Loquita's Executive Chef Sergei Simonov | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

It’s only been about six months since Sergei Simonov started leading the Loquita kitchen as executive chef, but it’s felt like 10 years already. “This summer, we’ve done the biggest business since the restaurant opened,” said Simonov, who tells us more about his circular culinary journey below.

Mentored by Jason Paluska:  Simonov moved from the Bay Area to attend culinary school at Santa Barbara City College in 2011, then landed a sous chef job at The Lark under Chef Jason Paluska. “I still call him about things like how to cost out a dish,” said Simonov of his mentor. “He taught me A to Z, not just the flavor profile and palate.” He still borrows from Paluska’s plating style and love of pickled elements.

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Big City to Small Screen:  A decade at The Lark made Simonov eager for new challenges, so he headed to San Diego to work as executive sous chef at Herb & Wood, the flagship of Brian Malarkey’s 15 restaurants. As a finalist on Top Chef All Stars, Malarkey awakened the showman in Simonov, who got to the dessert round on Chopped Next Gen. He can only talk vaguely about an in-the-can cooking competition show he’s in that should air later this year. “The shows emulate the fast pace that the kitchen already is and teach you creativity really quickly,” said Simonov, who wants to do more TV. “Top Chef would be a dream.”

Keeping Local:  His San Diego sojourn taught him the importance of staying local, particularly in seafood. “We want to offer a unique California product that still has the Spanish influences,” he said of the Loquita formula, pointing out the great flavors imparted by the restaurant’s red-oak grill. He’s particularly proud of a current menu star, a crudo featuring yellowtail from the Channel Islands.

Young for Exec Chef:  Simonov is Loquita’s fourth chef in six years, and he plan to stick around. “I want to make this a shining star in Santa Barbara more than it already is,” said Simonov, who admits that the transition to being the boss can be challenging. “Cooking’s easy,” he said. “It’s all the management and the dealing with people and numbers that I’m learning.”

Elevating Everywhere:  Simonov hopes to do it all, from brunch to off-site events to Dining at Sea, and sees a lot of opportunity in the two sides of Spanish cuisine: the Michelin-starred palaces of gastronomy and the modest home food starting with pan con tomate. “The future of Spanish cuisine is to elevate these humble ingredients and dishes into something greater,” he said. “That’s what we do well at Loquita.”

202 State St., 805-880-3380, loquitasb.com

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

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