Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Olive Oil for Life

If you own a popular olive oil, vinegar, and assorted-cooking-products store like Global Gardens in Los Olivos, you’ll probably end up writing a lavishly illustrated cookbook someday. At least that’s how the store’s owner, Theo Stephan, puts it. “Honestly, so many people came into the store, and I took it for granted they knew what to do with olive oil and vinegar—I was raised Greek, so I knew,” said Stephan. “But so many people asked, ‘What recipes do you make?’ I thought maybe it was time to put something together.”

Want to read the rest then go do so at the Indy's site.

P.S. And on page 4 of the cookbook, the photo of Theo, check out that photo credit.

ADDED: And once again a kindly ex-Santa Barbaran now at the New York Times smiles upon our humble work here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Do You Know the Way to Monterey?

Moments do resemble ads sometimes, and such was the case with a lovely-and-a-half dinner we had the great pleasure of hosting earlier this summer. It's mighty fun to hang with cool people under the wisteria-covered arbor in the backyard of our Spanish charmer. Thanks to everyone and everything and all the planets aligning etc.

And then Matt Kettmann, Indy colleague, went and wrote it all up too:

In an evening of culinary highlights, perhaps the happiest words we heard on a warm night in a backyard on Santa Barbara’s Westside this past summer were these: “I have these little presents to give out.” So said chef Danny Douglas ( as he presented the 10 of us with his main course, succulent halibut filets cooked in paper and just this side of done, served alongside asparagus, bok choy, and shiitake mushrooms. “Wow,” said The Indy’s food editor, George Yatchisin, our host for the night. “That smells great without even opening it.”

Want to read the rest, then go do so at the Indy's site.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Farmer to Table: Goodland Kitchen Kicks Off Series Celebrating Farmers

Sorry I'm so late (too late for the actual event) posting the link to this one. And I've got lots to blog about--SOhO's new local-sustainable focused menu, palate food + wine in Glendale--and I didn't link to this online only item about Wine Cask's first beer dinner (turns out it was a huge success--they turned folks away, even). I'm behind in life, folks. In the meantime....

“I went to a dinner party a few months ago where all the guests sat with the farmers that grew their food, as well as the people that cooked it,” says Melissa Gomez, co-owner of Goodland Kitchen. “Everything was delicious, and we enjoyed it much more than other meals because we understood the care that went into creating it. I wanted to re-create that experience for our guests, so I decided to start the ‘Meet the Farmer’ Dinner Series.”

Want to read the rest, then do see at the Indy's site.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Food fests are frequent and everywhere of late, popping up like mushrooms that we then have to ponder over--is this one delicious or sick-making? After all, the food fest, however well intentioned, can become a glorified excuse to cloak our gluttonous consumption in a hairshirt of educative moments extolling organic, local, sustainable goodness on our way to personal godliness. Or maybe the problem is that I eat and drink too much at these things--each little taste or micro-pour is just a mouthful or two, after all, so it's hard not to stop. But I do know that at a certain, often quite early, point when attending these that if the choice is to listen to a seminar/demo or go stuff my gullet, look out stomach, here it all comes.

A couple of weekends ago we had a feast of fests in the area, what with the SOL Food Festival right here in Santa Barbara and Sunset Magazine's Savor the Central Coast up in Santa Margarita, both in their second years. SOL was a huge success (so much so evidently the food ran out a bit early), pairing up producers and kitchens, hosting the wonderful Santa Barbara Independent Foodie Awards (go us),

(Me and Branden Bidwell from Wine Cask at the Foodies)

letting a turkey roam the grounds (no, not me, a real bird). The word "hippie" has been taking a horribly beating of late, thanks to the right's lack of imagination and desire to lazily label the OWS crowd (plus, they're still fighting the '60s battles, hoping to keep youth, women, and people of color in their place--while us lefties are all about the future), but SOL captured hippie in its most optimistic sense. Maybe we all can just get along, and that can only start if we're all not hungry, and that means the land we eat from, too. The whole system has to stay healthy and fed. Thanks for stressing that, SOL.

As for Savor the Central Coast, that's a bit more upscale, but what do you expect from Sunset, which is sort of the Trader Joe's of lifestyle magazines--it's for people with some college-developed sense of taste, but who lack the money to be ostentatious about it (call them English majors). Having it at the Santa Margarita Ranch is a huge boon to begin, a lovely spot too many don't know about that seems old west in the best ways. I only had the chance to hit one day of what was billed The Main Event (no relation to the old Streisand movie), which had a bit of everything a food fest could do but on steroids (non-gmo ones, I'm sure). One slight cavil was a big part of the fest was Vons Land--nothing like corporate cash to turn a pretty standard supermarket chain into a paragon of local, organic, sustainable. No doubt these folks might have had some ideas about how sustainable Vons can be:

That said, there was more good eating than it was possible to do in a couple of hours of speed grazing, especially when the temptation was to stay at the Cracked Crab's booth and keep doing crab bisque shots. While it was supposedly a Central Coast fest, and even Ventura represented in the Pavilion of Travel Bureaus (ok, it had some other name, I'm sure, but you know what I beamingly mean, you've seen the permanently smiling sorts that shill at these things), but it was pretty Santa Barbara County light, beyond Bradley Ogden himself and Root 246 representing with a couple of delicious noshes.

Not that a whole bunch of SLO and Paso hurt--most of the best wineries were there, like L'Aventure and Tablas Creek--and then the food was as good or better. OK, make that perhaps nothing better than a lamb taco that Central City Market (in what I'm told is the godforsaken Santa Maria Mall) was serving up with lamb from Superior Farms Lamb. There should be more lamb in Mexican food, it seems.

We also took in one seminar, The Art of the Oyster with Sunset Food Editor Margo True. There was tons of information, but almost as much tantalization (and if that's not a word, it should be). Alongside the very informative and surprisingly self-deprecating (especially when it came to shucking) True was Neal Maloney from Morro Bay Oyster Company, who offered much fascinating info about teh bivalve that does so well slightly to our north. One of the best bits is Morro Bay's oysters are shaken not stirred (and, sure, Muscadet, Champagne, yeah yeah yeah, a gin martini makes for an elegant oyster pairing)--that is, as they farm the oysters, they shake the bags, which chips off the soft parts of the shells (better for cleaner eating later) and that shocks the little fellows a bit, too, so they deepen, making for a meatier oyster with more room for that lovely briny-sweet liquor. Then True whipped up some recipes, but we didn't get to taste any, which is sort of the lap dance of food. If anyone would like to have me over for barbecued oysters with chipotle glaze, I will be there before you finish reading this paragraph.

(These seminars were in the Santa Margarita lovely old barn/chapel, but then the videoed all of them, and often had the camera guys in the way, so you had to watch the video, even while the real action happened 12 feet away. It's an a-v world, isn't it.)

So was Savor worth savoring? Completely--an embarrassment of riches, so the less good things you could brush off with the next magnificent taste. But they might need to have some early seminars next year on the Art of Pacing Oneself.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Chip Off the Old Choc

It's not perhaps the best karma to have to taste seven chocolate-related food items while staring across the street at the conscientious few conducting Occupy Santa Barbara. But that was the unfortunate geography of an event at which I was a judge Thursday night, as the Downtown Organization and First Thursday hosted a Chocolate Taste Off as a way to celebrate Let them eat chocolate, I guess. Sorry protesters--promise I'm usually part of the 99%. But afterward, there's no doubt I occupied more of Santa Barbara then when I began.

I'm not going to run through all the entries, but the participants were Seagrass, Aldo's, Chocolate Opulence, Pierre La Fond, Wine Cask, Viva Oliva, and Adama. What people offered us was all over the board, too, if true to their businesses, but let's just admit that when somebody's baked you a whole dessert, a single raspberry in balsamic infused with three chocolates just can't compare. It's got a zen purity, sure, but this is about chocolate, and beyond spellcheck wanting to turn Opulence into Corpulence when I originally mistyped it above, it hits me now that "chocolate opulence" is pretty near redundant. Unless you're eating the wrong chocolate.

I am a bit chastened to add my winning choice came in second overall (I was one of four judges), but that might just prove that if you work the word doughnut into your dessert's name, I'm suddenly Homer Simpson. That's what Rosie Gerard at the Wine Cask did, serving up one of their regular menu items I've somehow so far resisted (mostly because I can't get past her amazing butterscotch pudding): chocolate & chevre doughnuts, crème anglaise, cappuccino ice cream. The goat cheese really works, so don't crinkle up your nose like an actual goat just stuck its horns through your monitor--it adds a creamier texture, cuts the chocolate's sweet a tad, gives it a bit of deeper dairiness. And the doughnuts were perfectly cooked all the way through, so there's no raw dough surprise or anything. Wonderful and elegant, especially with the cappuccino ice cream adding its coffee kick.

As for the winner, I had it as a close runner up, and would gladly eat one right now, especially since there might be time to have a second one before the day's end. Chef Nathan Heil from Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro prepared for us a salted caramel chocolate tart with Chantilly and caramel Oreo popcorn. Starting with the dessert's side...and, well, why don't more desserts have sides? If you're going to keep eating after a perfectly good dinner, there's no point in being a little pregnant, as the old joke goes. As for this popcorn, Heil could no doubt bag it and sell it on its own (his restaurant is close to the movie theaters, after all). Chocolate and caramel and popcorn and salt--that's four food groups. The tart itself beckons like any good tart, with its slip of salt, its crisp and flaky crust, its mix of luscious chocolate and caramel creaminess. I have no problem with it winning at all, beyond it's hard to beat a doughnut all gussied up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ain’t Nothing Wrong with the Way She Moves

Crista Fooks has been kicking around the idea of opening a restaurant for half her life (she’s just turning 40), a few years after getting bit by the food bug when enjoying escargot for the first time at Carp’s late, great Epicurian on her 16th birthday. “It was like you were in a wonderland there,” she recalls, “and the whole room led me to be willing to take the chance. My family just started getting really adventurous about food.”

Want to read the rest then go do so at the Indy's site.