Cádiz Executive Chef John Pettitt boasts quite a résumé: He’s done time everywhere from Seagrass, the Wine Cask, and the Hungry Cat to Melisse in L.A. and Masa’s and Gary Denko in San Francisco. Never content to simply sit still, he’s currently leading a bit of a double life, working at San Francisco’s Prospect (a venture from renowned chef Nancy Oakes) while still maintaining his role at Cádiz (509 State St.; 770-2760; cadizsb.com). He manages this by splitting his time and, while in Santa Barbara, devoting his energy to making sure the food and the kitchen at Cádiz are “where I want it to be.” And that’s a serious boon for diners.
Tonight, Chef Pettitt’s handiwork will be in its glory, as part of a four-course, wine-paired dinner held in conjunction with Stolpman Vineyards. (Read more about Stolpman’s winemaker Sashi Moorman in this week’s cover story.) The menu is mouthwatering enough to read — featuring an heirloom tomato, watermelon, and ahi salad; grilled Aleppo prawns with fennel and onion marmalade and corn pudding; wagyu beef with black olive risotto and cherry tomatoes; and smoked peach ice cream with chocolate fudge and sage (dear god!), all paired with a selection of Stolpman’s finest — but if you want to actually eat it, get on the phone this instant to see if there’s still room for you.
Here, Chef Pettitt and I talk chicken and dumplings, the perils of running the kitchen in a space that doubles as a nightclub, and Cap’n Crunch.
If your decision to become a chef could be traced to a single food memory, what would it be? Let’s see. Probably chicken and dumplings. My grandmother used to make chicken and dumplings every time I was there, and I always wanted my mother to make chicken and dumplings. But she’d never make it, so I had to learn how to make it.
Ha! Okay. You have a guest at home that you want to impress. What’s the go-to meal? I just try to keep it simple. When I’m at home, it’s — you know, everyone likes a backyard barbecue, so I’d just make a big green salad of some sort and then throw something on the grill and then it’s entertainment, too.
Right. Okay, if somebody could only eat at Cádiz once, what should they order? They should definitely have one of our flatbreads, and they should have the albondigas, the saffron risotto, and probably our Moroccan chicken breast.
Nice. Let’s hope they share! What do you think is the best dining experience to be had in Santa Barbara, other than Cádiz? Other than Cádiz. Ummm, Handlebar Coffee?
Ha! That works — gotta have caffeine. What’s the most outrageous thing that’s ever gone down at Cádiz? I mean, the late-night bar scene gets pretty crazy on the weekend. There’ll be people dancing on the bar and dancing in the paths, in the window, and it’s loud, and we’re still trying to cook and trying to get the food out, and it’s like — it’s a little hectic.
True story. Been there. Butts in my face. Moving on! You killed your sommelier, and you’re on death row. What’s your last meal? Ha! Where do you come up with these questions? My last meal? That’s tough. Ummm, I’d probably have a rib eye, with a baked potato and a big green salad and something from Bordeaux.
Going out classic. One ingredient you could not live without? Olive oil.
What’s your favorite food city? Probably San Francisco. I just think that there’s something for everybody; there’s people doing really progressive things, and there’s nice restaurants, restaurants that are sort of keeping it simple, all with people doing really good food. There [are] taquerías all over the place, and there’s ethnic food everywhere, so I just think that it has something for everyone and whatever you’re craving, you can find it.
Truth. Okay, fill in the blank: People might be surprised to see me eating ___. A bowl of cereal in the morning? Every day! Every day.
What kind of cereal? Fruity Pebbles? Uh, today I had a mixture of Rice Chex and Cap’n Crunch. With blackberries, no less.
Gotta keep it healthy. Okay, finally: bacon! Is it awesome, or is it overrated? Bacon is awesome!