It’s a wonder that Amy and Keith Robinson are still standing. A year ago, the professional musicians — California natives who met and lived for many years in New York City before moving to town in 2015 — started Epicurean Santa Barbara as a culinary social club that they hoped would catch on. Since their launch party at Sullivan Goss last November, the indefatigable dining and wining duo have thrown 50 events — yeah, that’s almost one a week — and attracted more than 160 dues-paying members.
“I thought we’d be doing fun events, and educating people, and serving great food and wine, but the personal connections that people have made with the artisans and with one another have been beyond what I could have expected,” said Amy. “That’s been the most rewarding part.”
The events range widely in style, scope, and cost, from all-you-can-eat Nook burgers and many bottles of southern France wine at Laplace for $38 (attended by nearly 60 people) to vintage Bordeaux dinners with a five-course menu for $175 (just 14 attendees). There are chef demos at private homes, visits to new restaurants, open houses at wineries, and plenty of out-of-town winemakers coming to share their wares with the club.
“They’re investing back into the community,” said Keith of how the members become regulars at the places that Epicurean shared. “Now they go to Bibi Ji; they go to Blackbird. They talk about chefs and winemakers by name, like, ‘I just saw Drew [Terp] from Pico,’ or ‘I went to see Bret [Urness] at Levo [Wines, in Paso Robles].”
Little did they know that their nonprofit club might become a player in reviving the downtown scene. “We want to make Santa Barbara better,” said Amy. “Everyone talks about the state of State Street, the lack of businesses. We’re trying to help those people in whatever way we can, bringing them clientele, making personal connections. In a small town, those things really matter.”
To celebrate, Epicurean S.B. is hosting Pure Imagination, a meticulously plotted gala event for members (and perhaps other interested folks) on November 4 at the Hotel Californian. “It’s a major undertaking,” said Keith. “In a very basic sense, it’s the culmination of everything that we’re trying to stand for as a club. It incorporates the culinary arts. It incorporates the performing arts. It has beer, wine, and spirits.”
The event begins with a sunset festival, featuring a handful of wineries, Night Lizard Brewing Company, Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, and two chefs doing demos, such as Robert Perez of Black Sheep showing how to slice hamachi crudo. Then comes a multicourse dinner with award-show-style tributes to the featured chefs, winemakers, and even boardmembers. Throughout, there will be uplifting musical performances by six different musicians; three are being flown in from New York (one is taking a break from Broadway to attend), one is from Los Angeles, and two are Santa Barbarans.
“There will be a performance aspect that people don’t really expect,” said Amy. “It’s an immersive, innovative, progressive, and celebratory evening. We’ll reflect on what the club has done and what we’re going to do for 2019.”
One of the producers that will be on hand is Jamie Slone Wines, whose owners, Jamie and Kym Slone, are converts themselves. They recently joined Epicurean S.B. after meeting with the Robinsons and attending a couple of events. “Our 30-minute meeting turned into three hours,” said Jamie. “We had so much in common.”
He liked that the club was focused on providing top-notch events. “Too many times you’re finding about things being discounted — but with discounts, you get a discount experience too,” said Jamie, who’ll be sharing his new albariño with all attendees and his Super Tuscan with VIP ticket holders. “This seemed premium to us.”
Though the “Pure Imagination” anniversary gala on November 4, 5:30-9:30 p.m. is officially open to members only, Epicurean S.B. may extend invitations for the $195 ($275 VIP) affair to others interested in attending. Inquire via firstname.lastname@example.org.