It is four o’clock in the afternoon when Sherry Stockwell opens the door at 129 Sheffield Drive. Warm light washes against the walls and reflects off of china dishes. The table is set at the old Masini Adobe.
While the dining room table set for 20 is immaculate and enchanting, the kitchen is the old adobe’s focal point. Unlike most home kitchens, this one has a mirror on the ceiling and is home to Stockwell’s most prized possession, “the Wolf” - a huge silver stove that Stockwell calls “the Rolls Royce of cookware.” All of this is necessary since Stockwell decided to open up her kitchen to the community. That, however, has changed, due to a ruling by the department of health, but Stockwell said she hopes the Masini Adobe will once again return to full swing.
Stockwell and her husband, Steve, owned their own architectural design company, and they specialized in renovating historical houses and designing hotels. Their two sons are trained architects and they worked as a family on multiple projects, such as the fantasy architecture and murals at Caesar’s Palace and The Mirage in Las Vegas.
They were looking for a good location to host clients, when they found the old Masini property in 2000.
“It was in a shambles,” said Stockwell. “The property sat for years, but my husband thought ‘We can fix this.’”
However, he died the night escrow closed. “I was faced with the decision: Do I go ahead with this or not?” Stockwell explained. She and her sons finished the projects they had coming through the pipe at that time, but they couldn’t continue to orchestrate the business without Stockwell pre. “It’s been eight years now. I’ve slowly fixed it up and in 2005 I knew that I needed to make a life here : My husband and I were close. I didn’t want to find anyone else, but I need a challenging life.”
She was inspired by places she had visited in Italy and France, where historic sites were opened up to the public to exhibit the foods and wines of the region. And in California the old adobe is as historic as architecture gets. It even has a culinary history. Built in the 1820s, the Masini house is one of the few remaining adobe homes in Santa Barbara.
It has served in many different capacities: as a small inn, the main house of a cattle ranch, and the site of one of the region’s first wineries. It was built by Pedro Masini - an Italian immigrant who discovered oil in Carpinteria and then established vineyards across what is now U.S. Highway Route 101 all the way out to the sea. There is even some evidence that it served as a garrison for Spanish soldiers who were protecting the California coast from pillaging pirates.
With all this in mind, Stockwell opened up her home and especially her kitchen, hosting a wide variety of cooking classes - everything from grilling classes to tequila tasting to a tapas night. The menus included such dishes as sugar cane shrimp with ginger peach chutney, and cinnamon and chipotle flan. These two dishes were served for a Frida Kahlo-themed evening, but every meal ends with coffee and what Stockwell calls “Old Masini Adobe Gold Nuggets” - dark chocolate-covered raisins and nuts.
Classes were taught by renowned local chefs like David Cecchini, former chef of the Wine Cask, and Pascal Beale Groom. “Guys love to see a man cooking,” said Stockwell. “David is a man’s man and he cooks like someone passionately plays the piano.”
There were also visiting chefs from Europe, and Stockwell herself taught a class titled “The Best Trader Joe’s Has to Offer” in which she instructed a group of 12-15 people how to prepare a three-course meal with ingredients from Trader Joe’s. The courses were also paired with Trader Joe’s wines.
However, cooking classes are not currently taking place at the old adobe. “The health department won’t allow me to continue without a complete commercial kitchen, which is costly and not something I’m able to do,” Stockwell lamented. Due to the economic change of the times, selling the adobe is no longer an option for her.
“I’m looking for a partner in the cooking school and winemaking venue,” said Stockwell. She envisions it as a place for people - locals and tourists from all over the world to bring their families and experience early California, good company, along with great food and wine.
Whether Stockwell is successful in reviving the activity at the Masini Adbobe remains to be seen, but Stockwell was hopeful that history surrounding the house would not end with her.