The Pacific As A Muse
An excerpt from Manresa by David Kinch
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been attracted to the ocean. Before I decided to be a cook, I wanted to be a marine biologist and work with sea animals. And long before I ever visited California, I learned to surf as a teenager in Texas, and then surfed in Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle during hurricane season. When I moved to California in the 1990s, I surfed whenever I could. But it wasn’t until I moved to Los Gatos to work at Sent Sovi that I rediscovered surfing, driving over the hill to Santa Cruz County almost every morning to get back on my board. Finally I said, “Screw it: I’m going to live by the water. You only live once.” And it’s been fabulous.
When Manresa struggled in the beginning, just having a chance to surf before going into work really saved me. It’s difficult to describe what happens when you’re floating out in the water, especially in the early morning. Paddling out before the sun comes up, when everything is really, really calm and quiet, I feel like the water washes everything away. And then I start my day with this fresh, clean slate and a positive mindset. I don’t even need waves; just floating on my board can do it. I feel the rhythm of everything, including myself—which is impossible to do in a busy kitchen. I love the ocean for many reasons: the heat and cold, the light and shadow, the vastness, the movement, what I can hear and touch, even what I can taste. I love the salinity of everything, whether I’m riding a wave, beating upwind on a boat, or even crawling down a cliff to walk on a secluded beach. I try to reflect those feelings and sensations at Manresa, from small touches like our serving bowls and plates to the whole of our now-signature dish, the Tidal Pool.
The overt saline nature of a lot of our simple raw shellfish and seafood dishes comes from my time in the water. Many years ago, I started teaching myself to sail in Santa Cruz. It gives me the same feeling as surfing, albeit a more grown-up one. I still feel salt, sun, water, and it washes everything away. I bring staff members out with me, and it’s the best kind of team-building activity. When my cooking career ends, I want to be surfing and sailing, just being on the water. I dream about it every day. Maybe it’s because when I wake up, I can smell the ocean.
A WINTER TIDAL POOL
For the Pickled Kelp
115 grams (1/2) unseasoned rice wine
115 grams (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
115 grams (1/2 cup) water
55 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
55 grams (2 ounces) battera kombu, rinsed in cold water and cut crosswise into 3/4 inch wide strips
For the Mushroom Gel
20 Grams (0.7 ounce) dried shiitake mushrooms
200 grams (scant 1 cup) warm water
5 to 10 grams (1 to 2 teaspoons) dark soy sauce (koikuchi shoyu)
Xanthan gum (0/6 percent of weight of liquid)
For the Oyster Gel
120 grams (1/2 cup) oyster liquid, strained through cheesecloth)
0.7 gram xanthan gum (0.6 percent of weight of liquid)
Pinch of edible silver flake
For the The Abalone
1 red abalone, 115 grams (4 ounces) 90 millimeters (3 ½ inches) in length
For the Tidal Broth
1 kilogram (4 ¼ cups) soft water (low mineral content, for example, Fiji water)
12 grams (0.5 ounce) dried shiitake mushrooms
15 grams (0.5 ounce) dried large kombu
25 grams (0.9 ounce) thinly shaved bonito flakes (katsuo bushi)
30 to 60 grams (2 to 4 tablespoons) white soy sauce (shiro shoyu)
15 to 20 grams (3 to 4 teaspoons) ponzu
1 to 2 sheets gold nori
Grapeseed oil, for frying
80 grams (3 ounces) foie gras, sliced into 10-gram (0.3 ounce) pieces
8 clean sea urchin (uni) tongues
20 New Zealand spinach leaves
20 smaller Malabar spinach leaves
Green scallion tops, sliced very thinly on an extreme bias and soaked in ice water until curled
1 to 2 bunches enoki mushrooms, stems trimmed to 1 inch
1 to 2 whole yuzu or Meyer lemons
Directions for Pickled Kelp
- Whisk the vinegars, water, and sugar together, bring to a boil and boil until the sugar dissolves. Cool the mixture to room temperature. Submerge the kombu in the pickling liquid, cover, and steep over night in the refrigerator. The pickled kombu can be made ahead of time and will keep for months.
Directions for Mushroom Gel
- Soak the mushrooms in the water for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Strain the mixture, reserving the mushrooms for another use, and season the liquid assertively with soy sauce and salt. Weigh the seasoned liquid and then transfer to a blender. Weigh out xanthan equaling 0.6 percent of the liquid weight (for example. For 100 grams of liquid, use 0.6 gram of xanthan). While blending on the lowest speed, gradually shear in (see page 311) the xanthan. Continue blending until the mixture thickens, 5 to 6 minutes, and then strain the gel into a vacuum seal bag. Vacuum at 100 percent, without sealing, 5 to 6 ties to remove air bubbles introduced during blending. The gel will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Directions for Oyster Gel
- Season the oyster liquid to taste with salt and transfer to a blender. While blending on the lowest speed, gradually shear in (see page 311) the xanthan and add the silver flake. Continue blending until the mixture thickens. Transfer the mixture to a vacuum seal bag without straining, and vacuum at 100 percent 5 to 6 times to remove air bubbles. The gel will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Directions for Abalone
- Remove the abalone from its shell and, with kitchen shears, remove the viscera. Rinse thoroughly in the luke-warm water to relax the meat. Place the abalone between 2 kitchen towels with the foot side up and pound forcefully with a meat pounder or heavy pan until the foot flattens. (Typically this takes 2 good blows.) Allow it to rest in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
Directions for Tidal Broth
- Combine the water, mushrooms, and kombu in a large pan, cover, heat to 140 degrees and steep for 1 hour. Remove and discard the kombu. Heat the mushrooms and broth to 175 degrees. Add the bonito flakes, stir for 15 seconds.
- Drain 2 pieces of Pickled Kely per serving. Warm the Tidal Broth almost to a summer, so that bubbles form on the bottom of the pan. Toast the nori by waving it over low heat until it crisps and turns a lighter shade of green. Tear the toasted nori into 1-inch pieces. Slice the raw abalone crosswise, as thinly as possible, cutting a few slices for each serving. Quickly stir-fry the abalone with grapeseed oil in a hot pan.
- For each serving, place a slice of foie gras in a heater bowl topped with a sea urchin tongue, pickled kely, and a few slices of abalone. Garnish with a few spinach leaves, curled scallions, 8 to 10 mushrooms, and 5 to 6 pieces of nori. Immediately before serving, add 90 grams (6 tablespoons) of warm Tidal Broth to each bowl. Float several pools each of Mushroom Gel and Oyster Gel on top of the broth. With a Microplane grater, zest yuzu over the entire bowl.