Matt Kettmann’s Year in Review

Our Senior Editor Picks His Favorite Stories from 2018

Live Oak’s proud owners, Mark Dela Cruz and Molly Holveck
Paul Wellman

For our annual review of stories, our writers and editors have put together lists of the stories they were proud of this year, or just had fun writing or reading. Here are Senior Editor Matt Kettmann’s picks.

According to our archives, I wrote more than 130 stories for the newspaper this year, and most of them revolved around food and drink, which is my main beat these days

Cover Stories

I always enjoy diving deep into a topic, which is afforded by the length of our cover stories, and I was able to do so numerous times this year.

My favorite cover stories were:

Live Oak’s Pacific Rim bacon-fried rice
Paul Wellman

Day-by-Day at the Live Oak Café: The Always Exhausting, Occasionally Rewarding Life of Running Your Own Restaurant

My friends Mark Dela Cruz and Molly Holveck opened the Live Oak Café more than three years ago, and I’ve been eating there regularly ever since. They have always been honest about how difficult it is to run a restaurant, and they said as much on the record so that I could do this piece. It was very well received by both the restaurant industry and our regular readers.

“It’s the only other dream I’ve ever had, other than music and trying to have a happy family,” said Alecia "P!nk" Moore of making her Two Wolves wine.

P!nk’s Personal Peace: Alecia Moore Finds Solace in Her Santa Ynez Valley Vineyard

It’s always interesting to hang out with celebrities, as they usually turn out to be just like you and me. Alecia Moore, aka the chart-topping pop star P!nk, is no different — she’s a mom with a tough job, and finds some solace in winemaking, which she is very passionate about.

Mike Orlando is now growing tiny cacao plants in a hot and humid room in the back of his chocolate factory. In the front, he offers tastings of five different single-origin chocolates.
Paul Wellman

Unwrapping the Bean-to-Bar Boom Twenty-Four Blackbirds, Chocolate Maya, and Santa Barbara’s Place in America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution

I first wrote about Twenty-Four Blackbirds chocolate when they first opened back in 2010, and it was great to see how much Mike Orlando’s business has blossomed. Once I started to call chocolate experts around the country, I realized how important Santa Barbara, which is also home to Chocolate Maya, played into the international scene. This story got some serious attention from out of town.

Now 80 years old, Catherine Cavaletto is the caretaker of San Jose Winery, located in the hills above Goleta. Though weathered by nearly 200 years of time, its thick adobe walls still house old barrels, vats, presses, and bottles such as the wicker-wrapped demijohns below.
Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara’s Ancient Wines, Then and Now: Exploring San Jose Winery, Sipping Angelica, and Tasting in De la Guerra’s Bodega

There’s plenty of pages printed about the modern winemaking scene in Santa Barbara, but much less written about the deep past. In this story, I was finally able to report on the old San Jose Winery, which I first visited years ago, as well as other grapevines of yesteryear.

Wine Stories

Santa Barbara wine country produces way more stories than I can ever cover in a year, but I tried to tackle as I could under the new Bottles & Barrels column, which we launched this year. I enjoyed getting to know Scott Sampler at Central Coast Group Project, where he does some wacky but delicious things with fermentation and maceration. It was cool to check in with Blair Pence and his team, who are producing extremely cool climate wines from what was supposed to be the warmest site in the recently expanded Sta. Rita Hills. Speaking of that appellation, Ofer Shepher’s Spear Vineyards & Winery are a very promising project for the future of the region.

Food Stories

Bibi Ji is the brainchild of Jessi Singh (center), and his inventive, fresh cuisine; creative wines; and engaging service are delivered daily by general manager Alejandro Medina and chef du cuisine Gary Singh (Jessi’s brother).
Paul Wellman

I’ve somehow been blessed with the primary restaurant reporting gig at the paper, which puts me at many a new table every week. I really was stoked to introduce Bibi Ji’s Aussie-Indian cuisine to our readers, and the same can be said for my feature about Bells in Los Alamos, which is one of the best wine bistros anywhere. It was great to get an out-of-town perspective on Central Coast cuisine with celebrity chef Curtis Stone, who served up our best products at Maude in Beverly Hills. And while it’s not a restaurant, I was fascinated by my visit to Pete’s Living Greens in Carpinteria, where acres of lettuce are grown.

Other Articles

I also managed to cover some topics beyond eating and drinking. My faves in that regard are:

Virtual Reality Gets Real in Solvang: Jamie Baker’s Space VR Offers Completely Immersive Video Gaming and Learning Experiences

This was my first experience with virtual reality. I highly recommend it.

Montecito homeowner Jack Johnson was already planning a benefit of some sort at the Santa Barbara Bowl as the Thomas Fire raged, but then things got more serious with the mudslide.
Paul Wellman (file)

Jack Johnson’s Montecito Memories: UCSB-Educated Rock Star Reflects on Beach Days and Watching Disasters from Afar

I’ve been writing about Jack Johnson since his career began so it’s fun to think about the old days.

Birdwatching at the Santa Rosa Island Research Station: Professor Allison Alvarado Teaches Ornithology to CSU Channel Islands Students

Any chance to go to the Channel Islands is worth writing about!


Santa Barbara lost some legends this year, and I was friends with two of them.

Archie McLaren on the patio of his downtown Santa Barbara pad
Paul Wellman

One was Central Coast Wine Classic founder Archie McLaren, who I wrote a brief piece about here. Clink the link in that story for a full profile I did awhile back.

Gilbert Ramirez, pictured in front of Santa Barbara High School
Paul Wellman

And the other was my good friend and neighbor Gilbert Ramirez, who was senselessly run over on State Street by a man who was looking at his phone or digital map reader. Gil was a spry 90 years old, and danced every weekend at James Joyce and elsewhere, and it was a tragedy to have his life cut short, as he had many years to go. I wrote this In Memoriam about him, which I also read, through tears, at his memorial service.


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