Chef Walter Manzke
Church + State | Los Angeles, CA
Walter Manzke grew up fluent in “seasonality,” with family gardens and orchards full of organic, seasonal vegetables and fruits populating his dinner table from day to day. This mentality, the now popularized farm-to-table restaurant ethos, is something Manzke learned as a kid and took with him everywhere he went.
But Manzke bravely abandoned the charm of his childhood gardens for the business world. With a degree in Business and Restaurant Management from San Diego Mesa College, Manzke moved on to work in some of the most renowned kitchens of Europe and America. Among them were Le Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo under Alain Ducasse, Spain’s famed high-tech training ground, el Bulli, under Ferran Adrià, and Patina in Los Angeles, where Manzke developed his signature style under the guidance of Joachim Splichal and earned the restaurant three stars from the Los Angeles Times.
A brief stint outside of Los Angeles saw Manzke opening three successful restaurants in Carmel: Bouchee, Cantinetta Luca, and L’Auberge Carmel, which was one of Gourmet’s Top Fifty Restaurants in America in 2006. Returning to LA, Manzke opened Bastide, where he earned yet another three stars from the LA Times. Since taking over the kitchen at Church + State, Manzke has continued to ply his craft and deserve his trail of stars, always with that early-ingrained, almost intuitive sense of seasonality.
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Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Walter Manzke: I fell into it by accident. I didn’t really plan on it. I was drawn into it more by the energy of the kitchen. It was a little like playing sports. The good energy and working together and the spontaneity—all of the hectic, high strung life and energy of the kitchen that I just thrived off of and I still do. I also happen to love eating food. I grew up with good food. Both of my parents are good cooks.
AB: Did you attend culinary school?
WM: I was studying business in San Diego and then that's when I started working in restaurants. And I studied restaurant management, which had a culinary part to it, but I didn’t go to culinary school.
AB: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
WM: I actually do recommend culinary school, but I also recommend that anybody who goes to culinary school should never be misled. Being a chef is hard and it takes practice and is not something you're just taught overnight. I do think reading the books, whether you do it through school or on your own, helps you understand everybody [and] what’s behind the business, so I think it is important.
AB: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
WM: I love what we just had in summer, the combination of tomatoes and tarragon. It has a similar effect as basil, but everyone serves tomato and basil, it’s predictable. I like the flavor of old white Burgundy and fish.
AB: How do you get inspiration for a dish?
WM: I get it from everywhere. At the farmers market checking out vegetables is inspiring, finding what looks exciting and best gives you lots of ideas. Traveling is super inspiring too, going to another country or place and seeing what another culture is doing.
AB: What goes into making a new dish?
WM: Whenever I’m making a new dish the most important thing is having the foundations of basic cooking, understanding cooking so you create something that makes sense. It is important to respect traditions. If you’re making a Japanese dish, you should know something about Japanese cooking. Know what’s behind the dish. The last thing you want is to make something that’s going in the wrong direction.
AB: Where do you see yourself in five years?
WM: I want to own my own restaurant, hopefully sooner than five years from now.
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