Amid the cavalcade of digital panels, podcasts, and social media posts that I worked on in 2021, I still put pen to paper — or fingers to keys, as the modern case may be — to publish more than 130 articles for the Santa Barbara Independent this past year. Then there were the two dozen newsletters that I wrote under the banner of Full Belly Files, another couple dozen stories for Wine Enthusiast, 805 Living, and other publications, and more than 2,500 wine reviews on top of that. Granted, many of these stories are not the complex news investigations carried out more regularly by my colleagues, but yeah, it feels like I could use a break.
As usual, the bulk of my work was in the food & drink realm, even when it came to longer, more newsworthy cover stories.
On that front, I got to hang with urchin divers and abalone farmers to write about the eco-aiding potential for a purple urchin market in my February story “Purple Urchin Possibilities: Santa Barbara Fishermen Team with Shellfish Farmer to Build New Industry, Help Kelp Forests.”
I also spoke to regenerative farming pioneers from across the country to understand what was happening up the coast for this story: “Farming for the Future at Jalama Canyon Ranch: White Buffalo Land Trust Leads Regenerative Agriculture Project on 1,000-Acre Property.”
And in November, I took a look at the world’s coffee industry in order to understand how Jay Ruskey might change the entire bean business for this story: “Can California Correct Coffee? One Goleta Farmer’s Fight to Make the Bean Business Better for All.”
On the cuisine front, I found a lot to love about various Italian eateries around town in 2021. That includes stories about Aperitivo, Nella Kitchen & Bar in Los Olivos, Little Dom’s in Carpinteria, and the pandemic-pivot of Olio Bottega in downtown Santa Barbara.
I also found different food in new places, such as sushi from Sen Setto at the Bacara, short-rib grilled cheeses and buckets of beer at the Polo Club’s Fieldside Grill, Wagyu smashburgers at Third Window Brewing, and falafel at Santa Ynez Billiards & Café.
I love when a restaurant feature can get behind the food to tell deeper stories, which is what happened when I spoke to the founders of Secret Bao about the racism they’ve encountered in the industry.
On the travel front, my family and I foraged for seaweed and other delights along the S.L.O. coast’s Route One and ripped through Jalama Burgers at Jalama Beach, though I wouldn’t advise ordering the double.
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Sadness spiked in May with the passing of Au Bon Climat cofounder Jim Clendenen, who promoted Santa Barbara County wines around the globe and never wavered from his style. I was also sad to hear that Esther Lau Gilbert of Jimmy’s Oriential Garden fame died this year, so I wrote a newsletter about eating pork noodle soup with her.
In perhaps the biggest restaurant news of all, the Beachside Bar & Café decided to close this year. That story caught the attention of a UCSB grad who then teamed with another Santa Barbara fan to win the contract for the location to open Sea Legs sometime in 2022. The owners gave me the scoop on that story, which I explained in this newsletter.
On the non-food front, I wrote about my neighbor’s new book on the psychology of criminals that she co-authored with Britain’s top forensic psychiatrist; about former Santa Barbara resident Natalie D-Napoleon’s new album, which was recorded on the Westmont campus; and about some trends in the cannabis world with Khalid Al-Naser of Raw Garden.
Of all the year’s stories, the one that have sparked the most feedback was actually just about taking long walks on the beach. It’s also a good one to contemplate as we enter 2022, hopefully with some sort of normalcy on the way. If not, there’s always the sandy shoreline to provide tranquility.