GAME, SET, MATCH: IT’S ACES FOR DAVID FINK

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By Michael Cervin | Photography by Manny Espinoza

For hotelier and restaurant owner David Fink, it’s amusing that his most memorable culinary
highlight from his childhood was something as modest as cheesecake. “My mother cooked. My father
couldn’t boil water,” jokes Fink. An image of his mother releasing a tender, creamy cake from its
springform pan while his father defends himself from a spitting pot of boiling water is
unavoidable. Today, Fink is CEO of Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group, which is based in Carmel and
whose properties include L’Auberge, the eateries 400 Degrees and Cantinetta Luca, and several
others.

Originally from Virginia, Fink grew up with “a Southern sense of hospitality,” as he puts it. His
mother was a collector of antiques,
including fine linen and crystal, which taught young David an early appreciation
of a superlative table. But it wasn’t hospitality that originally resonated with Fink; it was
tennis and birds. “I’ve always had an interest in nature,” he says. As an avid bird watcher, he
considered attending Cornell University for ornithology, although he ended up with a Bachelor of
Arts degree from Roanoke College.

He still plays tennis, and back in the day was ranked in Virginia in both high school and college.
But just like an unpredictable singles match, Fink’s life took an odd bounce. Though he started at
age 16 in the hospitality business as a busser and then waiter and he can recall his first Mateus
rosé, it was a 1959 Château Lafite Rothschild that changed everything. “That was a seminal moment
for me, something I had not expected,” he recalls. Fink had landed a job in San Diego at La
Mediterenna, where he learned proper table service, preparing Steak Diane, and refining his
knowledge of great wines. The spirit of his mother’s hospitality “came to fruition” in this
environment. He moved to the Highlands Inn as food and beverage director and decided to stay in
Carmel. Under his Mirabel Group, he has launched food and hospitality projects including the
upcoming Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest set for March 2015.

Sure, larger metropolitan areas offered more opportunities over Carmel. “We still think of Carmel
as a hidden jewel even though it’s well known,” he says. “I love large cities—Prague, Paris, San
Francisco—but I’m really a small town guy,” he admits. “Being in Carmel I can take a hike in Big
Sur, which is very spiritual to me.” Fink has been at the core of Carmel’s culinary renaissance as
evidenced by the transformation of L’Auberge. “I wanted a full service, Relais & Châteaux style
property with personalized service and a great restaurant,” he says, but it didn’t exist.

It took two years with the owners to work out details to morph the former Sundial Court and
Bungalow into Carmel’s very first full service property. “Carmel has this great blend of beautiful
residences, an idyllic downtown walking village and iconic beach,” says Fink. This is what draws
global guests and keeps locals entrenched. Monterey County is finally getting its dues for food and
wine. “The great wine regions of the world like Napa and Burgundy are understandable because they
are valleys; you can drive from one end to the other in an hour. Monterey County has twice the
vineyard land of Napa and Sonoma combined, but we don’t have wineries dotted along an iconic
highway, so it’s taken longer for people to discover us,” Fink admits. “What we want now is more
young chefs, young hoteliers, and the next generation of winemakers to be here.”

The future holds immense potential, according to Fink. Like the game of tennis, mishits may occur,
but it takes only one perfect serve to amaze everyone, and
David has amazed and been amazed time and time again.

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