If you’ve been surfing in and around Pleasure Point for the past 20 years, you are probably very familiar with the site of 30 year old James Manss attacking the surf with his compact and powerful style. What you might not know about the humble regular footer is that he’s an awesome cook to boot. I caught up with Mannsy recently to discuss his culinary curiosity and passion for makin’ something a dish that leaves you smiling and satisfied. Here’s what he had to say…
I’ll always remember being a grom at your house and your mom was always baking or cooking something—would you say she’s your primary influence?
That’s where I got it from for sure. I’d say I really started getting serious about in in High School, or thereabouts. I started by watching her and learning technique—from preparation to cooking—she lit the flame. After High School, I went to work tile with my dad, but once the economy crashed I thought about going to culinary school. So I went to Cabrillo for a few semesters. The lady there, one of the teachers, she was the head chef at the Chaminade, and she offered me a job– so I worked there for about a year. That’s where I met Pete, who’s my sous chef now at Solaire at the Paradox Hotel. He kinda took me under his wing. He became like a coach to me—ya know? But in the beginning it was my mom who got me into it. She went to culinary school in Monterey and work in the Pebble Beach area, then places locally like Michaels on Main and Gayles Bakery. So she had a lot of knowledge and really got me psyched on pursuing it as a career.
You grew up around so much cooking, did you try to get in the mix as a youngster?
I’d bake with her a little bit, and yeah she’d always show me her recipes, like the stuff she learned from her mom. I would watch her and learn from her. She basically tried to show me everything she could—she could see that I was interested.
Describe the environment working on “The Line”
It’s intense, it can be really stressful but at the same time it’s a full adrenaline rush—you get psyched! I’m just really stoked on making people happy, making good food, and sending out something that people will enjoy. My focus is just putting my all into any food I make, and hoping that the customers enjoy it. The environment is hectic but rad. It’s not like “Hell’s Kitchen”, where the head Chefs are screaming at you. There’s a little bit of yelling but it’s mainly positive, like “C’mon, hustle up! Let’s get this goin!”…just keeping everyone in that productive mode. But yeah, it can be gnarly, I’ve definitely burned myself a lot (points out a number of healthy looking scars on his arms and hands). It gets hot, sweaty…sometimes like 100 degrees, it’s gnarly. It’s fun though, I really enjoy it. I actually look forward to going to work, which sounds weird (laughs).
Is there any ways to compare surfing with cooking?
I guess with surfing, you get to create your line on the wave. It’s an open canvas. Same with cooking. I really like creating new plates, using local and organic ingredients– good quality meats and poultry—all natural and fresh, and seeing what I can come up with. They are both really fun too, they make me happy…but I don’t get paid to surf (laughs)!
What was the hardest part of the learning curve?
The hardest things are speed and timing. I still have trouble with my speed on the line. You gotta hustle. When you have a big ticket you have to plan everything out perfect. You have the grill station, and then there’s the saute in the middle, and then the garmage, which is like salads and desserts. So your first course will be a salad and an appetizer. That goes up, but they have to go up together at the same time. But then you could have ten tickets at one time so really gotta shake a leg. Then the second course will come up, which might be salmon or roasted chicken or steak—all those items on the ticket have to go up at the same time, so timing is vital. The whole table needs to get there food at the same time– it’s tough.
Is there any particular meat, or ingredient that you like working with more?
The cuisine that we do is called “New American”, basically like California Cuisine—lots of local and fresh products. It’s also got a little Asian flare to it, French and English as well—we’ve got quite a mixture of everything. Another thing I love to do is gardening. Growing fruit and veggies, so I can cook the freshest dish possible. There’s nothing like a fresh heirloom tomato picked off the vine that you grew from start to finish.
What’s the signature “Manssy Dish”
I used to do a Thai Green Curry Chicken that my girlfriend’s mom and my own mom loves as well. My mom’s actually the one who taught me it. I think it’s the dish I’ve done the most for that reason (laughs) for them you know. Roasted chicken thighs, with rice and veggies…it’s pretty damn good. I also like doing the salmon dishes, or a really good ribeye or New York steak.
Do you find yourself consistently challenged with cooking?
It all just takes practice, like anything you do. The more you do it the better you get. With cooking you use all your senses- your smell, your taste. With sauces or soups in particular, you gotta taste everything before we send it out. You take a spoonful of chowder, taste it, then it’s like “oh this needs a little bit of salt”. Usually when I cook salmon, I touch it. Same with steak, it’s all by touch—you can tell how well done it is. Also just by looking at it. When a steak gets to medium rare, the juices will start coming out. When you see those juices you know it’s going right past rare to medium rare. Just like with surfing, you have to be aware all the time—is this going to be a good wave? Naw it’s got a little mush on it, I gotta wait a little longer. Cooking is just the same.
What’s your ultimate goal with your cooking? Would you ever want to open your own restaurant?
My goal is to work in a really nice restaurant first then yeah it would be rad to open my own small restaurant or have a catering business. Do my own thing eventually, but for now just learn as much as I can. Every day I go into work I learn something different, it’s pretty bitchin’.
Any last words?
I want to thank executive chef Ross McKee and sous chef Pete Martinez for their guidance, and my mom and girlfriend for all their support.