnic restaurants] need are just as much a part of terroir as what’s native Canadian, and we would be remiss in not exploring that as part of the regional character.

We also don’t have 2,000 years of history to build upon, like they have in Japan, China, France or Italy. We’re not bound by this tradition. We have it much different from Europe, where they don’t have a natural way of absorbing foreign influences outside of their own national identity. It’s much easier to be doing what we’re doing here.

What is your impression of Toronto? Do you have any favourite spots?
This is my second time in Toronto; my first was the Terroir trip last year. I had a very favourable impression of the city, and that’s a big part of my decision to come back. I ended up spending a lot of time with Ruth Klassen [of Monforte Dairy]. She’s super well informed and has such marvellous insight. She took me to The Cheese Boutique—that place is crazy! Ruth and I went in there and ended up spending, like, two-and-a-half hours. It was ridiculous. You get those guys talking and they’re so passionate about what they do and how they do it, their cold storage room, their meat—they’re just experimenting with dry aging of the beef there—it was so much. I tasted cheeses from Quebec and Ontario and was fascinated with the differences between the two.

I had some really incredible dim sum. Even though San Francisco/the Bay area is kind of known for its Chinese cuisine, I was really blown away by the quality of the Chinese food in Toronto, which I heard was a really vibrant part of the diversity I’ve seen there. I was fascinated to learn about the wine scene in Niagara and other parts of Ontario. Overall, a great experience.

Anything in the Terroir V lineup that you’re especially excited about?
I see that Randall Grahm [of Bonny Doon Vineyard in California] will be there. Randall’s a great speaker, highly entertaining and puts a lot of information in his talks. He’s planting a brand new vineyard in a location that’s never been planted before that he feels is great for grapes. He’s going to be able to monitor the actual terroir that will be happening. I find it fascinating and daunting. Randall and I live about 500 yards from each other in Santa Cruz. I think it’s pretty funny we’re both going to be in Toronto together.

Of course, Fergus [Henderson] is doing this year’s keynote, which I think is great. He always had plenty to say and is highly entertaining. I have a couple walking tours of some farms and dairies with Fergus, which I’m excited about.

What do you hope non-industry attendees will gain from Terroir V?
A better understanding of what makes regions special and worthy of promotion. I guess the restaurants that don’t interest me, no matter how good they are qualitatively, are there ones where I couldn’t tell whether I’m Tokyo, New York, Paris, Toronto, Chicago—you know? There’s a saying that there’s an international style, and you see a lot of it now, where restaurants go through phases where they copy a specific hot restaurant, or something like that. I don’t find that very appealing.

When you go to a restaurant like Manresa, you know you’re in Los Gatos. We’re in a location in California that’s got this casually elegant persona, a uniqueness that speaks about us—being central to the coast of California, in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, next to the Pacific Ocean, with a raining climate where we grow our vegetables. That’s what we’re trying to do in our food and wine program, our style of service, the architecture of the building and the ambiance we try to create for the guest.

Terroir, Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle. March 1, 7:30 a.m6:30 p.m. terroirsymposium.com