Mill Valley resident and chef Laurent Manrique has cooked for Nelson Mandela, President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama, but for Thanksgiving the two-star Michelin chef and former Top Chef guest judge prepares dinner for friends and family.
At the Strawberry home he shares with his girlfriend Michelle Odom and their children Nikolas, Isabelle and Devan, the former executive chef at Aqua and Fifth Floor and current owner of Café de la Presse and the Rouge et Blanc wine bar, combines French technique with a casual Marin appeal, prepping final touches with the entire family and checking on that night’s main course in his Wolf oven.
Along with one of France’s top chefs, Flora Mikula, the evening’s first guests are chef Gerald Hirigoyen of Piperade and Bocadillos fame, his wife, Cameron, and their two children Bix and Mickey, who, after politely introducing themselves to the adults, quickly start a game of Wii in the family room with the other kids. Next to arrive are master sommelier and winemaker Emmanuel Kemiji, who recently left the Ritz-Carlton to make wine full time, and his girlfriend, the actress, chef and cookbook author Tracy Griffith. Manrique and Odom welcome their friends and show them to the living room, where perfectly presented tuna tartare appetizers are waiting, although Kemiji doesn’t have too much time to relax; his skills are needed to pour the group of bons vivants a Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc to toast their upcoming Thanksgiving meal. Odom is quick to show each of the guests her newest painting, an oil-on-canvas work that was painted by Tracy and hung with ease just moments earlier. The orange and blue interpretive piece fits the space and matches the dining table setting Michelle designed of fall arrangements from Mill Valley Flowers and tablecloth from Nicole Grey so perfectly it looks as though it should have come with the house.
Once the children were ready at an equally impressive setting in the kitchen, to enjoy the same food the adults would be eating that night, albeit with a side of ketchup, the group settles in the dining room and Manrique pours lobster and pumpkin soup into each bowl, warning the women to be careful of their dresses, which Kemiji responds to by playfully pretending to use the tablecloth to cover his shirt.
In between spoonfuls of the warm soup, the group chats about everything from Manrique, Hirigoyen and Kemiji’s wine venture together — the duo, along with former Ritz-Carlton chef Sylvain Portay, make a Grenache under the name Arrels — to the inner workings of Facebook. “Do people know if you de-friend them?” asks Cameron. “No, they don’t know if you de-friend them or ignore them,” laughs Griffith. “Well, he tweets now,” reports Cameron as she points to her husband Gerald. “On that note,” says a smiling Manrique as he retreats to the kitchen to plate the main course, capon along with brussels sprouts topped with fresh porcini mushrooms, drizzled with olive oil, and a celery root puree with bacon and parsley. For these good friends who are arguably some of the best chefs in the world sitting down to dine together, conversation wanes only when Laurent’s perfectly cooked feast is in front of them. But before the cheese plate of petit basque, camembert, Cowgirl Creamery goat and bethmale with quince paste, marcona almonds and fig cake can be presented, Mikula is able to make a toast: “Bon appétit Laurent,” “Happy Thanksgiving,” the group cheers!
A Fall Recipe from Laurent Manrique
PARSNIP AND CELERY ROOT PUREE WITH CHESTNUT
2 pounds parsnip, peeled and cut into small chunks
3 large celery root, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup cream
6 ounces butter
3 ounces butter
1 cup chestnuts, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook parsnip and celery root in separate pots covered, with water, until very soft.
Strain out the cooked parsnip and celery root and transfer into a blender. Puree on high until smooth.
Place parsnip–celery root puree back in a pot on low heat. Mix in cream and butter until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a sauté pan on high, add butter and chestnut, and sauté until chestnuts are evenly toasted. Use this to sprinkle on top of the puree right before serving.