10 Minutes With: Mitch Lienhard, Manresa

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th January 2017

Mitch Lienhard, San Pellegrino Young Chef 2016, is chef de cuisine at Manresa, in Los Gatos, California, which holds three stars in the Michelin Guide.

Manresa was opened in 2002 by David Kinch, and Mitch took the helm as chef de cuisine two years ago. He recently won the San Pellegrino Young Chef competition for a dish inspired by his home state, Michigan.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Mitch about his career, and what winning the award means to him.

San Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 dish - Mitch's roast duck with spiced orange and yams

San Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 dish -

Mitch's roast duck with spiced orange and yams

His introduction to the kitchen was a baptism of fire. He said: “I was burned when I was very young by boiling water when I was a toddler when my mom was cooking dinner. I spent a few months in the hospital. You would think I would avoid the kitchen like the plague, but since then, I can remember I have always loved cooking.”

Mitch Lienhard worked in restaurants around America from a young age, working in Florida, South Carolina and Hawaii before moving to Chicago to “sleep on a friend’s couch” and work for Curtis Duffy at Avenues in Chicago.

This commitment to his career set him on the right path. To get his job at Avenues, he won an online contest with the prize being dinner at the restaurant. Mitch said: “I went to dinner with my resume and recommendation letters in hand. I gave them to Curtis and he just happened to have one of his cooks put in their two week notice the night before. I started the next week and worked for Curtis for the next five years, eventually becoming the opening sous chef at Grace.”

Mitch was also able to work at three Michelin-starred Alinea for a year and a half before opening Grace, and then became executive sous chef at Saison in San Francisco. Planning to open his own restaurant having left Saison, he received a call ‘out of the blue’ from David Kinch, who asked him to become chef de cuisine at Manresa. That was two years ago, and Mitch said he knew it was the right choice from the start.

Mitch’s success at the San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year competition has been a real confidence booster for him. Though he said cooking for chefs like Mauro Colagreco and Elena Arzak was nerve racking (understandably), winning the competition has proved to Mitch that he has the ability and temperament to continue his success.

Mitch Lienhard and Dominique Crenn at San Pellegrino Young Chef 2016

Mitch Lienhard and Dominique Crenn

at San Pellegrino Young Chef 2016

The dish that won the competition was inspired by the sights and smells of autumn in Michigan. He recalled how as a youngster he would rake up piles of leaves and burn them. This evocative smell always reminded him of home, so he chose this as the inspiration for the dish.

With a solid plan of action and some advice from his mentor Dominique Crenn, who was named best female chef last year by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Mitch felt confident in the dish, and despite a few nerves during the judging, he came away with the win. He said: “When they called my name all of the stress and pressure of the week’s competition melted away. It was almost euphoric.”

It’s a long way from washing dishes in his Sicilian grandfather’s favourite Italian restaurant, and for Mitch, this award marks the sign of his ever improving skills. He said “I think that if I entered this competition five years ago I would not have won. Too many young chefs rush into this sort of thing without the proper development of experience and temperament. It was an incredible thing to win and to reassure me that all the hard work has been beneficial.”

To celebrate the launch of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef UK & Ireland competition, S.Pellegrino will be hosting a private breakfast on March, 6 from 8.30am-10:30am.

For your chance to attend the breakfast, meet the 2017 local jury, please register your interest and secure your place by emailing [email protected] There are only limited places, so get in quick to secure yours!

By Sam Clark

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th January 2017

10 Minutes With: Mitch Lienhard, Manresa