El Encanto Executive Chef Patrice Martineau’s résumé reads as impressively as his menus. Having logged time at Daniel in New York, The Savoy in London, and The Peninsula in Tokyo, he found his way to El Encanto ahead of its opening this past March. He was lured to the left coast by the Orient Express Group (“I always wanted to work with them,” he tells me one afternoon just weeks into the hotel’s new life), Santa Barbara’s natural beauty, and, as the father of a 10-year-old, the family-friendly perks our city offers.
Born in Troyes, France, Martineau brings a unique sensibility to cuisine — one that, he admits, he’s had to tweak a bit already, adjusting to the palates of El Encanto’s clientele by doing a bit of rebalancing of all those disparate influences. “We are here to please every guest,” he says, “not to educate the guests.” To that end, he says, the staff has been reading every comment card and Yelp review, and, when appropriate, making changes. It’s a surprisingly — and refreshingly — humble perspective for a chef of such stock. But then, given our area’s natural bounty, his on-site garden, and proprietary cow Ellie (yeah, you read that right; chef Martineau trekked to Visalia to select the perfect Holstein, and her milk is used to create an exclusive selection of cheese — which is to say: Order the cheese plate!), he has plenty of room (and toys) with which to play.
Martineau’s dishes are interesting and a bit unusual, incorporating both French and Asian influences into the flavors, techniques, and presentations, while showcasing seasonal area ingredients. (See: uni toasts; crab charlotte with soybean-wasabi mousseline and baked sweet tomatoes; yuzu-kosho-crusted confit salmon with baby vegetables in smoked orange broth; stuffed chicken breast with togarashi pepper-sage custard and vegetable cassoulet.) As with everything at the new El Encanto, even the smallest detail is attended to with the utmost care — right on down to the Lounge’s burger, and the snacks that accompany cocktails at the bar.
Tapped in January, Martineau was around for the pre-opening scramble — and concomitant jitters. “Two weeks before, I thought we would never get it together in time!” And despite the fact that he hasn’t had a day off in three months, he doesn’t have to travel far to refill his inspiration reserves. “When I’m stressed out in the kitchen, I just walk out and look at the view and say to myself, ‘You’re a lucky chef.’”