“Everywhere I go, I meet people that go, ‘Hey, I worked for you,’ and I go, ‘Hey, I remember you!’” says Doug Margerum, winemaker and founder/co-owner of Wine Cask restaurant, of how the plot for the upcoming Alumni Chef Dinner marking the Santa Barbara institution’s 30th anniversary was initially hatched. Inspired by these run-ins, Margerum and co-owner Mitchell Sjerven made a list of all the people who’d worked at the Wine Cask, and what they’re doing now. And the resulting tally was, Margerum says, “awesome.”
Indeed, talk to a chef who’s worked in this town for any amount of time, and smart money’s on Wine Cask making an appearance on their résumé. “It’s sort of an incubator, a fertile ground for people to go off and do great things,” Margerum says. “So we thought it would be fun to have some of these people come back.”
“Fun” will likely prove an understatement. The celebration, which will take place next Monday, September 30, will be a serious treat for foodies and oenophiles alike. The night will begin with a courtyard reception, where chefs — including Alex Castillo of El Paseo, David Cecchini of Cecco Ristorante, Steven Giles of Sage & Onion Café, Cynthia Miranda of Succulent Café, Greg Murphy of bouchon santa barbara, and Jeremy Tummel of Pebble Beach Resorts — will serve small bites reminiscent of their favorite Wine Cask dishes, along with tastes inspired by what they’re currently doing professionally. And, because this is Wine Cask, where the wine has always shared top billing with the cuisine, alumni winemakers will be on hand, as well. Among them are Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines and AVA Santa Barbara, Steve Clifton of Palmina and Brewer-Clifton, Aaron Watty of Big Tar Wines, and Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines. (Margerum recalls one couple who came in regularly — baby in tow — when he first opened the restaurant. “Then, several years later, there was this new expediter in the restaurant,” who turned out to be that baby, Graham Tatomer, all grown up. “That’s when I realized I’ve been at this for a looooong time,” he says with a laugh.) After the reception, guests will move into the dining room for a two-course dinner, consisting of a trio entrée plate followed by a dessert trio, prepared by current Wine Cask chef Brandon Hughes and pastry chef Rosie Moot — which Margerum will pair with some library selections of his own label, Margerum Wine Company.
Indeed, it has been a long — and not entirely drama-free — run. Founded in 1981 in part by Margerum and his family, the business was sold by Margerum to L.A. entrepreneur Bernard Rosenson in 2007, who was ousted by the building landlords in what became a somewhat contentious — and certainly much gossiped-about — battle just two years later in 2009. At that point, Margerum — along with onetime employee Sjerven and some silent investors — regained ownership.
But, talking to Margerum today, it seems he thinks of that incident as but a blip. I ask if he ever thought he’d see this day, given all that went down. “You never think it’s going to happen,” he says. “You start off so innocently, just having fun and working hard, then all of a sudden, it’s 30 years. When I started, I never dreamed we’d be [celebrating 30 years]; my vision was just to make good food and good wine and have a place that made people feel at home.”
Wine Cask’s 30th Anniversary Alumni Chef Dinner takes place Monday, September 30, 6 p.m. It’s $75 per person; seating is limited to 70 guests (but, Margerum promises, this is only the first in a series). For reservations, call 966-9463.