What a surprise to discover the Santa Barbara Smokehouse-maker of Cambridge House Smoked Salmon, which the New York Times has called “the best smoked salmon in the world”-right in downtown Santa Barbara. Many major hotels such as the Bellagio and the Wynn, as well as cruise ships and restaurants, order exclusively from the Santa Barbara Smokehouse and the company boasts of accolades from Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse, among others.
President and S.B. resident Tim Brown has been devoted to the art of smoking the world’s best salmon since he was a lad of 15 on the Scotch-English border. In an industrial hometown that offered few opportunities, Brown left high school to join forces with his brother and, together with the aid of a $20,000 government grant from Margaret Thatcher, they began smoking salmon. In the beginning, with no real equipment, Brown did everything, including filleting fish with his bare hands and plunging them into warm water in winter to prevent frostbite. Finally, after nearly losing hope, when an actual livelihood became realized, Brown and his brother were determined to be the best at what they did. “I never imagined I would end up here today,” Brown said.
When the U.S. became their largest market, it became necessary to cross the Atlantic in order to maintain the highest standard of quality. Brown decided to go it alone, purchasing in 1999 Carpinteria’s Cambridge House Smoked Salmon, even though it was going bankrupt. Already voted number one by the Times, the purveyor had a unique wood-burn fire and Brown knew he had found the mother lode because he “believed in the process.” Then, several years ago, he raised the bar and successfully undertook building the Santa Barbara Smokehouse, a $5 million, state-of-the-art facility on Nopal Street. This remarkable 15,000-square-foot ode to the art of smoking salmon was designed to emulate a church on the outside and encompass an ultra-modern interior with plenty of room for growth. Brown is “happy that in these hard times, we are still able to maintain a staff of 35.” Never far from the humility of his past, Brown is passionate about giving back to the community. The more jobs he can provide, the more he can give to charities, and the greater the future will be for everyone, including, of course, his wife and two young sons.
Santa Barbara Smokehouse brings in fresh, 99 percent farmed, antibiotic free, naturally fed Scottish salmon from the cold, deep waters of the Shetland Islands twice a week. It is hand-cured with pure sea salt and fresh herbs and smoked in small batches using the traditional open-fire dry-cure approach where smoking and flavoring are enhanced through the use of oak and applewood. However, only wasted or fallen wood is used; no trees are ever cut down for the process. Santa Barbara Smokehouse is the only commercial company in the world that burns entire logs and hardwoods in an open-fire kiln, as all other companies use wood chips or an electric hot plate method. This amazing smokehouse reaches 2000 degrees to guarantee an absolutely no-burn environmental atmosphere.
Excited about his newest passion, Brown described the upcoming implementation installation of a brick kiln, which will be a small center of their production. Here the salmon “will be hand hung by rope as it was done hundreds of years ago in Scotland.” There is not much room for profit in this process, but according to Brown, “because the salmon gets a lot drier, it will produce the crme de la crme of smoked salmon.” Brown reckons that “there are only a few people in the world undertaking this method because it is so labor-intensive; only very tiny quantities can be made.”
Brown’s fervor for what he does and how it affects the lives of others causes him to have a bone to pick. He would like to set the record straight regarding salmon as a continuing species. Santa Barbara Smokehouse salmon is best-farmed in good, sustainable farms, which is the most ideal salmon for commercial smoking. “Good farmed salmon is necessary to sustainable salmon farming because the truth is, wild salmon are endangered,” he claimed. “It’s vitally important for consumers to realize that if they continue demanding and eating wild salmon rather than good-farmed, the consequences could mean their extinction.”
Santa Barbara Smokehouse salmon is never frozen, 100 percent Kosher, contains no artificial preservatives, and, because of its unique approach of slow smoking, it melts in your mouth. Such delectable items as herb-lemon-pepper salmon, tenderloin of smoked salmon, or pastrami-smoked salmon are fully trimmed by hand to remove all dark meat, sliced paper thin, and vacuum-packed fresh.
Santa Barbara Smokehouse salmon is available in numerous stores and online at sbsmokehouse.com. Call 805-966-9796.