Keeping chefs in one place is a tricky business, and it’s even harder when the employer is a trendy hotelier like Kimpton, which offers steady career advancement opportunities paired with frequent chances to move to bigger, buzzier cities. And while The Goodland hotel and its Outpost restaurant may be the hippest spot in Goleta, Santa Barbara’s suburban sister doesn’t exactly offer the kind of flashy nightlife and bright media lights of places such as Seattle, Denver, and Amsterdam, where three Outpost alum now find themselves.
But Damien Giliberti, who was named the restaurant’s executive chef earlier this year, seems poised to stay, as he’s rather enthused about his first chance to run a kitchen. Raised in New Jersey, where his family owned and lived adjacent to their pizzeria, Giliberti got his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales in Miami and entered the Kimpton fold there eight years ago. He came to Santa Barbara six years ago, working first for four years at Finch & Fork and then the last two at Outpost.
When Chef James Siao left the helm of both properties last April to run the Wyers gastropub at the DeWitt hotel in Amsterdam, Giliberti started angling for the top job. “They definitely didn’t give it to me,” he said. “I fought tooth and nail for it.” That included developing multiple menus for Kimpton’s top tastemakers and direct competition with out-of-town chefs, who were trying to wow the same executives.
The experience was exacting, as Giliberti wasn’t allowed help in the kitchen, had to time his service perfectly, and was required to explain how each dish related to the Outpost clientele and vibe. He succeeded, getting the official nod earlier this summer.
A recent visit to Outpost with two of my friends showcased why, as each of the dishes that Giliberti presented fit the al fresco space and late summer season well. Among the popular fried brussels sprouts, pork belly bao buns (an original Outpost classic), mussels in red curry sauce (which is a complete meal in itself), and pork chop with diced apples, Giliberti put his special stamp on the tuna crudo (whose underlying heat is offset by a cooling avocado purée) and the pan-seared Skuna Bay salmon, which sits atop a vibrantly colored romanesco purée.
The standout of the night, however, was the humble caramelized sweet potato — the skins’ charred, crispy texture matches the crispy chickpeas, and the orange flesh melts into the turmeric-spiked yogurt and garam masala spice. “It’s kind of a sleeper,” said Giliberti of the dish, which is getting unsolicited raves from diners who appreciate the skin-on technique. “Cauliflower and brussels sprouts did their thing, so I think sweet potatoes are in.”
No visit to the Outpost is complete without a thorough survey of the latest cocktails. We explored the bittersweet, Cynar-powered, orgeat-balanced Okey Dokey Artichokey; the smoky, mezcal-fueled Viva El Rebujito; the Japanese-whisky-showcasing Toki Highball, made refreshing with plum soda; and the Bolivian Junglebird, whose traditional Singani base took me back 15 years to an Amazonian adventure.
We did not, however, opt for A Big Hunk of Love, in which peanut butter, banana liqueur, bourbon, honey, and bacon somehow unite in liquid form. It sounded too daunting. Instead, Giliberti brought out a cheesecake with white chocolate glaze and savory caramel ice cream, which we studiously devoured.
Giliberti is proudly working to cultivate that “California social dining experience” of sharing the food, talking about the ingredients, and really connecting around a table. “Yes, the food is the star,” said Giliberti, “but it’s really about enjoying the people you’re with, that camaraderie.” Any chef who keeps that on the menu is bound for a great future, whether in Goleta or Gotham.
5650 Calle Real, Goleta; (805) 964-1288; outpostsb.com