Chef Christopher Manning realized his passion for cooking at an early age and began working in professional kitchens while still in high school. He graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco in 2000 and joined Thomas Hill Organics Bistro & Wine Bar in August.
Prior to that, his culinary accomplishments included executive chef positions at Napa Valley’s Peju Winery and the acclaimed étoile Restaurant at Domaine Chandon. While at étoile in 2007, Manning was invited to host a dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City, and he has been asked back to host another dinner this April.
“Partnering with Chef Manning is a win-win because he shares our appreciation for fresh, regional ingredients, creatively prepared,” said Thomas Hill Organics owner Debbie Thomas. “Plus, his background in wine country dining is second to none.”
What is your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using in your menu, and why is it your favorite?
Chanterelle mushrooms. We finally got some rain, so we finally got some wonderful local ones delivered to our doorstep. They have a foresty, woodsy sweetness with even a bit of pine needle, a great way to bring nature into the kitchen.
How are you currently using the chanterelles?
A venison loin dish with chanterelles, turnip puree, pak choy, braised Belgian endive and a carob glace de viande.
The venison and mushrooms co-exist in nature, and when you add the carob, it elevates their flavors, adding excitement and romance to the palate.
How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?
I’m from Montana and was raised hunting and fishing, so venison is always on my winter menus because it’s a part of where I came from. I can take something I learned from my father and prepare it according to French traditions. My approach is one of classic French roots with a global influence, combined with seasonal California cuisine.
How would home cooks approach chanterelles in their own kitchens?
Brush off as much dirt as possible, then peel the tough parts of the stem off with a spoon. Then, I give them a triple soak, as you would with spinach. Put them in water, gently spin them around with your hand, pull them out and put them into fresh water, then do that again until they’re clean — you don’t want to have a mouthful of sand or dirt. Dry them on top of a sheet pan with a rack and clean towel. When you’re ready to use them, tear them to size instead of cutting them.
I add the salt to the mushrooms after they go into the hot pan, sauté until all of the moisture is drawn out, and finish the mushrooms to taste with salt and pepper. Finally, add some butter and shallots and cook until the shallots caramelize a bit. Then add thyme and garlic at the end so the thyme stays bright and the garlic doesn’t burn and get bitter.
What is your favorite dish to cook at home and why?
I rarely cook at home, but when I do, I like to make soups because they are something I can share with my 6-year-old daughter, Jordan. Soup is one of the first things I learned to make as a young boy, and it’s something we can cook together. We enjoy going to the farmers market, which allows me to share my passion for fresh and local ingredients with her, as well as letting Jordan pick out what she wants. It’s a unique bonding experience, which is fun for us both.
Thomas Hill Organics Bistro & Wine Bar
1313 Park St., Paso Robles | 226-5888 | thomashillorganics.com
Hours: Daily; lunch Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; brunch Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
The scene: An upscale, welcoming bistro and wine bar with seating at the stylish bar or al fresco in the covered patio.
The cuisine: A classic, traditional approach to farm-to-table with fresh and local fare; draft beer available, wines are predominantly local labels.
Expect to spend: Lunch and brunch entrées typically under $20, dinner entrées typically $25-$35.