Chef Dusty Cooper is spreading the gospel of plant-based foods around the UCSB campus.
Paul Wellman

The Club doesn’t serve a club sandwich ​— ​the atavistic, multi-bread-layered favorite of our forefathers ​— ​and that’s a huge hint about what’s up at UCSB’s recently renovated on-campus restaurant/hotel/conference facility.

Formerly known as the Faculty Club (note today’s more inclusive name), the new menu, which is available to the public at lunch, proudly explains: “The Dining Room at the Club & Guest House is committed to procuring local and organic product whenever possible, and promoting sustainability and environmentally friendly practices at UCSB.” So while you can still get garlic herb fries on the side (thank you, carb gods), the main might be a red lentil falafel with avocado-almond-cilantro sauce, pickled cucumber, and feta.

Chef Dusty Cooper in the main dining room of the newly renovated UCSB faculty club.
Paul Wellman

Veggies are very much on the mind of Chef Dusty Cooper, who oversees The Club, which also offers breakfast for overnight guests and catering, with dinner and even weddings on the way. “Vegetarian food is no longer a plate of steamed vegetables,” explained Cooper, who quickly points out that she’s been reading a lot of the vegan magazine Thrive. “I’ve taken a little more time with the vegetarian option. It’s important ​— ​it pushes you as a chef. It’s easy to take a terrific steak and add something to it, but to take an eggplant steak and develop a delicious dish is trickier.” (Meat eaters, rest easy ​— ​there are fish, pork, chicken, and beef options to enjoy, as well.)

The star veggie, easily made vegan, entrée is a roasted carrot and parsnip posole with quinoa and hominy. “We pour the broth tableside,” said Cooper, who aims to “make some really beautiful food that is unique.” The food must battle for that beauty, of course, as The Club looks out onto the UCSB Lagoon, Pacific Ocean, and, on the clearest days, the Channel Islands. “The view is fantastic,” said Cooper. “Our hotel guests hold a gorgeous sunset most nights.”

Cooper’s cooking career began in Los Angeles, so her role as UCSB’s senior executive chef for residential dining is a SoCal homecoming of sorts. But she was most recently at Washington House in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “We were connected to a theater so did 250 covers in an hour and a half most nights,” she recalled. “It’s given me plenty of practice for lunch at The Club. We also converted the top floors into a hotel there, so that’s also very much like this project.”

UCSB spent two years renovating the former Faculty Club, which was originally designed by Charles Moore in 1968 as a place for professors to gather socially, but it started feeling dated and funky in recent decades. The Santa Monica–based firm Moore Ruble Yudell managed this update, which, in addition to the restaurant, included adding 34 guest rooms, conference spaces, a bar and lounge, and a large outdoor patio for parties.

Cooper, meanwhile, is already immersed in UCSB’s next big project: the Portola Dining Commons along El Colegio Road. It features the school’s first tandoori oven as well as menus that “offer meat as a condiment or garnish.” That’s in line with the concept Cooper is spreading throughout campus: “plant-driven dishes made with local and sustainable products.” In summing up both Portola and The Club, Cooper explained, “We’re making the food grow up a little bit.”


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