My partner, David Kinch, and I don’t take normal vacations. Our time off revolves around food, even on trips dedicated to other activities. A surfing excursion in Mexico, for instance, became an exploration of the best taquerias along the Baja peninsula, and a ski weekend at a condo in Lake Tahoe, California, turned into an excuse for weeks of menu planning.
Before I say more about Tahoe, let me tell you who we are. David is the chef and owner of Manresa in Los Gatos, California, about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco. Critics have called it one of the country’s most innovative restaurants, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer has praised David’s brilliance at creating unlikely pairings, like foie gras and broccoli. My favorite Manresa dish is ultratender abalone, served with brown butter and, more unconventionally, crispy pig’s trotters. David’s latest passion is farming: He recently invested in Love Apple Farm in California’s Santa Cruz County and now gets the bulk of the restaurant’s magnificent produce from it.
As for me, my name is Pim—just Pim, because I’ve grown tired of people butchering my multisyllabic Thai last name. I write a food blog called Chez Pim, chronicling my culinary adventures from street stalls around Southeast Asia to my longtime favorite Michelin three-star, L’Arpège in Paris. I also cook a mean pot of curry.
David and I met over a parade of plates at Manresa. I wish I could say my dinner was so great I went home with the chef. Indeed it was great, but it would be months before he mustered the courage to ask me out. Now, three years later, I go home with the chef every night.
Because our trip to Tahoe revolved around what we would eat, we invited a few equally food-obsessed friends to come along. Among them were Daniel Patterson, chef and owner of San Francisco’s wonderful Coi restaurant (and an F&W Best New Chef 1997), and his wife, lawyer Alexandra Foote. Sean Smith, sous-chef at Soif, the surprisingly sophisticated wine bar in the surfing town of Santa Cruz, and his girlfriend, Beccy Breeze, who runs the wine club at Big Sur’s prestigious Post Ranch Inn, came too.
Our caravan of cars was loaded down not just with skiing and boarding gear but also with coolers filled with groceries from our favorite food artisans, so we wouldn’t waste time in unfamiliar markets. We brought saucisson sec and fresh chorizo from the Fatted Calf at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and carrots, radishes and herbs from Love Apple. We also packed wine, including my favorite Champagne, Vilmart Grand Cellier, and the fruity red 2004 Saumur-Champigny from the certified organic Clos Rougeard in the Loire. Although we had planned a menu that could be prepared with simple kitchenware, we also packed a few pieces of special equipment, like my clay pot for cooking rice.
Our first morning began early, not at the chairlift but in the kitchen. Daniel and I brewed coffee, and the scent woke David up—a good thing, since he was supposed to cook breakfast. We had a plan: David would make a hearty dish of chorizo, crispy fried potatoes and eggs, baked together in a cast-iron skillet, that would keep us full through lunch. By the time we got to the slopes, at around 10, we would miss the opening lift lines; by noon, the early skiers would be leaving the slopes, famished, for the cafeterias, so we’d have the mountain to ourselves.
The boarders in our group, who thought they were cooler than the skiers, took a few spectacular tumbles. Not that the skiers didn’t have epic falls: I watched someone snowball down the mountain at high speed (I won’t tell you which one of us it was). By 2 p.m., we were thinking about Champagne and headed back to the condo.
At the house, we settled in front of the fireplace with glasses of the elegant Vilmart; the Champagne is rich and powerful because it’s barrel-aged, which made it perfect alongside the platter of Fatted Calf charcuterie we had with it. Then we started dinner.
Daniel took charge of preparing the thick, bright green asparagus and the radishes for the vegetable crudités—an ’80s hors d’oeuvre I wish would make a comeback. I like simple dips, and the one Daniel made consisted of little more than chopped herbs, crème fraîche and a squeeze of lemon juice. My three-ingredient caramelized onion soup, prepared with toasted bread and milk, was only slightly more complicated. While Alexandra cooked the soup, I started my clay-pot rice, baked with spicy crumbled merguez sausage and excellent wild mushrooms, which were foraged by a guy known only as Freddy Fungus (I kid you not). Meanwhile, Sean prepared the prune–and–root vegetable stew, a simplified version of a Manresa dish, softening the prunes with dark tea and cooking the vegetables separately before combining them for the final dish.
Out on the patio, David slow-grilled racks of lamb over a very low fire, patiently turning and basting the meat with a rosemary sprig brush and melted butter; at some point, we came out with our wineglasses and cheered him on.
After dinner (we followed the lamb with a green salad with nut-oil vinaigrette topped with nutty tatsoi flowers, and a cheese course), we headed to the living room for dessert: my creamy dark-chocolate puddings cooked in little glass jars and topped with whipped cream. As we devoured them with a gorgeous 1973 Vieil Armagnac from Domaine du Rey that I brought home from a trip to Gascony, David and I looked at each other. We each knew what the other was thinking about: tomorrow night’s dinner.
Pim Techmuanvivit, the blogger behind Chez Pim (chezpim.typepad.com), will publish The Foodie Handbook next spring.
Manresa, 320 Village Ln., Los Gatos, California; 408-354-4330.