Chef Justin Snyder’s very tatted arms delicately place down a black bowl with what looks like an exquisite sea creature. But it’s not from the sea at all; it’s a mound of Wagyu tri-tip tartare, with translucent crisps of crostini set in it like fins, sprinkled with delicate sorrel and red mustard greens. His secret, very local ingredient is Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. That, along with his house-made Sriracha sauce, gives the dish length and lift, so the deep beef deliciousness lingers as long as a classic cabernet. “Santa Barbara has such a rich history of food. It’s waiting to boom; it’s going to pop,” he exclaims. “Here I get to have fun and open up my creativity.”
“Here” is Barbareño, almost immediately the best restaurant in town upon its opening in the winter of 2014, but co-owner and executive chef Julian Martinez puts it this way, “I took it as far as I could.” Co-owner and front of the house manager Jesse Gaddy adds, “We want to keep the style the same but keep refining, keep exploring, keep learning.” The two decided Snyder was their man after a six-month-long process of interviews and tastings.
Snyder’s worldwide training and experience were the kicker. Born in Alpine near San Diego, Snyder has cooked around the world, with stints in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hawai‘i (as personal chef for Guy Laliberté, cofounder of Cirque du Soleil); trained at Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie, Alain Ducasse’s pastry school (he graduated with honors); and worked for Michael Voltaggio in L.A., where he jokes, “I was lead pastry — they didn’t call me pastry chef because that’s a title only Michael gets to have.” Barbareño couldn’t be more excited to have him, for, as Martinez says, “What we envision him doing is taking his philosophy from world cuisines but applying it to local flavors.”
So that means, for instance, the new crudité plate will have a base of hummus, but that will incorporate Hidden Valley Ranch dressing and be topped with a yogurt avocado citrus mousse. Snyder is jazzed about the special purveyors Martinez and Gaddy work with at the Pilgrim Terrace Tower Gardens off Modoc Road, claiming, “I have a farmer who can grow what I need, and I can get it seven days a week.”
411 See what new chef Justin Snyder is whipping up at Barbareño (205 W. Canon Perdido St.). Call (805) 963-9591 or visit barbareno.com.