For this installment, I sat down with Jason Tuley, owner and executive chef of Anchor Woodfire Kitchen, the weeks-old restaurant at lower State Street’s design-forward Hotel Indigo, and his chef de cuisine, Charlie Fredericks. They’re just back (just out of the car, in fact) from a recon mission to San Francisco, scouting locations for another Anchor (ultimately, they’re gunning for a hat trick) and eating themselves stuffed as a contraband goose. “[We had] like four dinners a night,” Tuley said.
It’s late afternoon, pre-dinner service, and Anchor is buzzing. The first couple of weeks in a restaurant’s life are critical, and these guys are serious. I hear them say, “Do it again,” more than once to their staff (makes sense; Fredericks, after all, teaches at SBCC’s Culinary School), and Tuley’s inclined to jump up suddenly, checking on this or that.
Newness notwithstanding, Anchor’s pedigree breeds legacy-level expectations. Tuley and Fredericks both grew up in S.B. and met in the ’90s, two of the few chefs regularly trolling the Farmers Markets back then. Fredericks attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked restaurants in San Francisco, the Caribbean, Europe, and Napa before returning home to open bouchon in 1998. Tuley, whose first kitchen job was at Brophy’s, has been cooking for 25 years. He owned Cota Street’s Square One, farm-to-table before farm-to-table was a thing, and, more recently, opened restos in L.A. and S.F. But “this,” he said, gesturing at the room, “is what I’ve always wanted.”
“This” is a restaurant predicated on an impeccably sourced, constantly changing menu — and, more importantly, fire (see: custom smoker, indoor woodfire grill, oven). Fire’s a fickle mistress, though, a whole other variable — and she’s the boss. But these guys are pumped as kids showing off their Christmas loot. In fact, the banter between them, coupled with their fascination with fire, might inspire a Beavis and Butthead reference from a less generous writer.
The bartender brings a couple of drinks for inspection. The tamarind mescal cocktail is deemed worthy and passed around while we talk.
If your decision to become a chef could be traced to one food memory, what would it be?
JT: My grandma’s cobbler. She owned a restaurant called Mom’s Drive-In, in Salinas of all places.
CF: I don’t know if I have one specific food memory, but all my earliest memories revolve around the table, the kitchen — eating. Around the table is where everything happens.
JT: His mom’s an amazing cook. My mom couldn’t cook a can of Dennison’s. My grandma was great though.
You have a guest at home you want to impress. What’s the go-to meal?
JT: I’d probably bring them here.
CF: More toys here.
JT: I’d do a five-course menu. Probably some foie — let’s call it goose liver, and black truffles. ’Tis the season.
CF: First course: ridgeback shrimp. Second course: rabbit. Some good, local products. Figure it out from there.
JT: Mine would include rabbit, too. ’Cause he raises them!
If someone could only eat here once, what should they order?
JT: Off this menu?
CF: Which is gonna change on Saturday, by the way.
JT: If they’re from out of town, I’d suggest something local. Some sea urchin, the whole fish…
CF: The nettle gnocchi…
JT: His rabbit…
CF: And we didn’t even get into the wood-fired stuff.
JT: The whole fish is.
CF: We do provide true wood-fired pizza, and wood-fire grill.
JT: Not many places do. Some people use it but are understating it.
CF: We’re doing the opposite. We want people to taste the oak. We’re basically doing our dream here.
What’s the best dining experience in Santa Barbara, other than here, of course?
[Wide eyes; rare (brief) moment of silence.]
CF: Dutch Garden?
JT: Yeah. I concur. Schnitzel and sausage.
CF: Seriously, I think Ramon at Cielito is doing a really great job.
JT: Yeah, either one.
You’ve worked in lots of restaurants. What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever seen go down?
JT: Ho! Can’t tell you.
CF: I’m going click, click, click, like, what story can I tell?
JT: I got one! It’s PG. PG-13. I worked with a chef in Santa Cruz, and a customer sent a dish back three times. He was the one that cooked it. So he brought it out, in the sauté plate, and slammed it down, and it went everywhere, and he said, “If you don’t like it, you can get the fuck out.” He was the chef/owner, needless to say.
CF: I once saw someone deglaze a pan with Absolut vodka and the bottle exploded.
You killed your sommelier and are on death row. What’s your last meal?
JT: More like I killed a waiter.
CF: Yeah, what’d the wine guy do?
JT: The single best dish I ever had was at the French Laundry in 2000. Nantucket Bay scallops, a wafer-thin potato cake, but so thin you could see through it, truffled foie gras mousse, the three scallops on top. And [Chef Thomas Keller] came out.
SK: So he’d have to come to prison.
CF: Or you’d have to kill his waiter!
SK: Then he’d come to court.
CF: I’m simple. Simple roast chicken, smoked fingerling potatoes, pancetta lardon, brussels sprouts.
What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
JT: Salt. And olive oil.
CF: I’m going to go with extra-virgin olive oil.
JT: Actually, if I was stranded on Santa Cruz Island, I could make sea salt.
JT: Actually, if I was stranded on Santa Cruz Island, I could make olive oil, too; there’s an orchard out there.
CF: Stranded on the island wasn’t the question! Butter and eggs should be in there.
What’s the best food city?
JT: San Francisco.
CF: Chicago, New York… I’m gonna go with San Francisco, too. The sheer resources they have there. We have great produce, but what they have there!
JT: The farmers deliver everything to the restaurants!
Fill in the blank. People might be surprised to see me eating _____.
CF: Crow. Ha! Most people who know me wouldn’t be surprised to see me eating anything; I eat everything. But I don’t like salmon.
CF: Roadkill’s gross.
SK: What if you ran over a goose with a really fatty liver?
Finally, bacon: Awesome or overrated?
JT, CF, in unison: Awesome.
JT: Have you tried the one I make? Awesome. Black pepper, maple, smoked for hours.
CF: We make a lovely pancetta, too.
JT: Well, if you count…
CF: We make like four different kinds of bacon.