Tell us about the day the fire broke out at Manresa. How did you find out about the fire and what were your feelings when you realised what had happened?
I found out about the fire early in the morning at an airport on the East Coast. We had been closed for an early summer break and were reopening two days later. I received a call from the Fire Department on my cell phone. It was early morning and I was surprised that someone was calling me that early. When they told me about the restaurant I felt helpless and had an anxious flight home. But I immediately knew that all my energies would be channeled into the rebuilding of the restaurant.
What was the cause of the blaze and how extensive was the damage?
The cause of the fire is still undetermined and remains under investigation. Pretty much the entire back of house was destroyed – the kitchen, bathrooms, offices, and dry storage. The dining room was relatively untouched except for extensive smoke and water damage.
Tell us about the repairs. What has changed at the restaurant and in the kitchen; how have you used this as an opportunity to start again?
Luckily, there was not much structural damage and, with the help of the City and County, I was able to fast track the rebuilding of he restaurant as long as we built in the same footprint of the original building. That said, Manresa was 12 years old, so we have brand new equipment and all of the necessary code upgrades. I am very happy with the finished design in the kitchen.
Manresa was closed for six months – what did your employees do during this time?
My key critical employees and management remained on payroll and were part of the rebuilding and restructuring team. I could not have done this rebuild without their help. The other employees took the opportunity to work other jobs and many of the chefs took the opportunity to stage around the country and in Asia and Europe to continue to build their skills. We are very lucky in that every single employee has returned.
And what about your exclusive produce grower Love Apple Farms?
Love Apple Farms shipped a lot of produce to a CSA Program (Community Supported Agriculture), which was sold by subscription. They ramped up their distribution as we got closer to our designated opening date.
How did you personally use the time off?
I had very little time off. I devoted the six months to focusing on bringing back the restaurant as soon as possible. That said, my days were different: I worked early morning to early evening, with weekends off. For the first time in many years I read a lot of books and I saw a lot of sunsets.
What will change at Manresa as the restaurant reopens again?
Hopefully not too much. At the time of the fire, I thought Manresa was the best restaurant it had ever been, with the most momentum it had ever had. Our goal is to regain that momentum using the insight and retrospection of the past 6 months to contribute to our opening menu and service.
You’re going to open your own bakery, ManresaBread. Tell us more – where is the location, where has the inspiration come from, who will be overseeing the project, what will be on offer?
Manresa Bread is located locally, close to the restaurant in Los Gatos and is a partnership with our very talented baker from Manresa Restaurant, Avery Ruzicka, who will be overseeing the project. We will be offering artisanal breads and rotating seasonal breads along with select pastries and laminated dough.
Despite being closed for so many months, you retained your two-star rating in the latest Michelin guide. Were you concerned about losing your stars?
Michelin was concerned about how long we were going to be closed and I told them I would try my best to be open by the beginning of 2015. I am happy they took me to my word and grateful for their confidence in us continuing what we had at Manresa. Ultimately the stars are Michelin’s and merely on loan to us, so we are grateful that we have been given them for another year.
How much of an ambition are three Michelin stars for you?
I appreciate all awards and accolades we receive from prestigious guides like Michelin or from my peers. That said, I am a big believer in focusing and pouring your passion into what you believe in, and accolades will come to you naturally. We do not cook to achieve three Michelin stars. We cook to take care of and offer pleasure and happiness to our guests. I trust Michelin will view us in that light.
This is the latest posting in my monthly series of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.