You won’t hit a recipe in the just-published Barbareño: Cuisine of California’s Central Coast until page 27 and, at that, it’s just one for Bread and Butter. The author Julian Martinez, who is the West Canon Perdido Street restaurant’s chef and co-owner (with Jesse Gaddy), has been on quite a journey, and this book is all about his path of discovery.
So prepare for thoughtful consideration of not just why anyone should open a restaurant, but of how one finds oneself in the first place. This impressive book is kind of a memoir shot through with lots of great cooking ideas, plenty of food porn photos (thanks to Carter Hiyama), and, since Martinez has done a lot of reading to develop his thinking, 70 endnotes.
“To have a book as a restaurant is a rite of passage — you’re here to stay,” claimed Martinez. “I hope people are interested.”
The book is rooted in the writing that Martinez began for Foodie Award-winning restaurant’s original menu concepts in 2014, which he created to prepare the staff. “That’s how I come up with dishes,” he explained. “It always starts with the story, and the components come next. The importance of Barbareño goes beyond the food on the plate. We hopefully want to get people to think a little bit.”
Take the restaurant’s acclaimed app, the Eggamuffin, created to honor one of America’s most durable breakfast traditions: McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, which was invented in Santa Barbara 51 years ago. Sure, the Barbareño version features buttermilk blinis, egg yolks cured for two weeks, a mousse whipped from Seascape cheese, and high-quality speck, but it still pays homage to that American original.
“In opening Barbareño, I wanted to hover that lens over the culture I knew,” Martinez writes in the book. “I wanted to create a place that was capable of transporting people of this culture back to the barbecue tri-tip their fathers would cook on the Santa Maria grill when they were young. Back to Hendry’s Beach, where a young couple, now married, went on their first date. Back to the smoke-filled bedrooms of high school friends, when they first tried weed. I didn’t want to create a menu that looked outward, bringing people to Italy or Japan or Mexico. Instead, I wanted to look inward, to embody the local experience. I wanted to express what makes the people from Santa Barbara Barbareños.”
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Martinez delved into those original writings in 2018 while taking a break from the restaurant. “At first I was just writing for myself, but then I kept going,” he said, realizing in June of last year that the pages could form a book. “There was an overarching story. The writing made sense together.” Once it all came together, he talked to others who have put out cookbooks, including Acme Hospitality’s owner Sherry Villanueva, and they advised self-publishing, so he could have the most control of the finished product.
Do note that the book isn’t just about what it means to run a restaurant in 2022, or how we might consider living more hopeful, valuable lives. Readers will also learn how to make cracked peach caramel in a smoker or whip up a dish originally created for the sadly gone sister restaurant Venus in Furs: strawberry masala with ricotta dumplings.
The book ends on a high note, considering The Quality Movement and referencing Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. “My dad said the book started with a quote and a personal message, and it should end on one, too,” Martinez explained about the rousing conclusion. “[The Quality Movement] put the process of craftsmanship at the very center of everything, when everything else around us was all about results. It demanded the utmost quality when access to quantity was at an all-time high.”
The past tense in that passage is Martinez admitting that what happens to the restaurant industry in the post-COVID era is anyone’s guess. But that doesn’t mean one still can’t have hope and a love of and care for craft. Let alone finish a dinner at Barbareño with a Baked California, rich with OG Kush meringue, mango zabaglione, and lavender candied pine nuts on a sponge cake rich with weed’s legal cousin hops.
Or, thanks to this book, make one at home.
205 W Canon Perdido St.;(805) 963-9591; barbareno.com