A couple of weeks ago, there was a knock at my door in the middle of the afternoon. Standing there was Justin West, at one point the most celebrated chef in Santa Barbara. That was back from 2008 to 2015 when he ran Julienne in the Presidio Neighborhood, which he followed with Wildwood Kitchen in The Mill on East Haley Street in 2016 and then Soul Cal Smokehouse in the Public Market in 2019.
“What’s up, man?” he said. “I thought you lived around here.”
West’s career in the kitchen was thrown for a loop by the pandemic, but he took it in stride, launching The Market Forager, which delivered all sorts of goods right to your front door. As time went on, that evolved into a meat and seafood delivery business, connecting the suppliers that used to stock his restaurants with those of us who love cooking at home.
And now he was standing on my porch, ready to sell me some meat, as a few of my neighbors were apparently already on his regular route. I had to deal with a Zoom meeting first, but then he came back, and we talked for quite a while about the shift in his career while standing in my driveway.
As I perused the cooler on the back of his truck that was full of lobster, wagyu, and whole chickens, Justin told me that he never wants to be back in a restaurant kitchen — that this new career allows him to see his kids more, to backpack on the weekends, to do much more of whatever he wants to do. He gets his cooking bug out by posting recipes, videos, and photographs on social media, and even turned down a substantial offer to open a new restaurant in town.
I imagine many people are going through these same thoughts, whether they worked in hot, cramped kitchens or in musty, maddening offices prior to the pandemic. (We cover a bit of that in this week’s Workin’ It special issue on the state of jobs in Santa Barbara.) Justin was smiling the whole time we talked, considering hikes that he might do that weekend, and seeming truly happy.
And then, $280 later, I had a freezer full of wagyu burger patties, four bags of scallops, and Manhattan steaks, which are supposedly New York strips cut in half so that you can indulge in midweek meat with less guilt. I plan to do a longer piece on Justin West and his Market Forager down the road, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking out his stuff now.
FOLLOW-UP FROM WINE COMPETITION
To follow-up on last week’s newsletter about the Central Coast Wine Competition, a total of 94 wineries entered 508 wines into 62 classes. It would be great to see more Santa Barbara County wineries enter in the years to come. The judging quality is increasingly high and influential — one of my co-panelists was the national buyer for all of Safeway and Vons! — and I’m especially proud to see those from outside of the Central Coast realize how great our wines are.
And the wine winners are:
Best of Show/Best of Red – Carol Shelton Wines, Santa Rosa, 2019 Coquille Rouge
Best Dessert – Halter Ranch, Paso Robles, 2019 Vin de Paille
Best Sparkling – Robert Hall, Paso Robles, 2019 Cavern Select Sparkling Grenache Blanc
Best Rosé – Vina Robles Vineyards and Winery, Paso Robles, 2020 Rosé Huerhuero Vineyard
Best White – Bushong Vintage Company, Paso Robles, 2020 Spanish Castle Queen
2021 Winery of the Year – Pear Valley Vineyards (four best of class awards, four double golds, and five golds)
For the spirits, vinegar, and full list of awards, see centralcoastwinecomp.com.
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WINES TO FIND
Chanin “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 2019: It’s been fun to track the career of Gavin Chanin, who I called a Wine World Wonder Boy back in 2013.
An acolyte of the late and great Jim Clendenen, Chanin started making wine before he was of legal age, and they’re only getting better each vintage. Given that 2019 is maybe the most exciting vintage that I’ve personally ever seen for pinot noir and chardonnay from this area, it’s no wonder that this wine is a winner, a great example of his delicate yet expressive hand.
What makes it even better for this week is that this vintage’s artwork, which Chanin also paints himself — he did study art at UCLA, after all. This label features what looks like fireworks, perfect for the Fourth of July. So find a bottle and prepare for subtle explosions both inside and out.
Dolina Santa Barbara County Red Blend 2020: Steve Gerbac is one of the surprisingly few winemakers who was born and raised in Santa Barbara County. (Justin Willet, Blair Fox, and Drake Whitcraft are a few others.) By day, Gerbac makes wine for Rusack Vineyards, everything from Ballard County syrah to Catalina Island zinfandel.
Dolina Wines is his nascent personal project, where he’s producing long-necked bottles of albarino, tempranillo, and this vibrant red blend. I don’t even know what’s in this thing, but it sings with refreshing red fruits that skip across the palate. A great beach red, perfect for a bit of cooler time too.
Both Gerbac and Chanin are also featured in my book Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County, a collaboration with photographer Macduff Everton that came out last November.
FROM MY TABLE
In this week’s paper, I write about Chef Neal Fraser coming to pair dishes with WhistlePig Rye Whiskey at the Ojai Valley Inn and expand a tiny bit on my al pastor report from last week’s newsletter.
I also edited and wrote a few pieces of this week’s special issue on the Santa Barbara jobs market, called Working It (Mostly from Home) in 2021.
For my wine fan friends, here’s a recent piece I did for Wine Enthusiast on excellent pinot noir from across the Central Coast. And for those who’d rather watch something than read, check out this panel I did with the magazine about exciting wine regions across the region. (Looks like you need to sign up, but it’s free to watch.)
FROM MY CELLAR
Speaking of Rusack Vineyards winemaker Steve Gerbac, I did a couple of pieces that related to their project on Catalina Island.
A short one was for the New York Times and then the longer piece, which I liked quite a bit more, was called “California’s Island Winery, Reborn,” for the pages of the Santa Barbara Independent.
I barely even recall this, but apparently I did a bit on the Catalina wine for KCRW as well.