TO DINE FOR: RÉPUBLIQUE
République’s Chef Walter Manzke shares his secret sauce—and kanpachi crudo recipe.
“I never thought I would be a chef. I grew up in a time when it wasn’t really acceptable,” says Walter Manzke of République. As a boy in San Diego, Manzke had a penchant for motorcycles and sports, and a culinary future was the last thing on his mind. It was during his high school years that the idea began to percolate. “My first job was in a restaurant,” Manzke recalls, “I was a server, I was a dishwasher. I worked in a couple of restaurants and I always did well in them. I connected with them. It felt good. Everything else that I tried, I just didn’t get the same satisfaction out of.”
Fast forward to 1996, when Manzke relocated to Los Angeles to give the kitchen life a go. “I thought it was going to be temporary,” Manzke recalls of the move. He went to work for Joachim Splichal at Michelin-star-rated French restaurant Patina “and I ended up staying a total of 9 years.” During that time, Splichal sent him to France and Monaco, where he worked with Alain Ducasse. His time at Patina proved fortuitous for more than just professional development—it’s where Manzke met his now-wife and business partner Margarita Manzke (she was a line cook at the fish station). After switching to sweets, Margarita’s become the mastermind behind République’s famed baked goods; the couple also has two young children together.
To back up a little, Manzke rose through the ranks at Patina to become Executive Chef, and it was there that his ambitions to own his own restaurant gelled. “I decided to do a new project with David Fink in Carmel, and Margarita and I moved up there and opened three restaurants and a hotel for them, most notably Aubergine, at l'Auberge Carmel. And then, at that point, we wanted to start pursuing our own business and thought L.A. was the place, that’s where we met.” After a few false starts, République happened. Almost five years in, the lines are still out the door of the 220-seat, Charlie Chaplin-commissioned space, which dates back to 1928. Below, Chef Manzke spoke to the Arch about the secret to his success, the appeal of In-N-Out, and his elaborate kanpachi crudo recipe. Read on for the full Q&A.
Tell us about the concept of République:
Marg is from the Philippines, and my background is mainly in French restaurants. I worked in France, it was mostly French chefs that I worked under, so the backbone of everything is France. We both love France. Marg brings this Asian element. And L.A. is the perfect place for that because we’re very connected to Asia.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
It’s this company that we have. It’s so hard, extremely hard, to open a restaurant. We never dreamed of having a company. It was going to be a little restaurant like many of us dream of. We had no idea that it was going to turn into such a large company, so really before we learned how to be a restaurant owner, we learned how to run a large corporation.
How does that work?
It’s two divisions. What we have in Los Angeles is three restaurants with another on the way. We have 170 or so employees here. Sari Sari is pretty small, maybe 30. Petty Cash has 65. And in the Philippines is where it’s really growing – we’re approaching 700 employees across 11 restaurants there.
How often do you go there?
Every two to three months. I work together with my wife. We have two beautiful children. I’m very fortunate that we live right behind the restaurant, we can walk here.
What’s your favorite meal?
You know what, we like everything that’s great, done with passion. We were in New York recently and ate at Brooklyn Fare, it was one of the best fine dining meals that I’ve had in awhile. Last year I was in Paris, and ate at Epicure at Le Bristol. That’s more or less the benchmark for dining room service for me. We love eating tacos, sushi, burgers at In-N-Out. Everything that’s good, really.
How old are your children?
Three and almost seven.
What’s their favorite thing to eat at République?
Bread. Bread and butter. They both love that. They both eat pretty well. They go through trends. My son, Nicolas, is slightly picky at the moment. I’m sure it’ll come back because a couple of years ago he was eating everything. My daughter eats pretty well at the moment. I’m sure she’ll get picky at one point, too. But, bread and butter, they’re all in.
What’s the secret to your success?
Being involved with the right people. Like our partner, we wouldn’t be here without him. Maybe even a little bit of luck. A little bit of everything coming together. I think if you do everything you know right, you work hard, do all the right things, have a great location – it only gives you a chance to success. There’s no guarantee. There’s probably a little luck in there, too. Things line up, it’s the right time, it’s the right place. So we’re very fortunate.
What’s your best advice on standing out from the competition?
Getting started, you just have to keep at it. I think if you have the will, you’ll get there eventually. There’s always a way to do it. The competition once you’re open is a little more of what we’re all used to. It’s difficult. But just being dedicated, just making sure every one of your customers is happy and wants to come back. We believe in constantly reinventing ourselves. We’re never content with where we are. We believe that every day at work we have to be a little better than we were yesterday. Again, I don’t know that it guarantees that we’ll be successful. It just gives us a chance.
What inspires you?
Everybody around me, my wife, even this building. It’s so inspiring to be here. The team we have. Los Angeles inspires me through all the resources we have, such as vegetables and fruits, fish, meat. It’s a great place to be.
- Pour coconut cream and milk into sauce pot
- Break up palm sugar, for easy melting and add to coconut sauce
- Cut lemon grass into 1/2 inch pieces
- Chop galangal root into small pieces
- Chop kefir lime leaf into small pieces
- Chop kefir lime leaf into small pieces
- Chop shallot and garlic into small pieces
- Cut thai chilis into small pieces
- Individually muddle all ingredients in a mortar and pestle just until you can smell the aroma of each ingredient and get the oils working Immediately place each ingredient, after being muddled, into the coconut sauce Place coconut sauce with all ingredients onto stove on medium low heat and cook it slow Warm all ingredients, and allow the ingredients to cook slowly into the coconut sauce. do not boil. Stir occasionally.
- Once sauce is warm/ almost hot, add thai basil leaves, turn off heat and allow leaves to become aromatic in the sauce for 15 minutes.
- Strain into a bowl, through a fine sieve
- Season with 4 tbsp thai dressing
- Blend Fresno chilies and grapeseed oil in a blender for 2 minutes; strain liquid into a fine sieve
- In a bowl, stir in sugar, lemon juice and olive oil
- Slice nectarines into 1⁄2 inch slices
- Toss nectarines in sugar/lemon mixture
- Place coated nectarines onto a sheet pan lined with foil and place into 200 degree oven for 30 minutes
- Add all ingredients into the blender and blend until sugar completely dissolves
Pickled Fresno rings:
- Slice Fresno chilis into thin rings
- Pour 2 tbsp thai dressing and let pickle for 15 minutes
Toasted Thai peanuts
- Warm peanut oil in a sauté pan over medium heat
- sweat shallot, garlic, Thai chili in warm oil
- Add and sauté peanuts into the aromatic peanut oil
- Toast peanuts until golden brown
- Drain peanuts into a fine sieve
- Season with salt
- Lay peanuts on sheet tray with paper liner to cool completely Pick out the shallot, garlic and thai chili
- Mix 1 cup coconut curry with 2 tbsp Fresno oil; set aside
- Dice Kanpachi into 1⁄4 inch pieces
- Season with salt
- Toss diced Kanpachi with 1⁄2 cup tbsp coconut curry
- Spoon 2 tbsp of curry with Fresno oil into each serving bowl
- Add the diced Kanpachi to the center of each bowl
- Garnish with 4 pieces of oven dried nectarines, 1 tsp peanuts, 4 slices pickled Fresno chilies, and a few pieces of Thai basil leaves