PHOTOGRAPHY BY AYA BRACKETT
In a new cookbook, chef David Kinch shares the dishes he loves to serve friends at his home in Santa Cruz
Thank Tuesdays and vinyl for David Kinch’s new cookbook, At Home in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes from a Chef’s Night Off, due out March 23 and conceptualized long before the pandemic, back in July of 2019. The 154-page book began as Kinch’s way to share the communal bliss of friends gathered in a busy home kitchen, doing what they do best: cooking. Not as a job, but as an outpouring of the sheer joy of food, of love, of sharing. Centered on music, wine, food and laughter-filled gatherings, the book reveals more than the secrets to simply prepared, satisfying meals; it is itself a recipe for a life well lived.
Kinch told us in a chat from his beloved Mentone restaurant in Aptos in January that he was eagerly awaiting the first copy of his book to arrive. Most of the 120 recipes that appear in it were gathered during his 40 years as a chef, inspired by the many places the journey has taken him, and were frequently prepared for Tuesday gatherings at the Pink Palace—his home near the beach in Santa Cruz. Mondays and Tuesdays are typically the chef’s days off, and Tuesday is his Sunday, the day he loves most, and the day he likes to cook fun dishes for his friends, and for himself.
“I wanted to do another cookbook, but didn’t want it to be like the first,” Kinch told us, referring to the tome, Manresa, an exacting reflection of how food was painstakingly prepared in his three Michelinstarred kitchen in Los Gatos. Instead, Kinch wanted this book to reflect the casual side of cuisine, approachable and sharable, or a way to feed oneself righteously at 2am.
“For this book, our mantra was no more than five or six ingredients per recipe. And they all had to be easily sourced,” says Kinch, who loves frequenting farmers’ markets. The recipes are specifically brand agnostic. He’s made them hundreds of times, from memory, and admits it was sometimes a challenge to specify ingredient quantities, as he is a visual cook. “Butter the size of a walnut,” for example, was one of his grandmother’s measurements that stuck with him. The ingredients and the dishes are simple: things that bring him joy.
As the forewords by chef Dominique Crenn and co-author Devin Fuller eloquently state, this book reveals the heart of Kinch: the man behind the Michelin stars. One of the world’s top chefs, he enjoys nothing more than gathering colleagues and neighbors at his home in Santa Cruz, where he lives to be close to the surf.
At Home in the Kitchen shares many tidbits from his culinary odyssey, from cooking with his grandmother while growing up in New Orleans to his first job at the fabled Commander’s Palace. Kinch teaches how to properly shuck an oyster, peel a tomato, poach an egg, revere basil, grate ginger and dice vegetables, but the book is not about technique as much as it is about being present in each step. Crack eggs on the counter, not the edge of the bowl, he advises, so bits of eggshell don’t get into the dish. Recipes like Raw Fava, Chickpea & Tahini Hummus, Braised Lettuce & Smoky Bacon, Summer Squash with Canned Sardines and Whole Roast Cauliflower with Capers & Egg are clearly meant to delight and uplift, and not intimidate. He invites you to pay attention and learn, to better enjoy the process and the results.
The book, which he narrates thoughtfully and conversationally throughout, is just a flipping fun, yet touching read. What sets it seriously apart is the constant thrum of music as each recipe comes with a song pairing suggestion.
While the surf may provide sufficient background music for some, for Kinch, it is the essence of life, as much as food. His music pantry is rather like his kitchen one, filled with staples, but with a personal twist. In the pantry, you’ll find chicken stock, chickpea stock, Parmesan stock, sardines, capers, pickles and garlicky herbed croutons.
In his music stash, you’ll find Ella, Coltrane, Cash, The Kinks, Donna Summer, John Lee Hooker, Blondie, Miles Davis, Buck Owens and The Rolling Stones. “Not much after 1984,” he says. And don’t look for CDs because he’s a vinyl man. “I’m not surprised by the revived interest in vinyl. It’s the best quality, by far. Anyone who’s into jazz and classical understands the depth and clarity from vinyl cannot be duplicated digitally.”
Music appeals to the higher order of senses that makes one truly human. He likens music to food, because you consume it and it feeds you. “It’s not like art. Music and food become part of you. You can feel it, and it becomes a memory.”
The song-pairing element for the cookbook came naturally. “There is always a lot of music playing and people going in and out of the kitchen, cooking, laughing, eating. Sometimes—a lot of times—we end up dancing.”
His Mother Sauce Mayo, for instance, pairs well with “Let’s Stick Together,” by Wilbert Harrison, while Smoked Eggplant Caviar is a natural with Patti Smith’s “Soul Kitchen.” A playlist is due to be released along with the book.
While Kinch may not have a favorite musical artist, he does have a favorite dish: roast chicken. He swears he learns something new each time he cooks it. Which is precisely the point. Keep learning, keep experimenting, keep listening, keep living, keep loving.
It’s a simple recipe for simple, everyday rewards.
Salmon with Soy & Ginger
From At Home in the Kitchen by David Kinch
This simple gingery and garlicky salmon is unassuming, but sneakily delicious. It’s one of those dishes you learn to make once—and it sticks with you for life. Be sure to use a low-sodium soy sauce or the salmon and bok choy will both be too salty. Kinch guarantees, “If you make this for your friends, they’ll see it come together in 20 minutes and then ask for the recipe.”