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Bastide Countdown: Introducing Exec Chef Walter Manzke

Joe Pytka keeps teasing us with long-anticipated reopening of Bastide in West Hollywood. We've been obsessed since December, when we wondered about the closed restaurant. It was missed and MIA. After some sleuthing in January, we found out that Walter Manzke, a former Patina chef, was in talks to take over the kitchen. That was confirmed a few weeks later. And then Pytka starts throwing around July as an opening date. So here we are, July 2 and no official word. If Bastide really is opening this month (we're placing our bets on "maybe), it's about time we meet the man brave enough to take over the stoves, Walter Manzke himself. We have a two parter for you. Here we get to know a little about the chef, why it's great to be back in LA, and where he sees the scene going. Later, we'll try to get that opening date out of him, but it ain't easy.

You used to work in LA?
I was with Joachim Splichal for 9 years, and 6 ½ at Patina. Prior to that, I was at Pinot Bistro. Then in Carmel for 4 ½ years. I opened three restaurants, and they did very well.

Why come back?
Lots of reasons. One part is that every once in awhile you have to do something different. I have lots of friends here, and I got a little bored up north. In a way, I feel like I'm stepping right back in and haven't missed a thing. And then a lot was Bastide, the conversations that Joe and I were having. We started talking in October, and we both got excited about the project, and one thing led to another.

What's the best thing about the LA dining scene right now?
I like that maybe it's becoming more like San Francisco. It's great to see all of these small passionate places in offbeat neighborhoods.

What's your definition of a "San Francisco restaurant?"
Places that have small focused menus, like Hatfield's and The Foundry. Just doing something really well, keeping the costs under control. These giant menus with so much offered, it's become a little ridiculous. And in turn, the customer has to pay for it. And a place like Hatfield's, keeping it small and simple makes it exciting.

What bothers you about the scene?
Desserts are expensive. $12 or $14 dollars for dessert? I don't understand why it's like that. Maybe it's because the chefs are trying too hard, and because they're trying so hard, they have a big staff. That was one of the shocks coming back down here.

You're wife Marge will be doing pastries at Bastide.
Yes. We met at Patina, worked together for a long time before we got together. Then she was a sous chef at Melisse, and I was at Patina. We wanted to work together again, and in the big company I was in, we couldn't do it. So we moved up north and worked together.

What part of town did you two settle in?
Mid-Wilshire area.

Where have you dined recently?
Right now, I like to go out once or twice week. I had a great meal at Melisse last week. On the fine dining side, that's one of the best I've had since I've been back. I love Mozza. It has a great energy.

What's one place you loved when you lived here, and you can't wait to seek out again?
Ruen Pair has some of the best food for cheap. It's clean, and you can eat for under $10. I missed that.

The end-all, be-all question for any Angeleno: Where do you eat sushi?
The place that I love Nishimura. The chef is very talented.

Now that you've met the man, hear what he has to say about his new boss Joe Pytka, plans for Bastide, and an opening date in Part II of the interview.
· Churning the Rumor Mill: The Bastide Mystique [~ElA~]
· BREAKING: Bastide's New Chef [~ELA~]
· It's Official: Walter Manzke in at Bastide [~ELA~]
· Bastide May or May Not Open in July [~ELA~]
· Bastide Countdown Part II: Manzke Talks Joe Pytka, the Process, and Can We Get an Opening Date, Please? [~ELA~]