“We keep things very natural,” says Emma West, executive chef of Satellite SB, the buzzing wine bar and restaurant on the 1100 block of State Street. “We try not to intervene too much. We’re farmer to table, farmer to glass.” Though there’s quite an afternoon rush as we chat, Emma remains effervescent. “I’m having fun,” she tells me, though that’s obvious.
Emma met Drew Cuddy, Satellite’s founder and co-owner, through a mutual friend. They hit it off, so Emma started to work with him as a consultant.
“When we opened Satellite, we were learning,” she reminisces. “It was first a wine bar, and we were getting food from the now defunct Flagstone [in the S.B. Public Market].” That felt weird to Emma, for there was a lot of waste with the pre-packaged foods.
So she called the health inspector and asked if she could make salad dressing in Satellite’s small kitchen space. Soon, their uber-delicious and nutritious signature dish, the Yoga Pants Salad, was born.
“We needed a lunch salad that’d appealed to the CorePower Yoga gang,” says Emma of the nearby yoga studio. “We weren’t capturing the lunch crowd.”
Emma installed an oven and some induction burners, and Drew started expanding the wine list to focus on eco-conscious, low-intervention, “natural” winemakers from around the globe. She ecstatically shares that she and Drew just signed official business partnership papers a few weeks ago.
Emma’s Satellite menu is vegan, and she was recently named the “best chef” in the Vegan Challenge competition for a French bistro-inspired, three-course menu. “Staying vegetarian fell into our health permit,” she explains, and it works with their limited space. “We don’t need all of the equipment needed for animal products.” Going vegan also helped minimize vendors, allowing Emma to source primarily from the farmers market.
Trust me — you will not miss eating meat when you bite into Emma’s deliciously complex food. One of my favorites are the vegan mushroom tacos topped with mole, closely followed by her smoked oyster mushrooms, which come from the Golden State Papaya Company in Goleta. “We cure them, smoke them, and then can them,” she says. “Everything we do has grown from the inside. Now we know who we are!”
Emma grew up in Los Gatos, the daughter of scientists. Her parents moved to Santa Barbara in 2005 while she was attending the California Culinary Academy. That led her to do an internship at the Bacara Resort, working with David Reardon, followed by gigs at Elements and as part of the opening staff at the Hungry Cat.
In 2008, Emma and her then-husband Justin West opened Julienne, which immediately won renown and became a special place for Santa Barbara gourmands. “That was so intense,” she recalls. “I had just turned 21, and you think you’re fearless at that age. I knew this is what we were meant to do. We made a plan and executed it.”
The experience was valuable for Emma. “At Julienne I learnt how to make pate,” she says, “and I learned that hard work pays off.”
Though she and Justin eventually divorced, she looks fondly on that time of their relationship. “Justin was a mentor, even to this day,” she says. “I learned so much from him. It was cool. It was really fun.”
Satellite recently added a patio on State Street. “I never pictured being on State Street,” she exclaims. “The patio is great. I love the European style of sitting and watching.”
I point out that it’s not difficult to notice that Satellite is a popular spot for women. “I always wanted that,” she explains. “If you get women in, they will bring their partners, their family, and their friends.”
Emma West answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My full hands. Whether they are stacked with dishes, or kid hands, or food, or wines, or flowers, sidewalk scores, my phone, you name it, there is always something in them!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Somewhere where it’s quiet and very hot, where the sparkling water runs natural and cold and free, where I can cook barefoot and where the food grows in my backyard. Wait, that’s my dreams. My idea of perfect happiness really probably is when you get to witness your kids be good humans, just like off-the-cuff and to be in that sweet spot where rest, professional drive, moming, and sex life all line up just right.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
At this point at the age of 32, I would say, it was banging out Julienne, Mike, and Lola Blue (my kids), building a community, and just taking a risk in my early 20s. The experience is so rewarding and I am beyond grateful.
What is your most treasured possession?
My Prius and my relationship with my dad.
What is your current state of mind?
Peace. I just put my kids to bed and Mike told me he loves me so much and Lola Blue told me to have the sweetest dreams ever. (Insert emoji blushing face with the hearts.)
Where would you most like to live?
Oh geez, I would say tucked in the hills of Santa Barbara baby! Where it is quiet and the animals are loud and the sky is crowded with stars.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Sparkly eye contact and big smile and people who are good with names.
What do you like most about your job?
Oh boy, where do I start! Drew Cuddy is my top. He is so damn naturally empathetic and can relate with anyone and he believes in me and lets me be creative as all hell. He is my confidant and a real friend and a true sauce boy.
Next would be my workspace. It is a converted office in a co-op work space that we made into a weird kitchen that has the best three comp sink to wash dishes in. I’m such a lucky girl.
What is your greatest fear?
To have my heart broken.
Who do you most admire?
My daughter, Lola Blue. She just has it going on. She is so yummy and has amazing focus and knife skills, she likes to clean and cuddle, she cries during the sappy parts in movies, eats all the food, feels honor and shame, and she loves to sleep in. My forever best girl.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Sometimes I just send it, like without hesitation. I have over ordered/bought food and then gone to the next spot right after and do it again.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
When people ask you a question, and then you answer it to your best ability, and then they say, ‘I know.’ WTF?
What do you most value in friends?
How they just have your back no matter what. Real homies are there for you without question or judgement. And how they tell you how it is and encourage forward progression and acceptance.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Oy my God. Amazing. Yummy. I’m gonna die.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I got this dead front tooth. I think my son Mike head butted me once real hard in the pool or something, killed it right dead. Anyhow it really sucks, I gotta get that figured out.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I think it would be really cool to transport yourself, like to get to Paris in a minute and just spend the afternoon pretending like you live there and eating all the bread. Or like when your kids are losing their coconuts over what song Alexa is going to play and you can just dip out to Mexico for a real quick taco. Prime.
Who makes you laugh the most?
Longest standing human that has always made me crack the fuck up is Mrs. Giselle Bisabri. My first real friend in life at the age of three, this woman is a 10 outta 10 and so damn funny. She mainly makes fun of herself and it is historical.
What is your motto?
Pepitas, Lemon, Salt.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Bill Clinton maybe? Just was a boom power time in my childhood, and he made some things happen in the ‘90s.
On what occasion do you lie?
When I talk about a wine I don’t know anything about.