For those of you who enjoy food, two new ventures have just begun in Santa Barbara. First, the buzz is that the Hungry Cat, a seafood restaurant, opened downtown at the corner of Chapala and Anapamu streets in the last week of April. Chef/owner David Lentz has another successful Hungry Cat restaurant in Hollywood; he is married to Suzanne Goin, owner of the L.A. restaurants Lucques and AOC, and one of our country’s outstanding young female chefs. They are a dynamic cooking duo who prefer to use local, seasonal produce in their restaurants.
Second, a friend invited me to attend a Hungry Cat cooking class, offered by the newly formed Cook It School. I had not heard of the school, so logged onto their Web site (cookitschool.com) to get some information. Owners Karyn Millman and Claire Stancer are both veterans of the food industry; Millman as a caterer and owner of a food buffet business, and Stancer as a food stylist and food writer. Both longtime Santa Barbarans, they are passionate about food and the business of cooking it.
When we entered the class, which took place at Village Catering’s commercial kitchen facility on Haley Street, we were warmly greeted by Millman and Stancer. Tables were set for the students/would-be cooks, each setting complete with a cutting board, a good sharp paring knife, and an apron. The chef and his team were already busy at the stove and the demonstration table. The atmosphere was both professional and relaxed. Chef Lentz introduced himself, his menu, and the Santa Barbara team: Chef Dylan Fultineer and beverage master Tim Staehling.
We proceeded to cook and eat our way through the menu. Quick-cured hamachi, a Hawaiian/Japanese fish in the tuna family, was topped with four different varieties of slivered grapefruit, basil leaves, peppers, and grapefruit vinaigrette. White and green asparagus salad was next, followed by plump crab cakes on a bed of greens with sugar snap peas and a Meyer lemon aioli. A Spanish dish, chorizo and clams with sofrito and fresh shell beans, provided the main course.
In between courses we nibbled on impeccably fresh raw oysters and clams we opened ourselves, squeezed with a dash of fresh lime juice. Meanwhile, Tim the beverage man prepared “handcrafted cocktails” made with vintage and rare tequilas, gin, and vodka; one of my favorites was a drink made with Plymouth English gin, a grapefruit simple syrup, and fresh grapefruit juice served with candied grapefruit rind (like a grapefruit gimlet). The drinks (which he also prepared sans alcohol on request-it was the middle of the day, after all) were perfectly paired with each dish. Dessert was chocolate bread-and-butter pudding, with its own baked-in custard. It was the best I’ve ever had.
Upcoming Cook It School classes include Everynight Dinners with Robin Goldstein, A Tuscan Evening with Judy Witts Francini, Date Night Cooking with Remi Lauvand, Modern Pan Asian with Jet Tila, a Gnocchi class with Pietro Bernardi of Pane e Vino, Indian Cooking with Neela Bhajjias of Bombay Cafe, a Moroccan Holiday Feast with Michel Ohayon from Koutoubia restaurant in Los Angeles, Hungry Cat on the Farm, and several others. The classes will be held at various locations. Visit cookitschool.com