Never before has Santa Barbara’s food and wine scene been more varied and invigorating, so, as we enter the early days of a sure-to-be-exciting new year, it’s the right time to take the pulse of a few players in our town’s ever-evolving gourmet-scape. Here are a few of their resolutions and predictions for 2014:
Weston Richards, sparepartsbistro.com: The guerilla pop-up chef’s resolution was to find a permanent home for his Spare Parts Bistro, and he’s already succeeded, though he can’t divulge details quite yet. “I have loved the flexibility and novelty [the pop-up] has allowed, but it has always been my goal to find a long-term home,” said Richards. “Permanent location is a done deal, and I am very happy to have evolved from cooking off a camp stove and toaster oven to what I have now.”
Josh Brown, santabarbarachef.net: The former chef of bouchon and Seagrass, who now does catering and “semi-prepared organic meals” through his new Blue Plate Delivery Service, vows to chow just one pizza a month in 2014. “Seriously, as a chef, you’d be surprised at my ability to shovel down pizzas,” said Brown, who once surprised even the head of Rusty’s Pizza with his intake. Prediction-wise, he looks forward to more “upscale casual” dining. “We are now seeing excellent, creative, and delicious food coming out of a much more approachable environment,” said Brown, pointing to Arlington Tavern, Petit Valentien, Sama Sama, and State & Fig. “These places thrive with great chefs at the helm and excellent front staff eager to make sure you have a great time, as well as a great meal, without draining your bank account or eating up three hours of your evening.
Branden Bidwell & Brandon Hughes, winecask.com and intermezzosb.com: Bidwell, the beverage director for Intermezzo and the Wine Cask, looks forward to the World of Pinot Noir coming to the Bacara at the end of February, which he said “will do nothing but good things” for the scene, and is stoked on their latest appellation, explaining, “Seeing Ballard Canyon on bottles in the near future will bring a lot of interest to one of my favorite wine sub-regions.” Chef Hughes, meanwhile, predicts “a continuing rise in gluten-free diets” and “because of the ongoing climb in wholesale food prices, I think people will keep moving toward more casual dining.”
Alessandro Cartumini, fourseasons.com/santabarbara: The chef at the Biltmore’s Bella Vista prefers to make “habits” rather than resolutions, and will “focus on the use of more whole grains, including desserts; venture out on different kinds of flours to make our pastas; find local craftsman that could help us with our table setting/buffet props; and work closer with the local culinary schools to develop new talents.” He predicts that “we will be cooking food from the 1980s” in 2014 and that “ginger beer will be a big hit … wait and see!”
Drake Whitcraft, whitcraftwinery.com: The second generation winemaker at Whitcraft believes a North Coast region is about to blow up in part because global warming is pushing up temps elsewhere, but won’t say which one for fear of driving up prices. He’s not afraid to bet his money on hard cider though, because it’s gluten free. “I know a ton of people making more cider than ever in Paso,” he said, pointing specifically to Bristols Cider, made by the winemaker at Lone Madrone. He also predicts a rise in popularity of dry, bright wines and roses. “People are going to back to acid-driven wines, thankfully,” he said. “However, the alcohol thing is smoke and mirrors … mostly. Sometimes 14 percent tastes great.”
Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback, lesmarchandswine.com: The dynamic duo of sommeliers both hope to expand their horizons in 2014. McClintic, who predicts this year’s vintage will be a small crop, simply wants to get inside more wineries, explaining, “There is no better way to connect to wine than to connect to its maker.” Railsback is on the hunt for cool-climate syrahs and producers he hasn’t yet met, saying, “I started to scratch the surface last year, but there’s always more to learn.”
Aaron Walker, paliwineco.com: Pali’s Funk Zone-residing winemaker is noticing well-made wines from such states as Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Colorado. “The local consumers in these states are talking more about their local wineries than ever, and they are saying good things for the most part,” said Walker, who is also concerned that winemaking’s lower-alcohol movement may be leading the public away from otherwise excellent wines that are higher in alcohol but not overripe or out of balance. “The best wine-drinking experiences are the unexpected ones when you take chance on something new or different,” he said. “Don’t tie yourself down to one style or belief in wine drinking.”
Willy Gilbert, arnoldis.com, facebook.com/PickleRoom: Santa Barbara’s most beloved bartender keeps it simple and sharp in his predictions. “The popularity of the Moscow Mule will be overtaken by the Pickletini,” he said of the pickle-juice drink he pours at The Pickle Room behind the same bar he once worked at Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens. “And The Restaurant Guy will finally notice that The Pickle Room has opened in his “new openings” column.”
Lucas Ryden, rockroseprovisions.com: The occasional Indy contributor and maker of myriad nut butters believes that, because people want to know where their food comes from, the word of 2014 will be “transparency,” that people will cook more and eat out less in part because restaurant menus are pushing simple, hearty dishes (“peasant cuisine is in!”), and that, when it comes to cocktails, fresh fruit and vegetable juices squeezed in-house or from a local vendor will emerge as “the mixer of choice.” Quipped Ryden, “A retox detox, if you will.”
Bob Wesley, thewinehound.com: The longtime retailer is happy that the last two vintages were strong after the weaker years of 2010 and 2011 and expects that “abundance” will equate to “price breaks.” Then he gets personal about a winemaker-to-watch: Mike Miroballi, assistant winemaker at Margerum Wine Company, is making his own pinot noir and grenache blanc, and Wesley finds them “tremendous,” explaining, “There’s amazing purity of fruit, phenomenal texture, but no braggadocio.”
Richard Betts, myessentialwine.com: The sommelier and author of The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, who is also now making a red wine from mostly Santa Barbara fruit, is “resolving to explore high-proof spirits because they offer a level of legitimacy that is often lost on spirits that are rectified to 80 proof for no real reason.” He also predicts Americans will dive more into red blends: “This is to say that we’re maturing as drinkers and, with that, we’re understanding that the best wines are not necessarily those that carry a minimum percentage of a varietal thereby allowing it to be labeled as such.”
If you are professionally involved in Santa Barbara’s food and wine scene and would like to be part of future surveys like this — and clearly, we could use some more female voices — email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list.