Sunstone Villa kitchen

Pamela Sheldon Johns should be a name familiar to longtime Santa Barbarans, as she started the cooking school at Jordano’s Marketplace back in 1992. Then again, you don’t need to be a local to know of her widespread acclaim as a James Beard–nominated cookbook writer and author of titles such as Balsamico! and Parmagiano! Johns, currently based in Italy where she leads culinary tours and classes, is back in the States to tout her latest release, Cucina Povera. As part of that visit, she’ll lead two afternoons of classes and lunch at the Sunstone Villa, December 14 and 15.

Cucina povera means peasant cooking,” she explained in a recent email. “I have incorporated short stories about people who lived through hard times and how they managed to feed themselves. Many of those dishes still exist in today’s repertoire, such as ribollita … This vegetable soup layered with dry bread was a means of using up what was at hand. Today it is rich with vegetables and beans; in the past it was often more sparing of ingredients, but it remains as a classic Tuscan favorite.” Ribollita is just one of the dishes to be featured on the event’s menu that also includes peposo di guanciale (stewed peppery beef cheeks) and chestnut crêpes with fresh ricotta and chestnut honey.

Bion Rice, president and CEO of Sunstone, couldn’t be more excited about the event. “We are trying to emphasize food and wine events at the Villa,” he says. The amazing structure, originally built as the Rice family residence, is, according to Rice, “70-80 percent reclaimed from structures in France, and 90 percent reclaimed total. My mother was a real estate agent and designer and my dad a builder and carpenter, so he could build anything she’d dream up. An old door from a Napoleon Bonaparte–era jail is now in the cellar, for example. Everything in the building has a story.”

Pamela Sheldon Johns
Courtesy Photo

The stories will continue to grow as Johns cooks in the villa’s rustic kitchen. “I remember when Sunstone opened, as I was still in Santa Barbara, and knew the first winemaker, Greg Brewer,” she says. “I am looking forward to seeing (and tasting) all of the new changes; it looks wonderful.” Rice, who will be choosing the wine pairings personally, hadn’t yet settled on choices but did admit that while Sunstone currently doesn’t make any Italian varietals, nebbiolo or sangiovese could be planted in the future.

And while Johns is here to teach, as befits her 20-plus years of travel and research in Italy, she’s also looking forward to visiting her old hometown, “walking on the beach, shopping the farmers’ markets, driving around to see the holiday lights, visiting Isidoro and eating at Super-Rica!”


Discover the riches of Cucina Povera with a class and lunch with Pamela Sheldon Johns at the Sunstone Villa on Saturday, December 15, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. (A Friday event is already fully booked.) Food, class, and wine pairings are $185. For reservations call (805) 688-9463 x244. Additionally, a demo cooking class is in the works for Slow Food with Laurence Hauben, on December 27. Email


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