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LA Chef Walter Manzke’s Republique – Part 1 of 3

Chef Walter Manzke
Chef Walter ManzkeImage courtesy of SHGfoto

First part of three parts, please click hyperlink at bottom to continue to the next part

LA Chef Walter Manzke at Republique
LA Chef Walter Manzke at RepubliqueImage courtesy of SHGfoto

"Your abilities are a collection of ideas and tools. The more you have, the better you are as a person and the more you have to offer," Chef Walter Manzke stated while discussing how his experiences growing up and in previous kitchens shaped who he is as a chef today. From growing up in Julian on his parents' large parcel of land to working with Joachim Spichel, Alain Ducasse, and briefly in a number of other kitchens including Feran Adria's elBulli, Manzke has amassed a number of tools and ideas that he uses on a daily basis at the recently opened Republique restaurant in the former Campanile space at 624 South La Brea Avenue.

At Republique, Chef Manzke's notes the food is "very ingredient driven and very straight forward making dishes comforting, recognizable, satisfying, fulfilling. The food is not a lot of technique or garnish. It's a little bit back to the basics, back to the classics. We do have a lot of new equipment, new ideas, new technology and new techniques to bring it out but it's just straight forward and simple - ingredient driven." Manzke continued that Republique cuisine "has a huge influence from bistros of France, which kind of have the same idea so the restaurant is recognized as something. I want it to be recognized as a bistro so you know you can come here every day, and you know you can have something satisfying. Republique's not a restaurant where you see the latest trend. It's just about doing things right, well and creating a great atmosphere."

Walter grew up in Julian in San Diego County on his parent's large property where his family had a large garden, lots of fruit trees and grape vines for wine. He grew up eating a salad every night for dinner. Through eight months of the year food was grown in his family's garden so Walter just thought getting food this way was normal. This is how he ate every day he lived at home. He knew what the seasons were because in June he ate cherries until he got sick of them, then he ate strawberries and then whatever next was in season ...peaches, plums, and berries. Additionally foraging was also nothing new for Walter, since miner's lettuce and wild onions grew on a whole hillside of his parent's property. There are wild turkeys on his parents' property that he has made charcuterie with. There's venison too. For Walter, again all of this was just normal.

At Republique, Walter noted there’s another big influence here on how his upbringing affects the menu. At Republique, Chef Manzke stated "a majority of the meat and fish and a lot of vegetables are cooked on a wood fire which is something again really popular right now but to me I knew it my whole life because my parents house is heated by wood; they have a big wood furnace; they heat their house in the winter. Julian is at a high altitude so it gets cold, and snows so their house is heated by wood and in the winter we cook everything on a big fire place with an hearth in it and a grill." Walter said his family also has a wood burning oven that's outside. So his family cooks everything outside during the summer and inside during the winter. Walter didn't have a steak unless that steak was cooked over oak on a wood fire.

At Republique, Chef Manzke also uses oak to cook with in Republique's wood oven, and rotisserie range top. The last time his parents came to the restaurant, they filled their truck with wood from their property. For Chef Manzke this wood is better since for him, this wood has a better flavor than the wood we can readily get here. He wishes he could get it every day. Chef Manzke stated "..Fruitwoods like peach have a great smoke that is fantastic for barbeque when you're smoking something directly in the smoke but for these fires here at Republique, you want the wood to burn clean. You don't want a lot of sparks. The fire needs to be hot and consistent and oak is great for that."

Back before Republique, in 1993 Chef Manzke started working with Chef Joachim Splichal when Splichal opened Pinot Bistro. Chef Manzke was there at Pinot Bistro almost three years when he I left for Europe where Walter spent eighteen months including a year with Alain Ducasse in Monaco at Le Louis XV. For the first six months with Ducasse, Walter worked unpaid. For the remaining time, Walter made what he refers to as "coffee money." Though the money of course was appreciated and helpful, it really didn't matter. It wasn't about the money. His time spent there was about the learning experience, an experience Walter feels that he should have paid for being in Ducasse's kitchen.

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End of Part 1; please click here for Part 2 to continue

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