Credit: Carly Otness Photography

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on March 24, 2023. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at

As someone who thinks about food and drink for both work and fun pretty much all the time, I’m on a constant quest for new flavors, textures, and techniques.

Most often, I find that in the professional kitchens of others, but occasionally I stumble into unique things (mostly) by myself. This month’s best examples would be the friend-grown Fuerte-avocado-and-homegrown-orange salad that I made a few times last week, with yuzu olive oil, Maldon salt, and Aleppo pepper flakes, or the toasted rice that I added to turkey larb lettuce wraps. That’s a traditional ingredient in such a dish, of course, but then I used the nutty dust to crunch up most everything else (green salads, soups, air-fried sweet potatoes, etc.) until it was gone.

This year’s most memorable bite so far came on March 11 during the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Beer Garden, which is the Mission Canyon institution’s primary fundraiser each year, netting more than $100,000 this time around. Choosing from a curated list of participants from Santa Barbara and a bit beyond, the garden challenges the participating brewers and restaurants to utilize native plants in each of their recipes, resulting in drinks and dishes that you won’t find anywhere else.

The Botanic Garden Beer Garden’s advisory board | Credit: Carly Otness Photography

I’d never attended before but was asked to join the advisory board last fall and diligently used some connections to line up a few of the restaurants involved. Officially, I was just happy to serve this worthy nonprofit institution, whose more controversial past I covered extensively almost 15 years ago. Secretly, it seemed like the only way to finally get a ticket to this always immediately-sold-out affair.

Amid a steady onslaught of inventive and delicious dishes — charred oysters by Little Dom’s Seafood; elk burgers by Dutch GardenTyger Tyger’s umeboshi/miso/cucumber bite with iced juniper/lavender green tea — the most mind-bending was by Chef Jeremy Tummel of La Paloma Café. (I wrote about him and the place took over the old Paradise Café in 2020.)

Hearing that you could source creek water for recipes, Tummel actually captured fresh rain, stabilized it in a seaweed-based gelatin, and then enhanced the transparent mold with chia seed, honey, and wood mint, a native plant growing just feet from his booth. He called the creation “Box of Rain” — one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, incidentally — and served it on a banana leaf.

Chef Jeremy Tummel and Darcie Morrison of La Paloma Café and the “Box of Rain” | Credit: Carly Otness Photography

To be honest, there was a bit of confusion among some attendees as to what the jiggly cube of water was, and not everyone thought it was utterly amazing, at least flavor-wise. But I’m fascinated by flavors that don’t relate to things we traditionally think of as food, and the sensation of fresh rainwater exploding on my palate with just enough woodsy essence was invigorating. Plus, I frequently refer to rainwater aromas and flavors in my wine reviews, and it was a bit of confirmation that I’m not totally full of shit. More weather-based foodstuffs please! (Sea breeze soda? Citrus dew ceviche?)

Convivo’s braised beef and risotto | Credit: Carly Otness Photography

That said, the tastiest, and most complete dish, at least by my measures, had to be Convivo’s miso short rib with brown butter risotto and crispy black sage gremolata. I spent a few minutes listening to Chef Peter McNee explain how he made the cube of meat so structurally sound on the outside yet silky-soft once chewed, another bit of textural mystery for me. It involved brining and smoking and braising and more than I could follow, at least being a few sage-infused beers deep at that point. That’s why it’s best to leave this up to the pros.

Chef Peter McNee (in green) and the Convivo team | Credit: Carly Otness Photography

Buzzing in Your Seat at Barbareño  

This wasn’t on my radar until Wednesday afternoon when I was writing this newsletter, but Barbareño is hosting a dinner on Sunday, April 16 that’s pairing tactile sensations with live music and four courses of food. My longtime colleague Charles Donelan alerted me to this event, of which he enjoyed a sneak peek this week. He reports:

For those looking to take their dining experience to another plane, consider Taste the Music: A Cross-Sensory Dinner Suite in Four Courses on  April 16 at Barbareño. Chef Preston Knox collaborates with composers/researchers Dr. Alexis Story Crawshaw and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo professor of music Samuel Shalhoub on this multidimensional sensory journey featuring wines by Scar of the Sea, an ethereal yet captivating live soundtrack, and a resonating platform that turns the dining table’s seats into purring shapers of the evening’s overall vibration.

Credit: Courtesy

With two seatings from 5-7 p.m. and 7:30-9:30 p.m., this one-of-a-kind experience is co-presented by the Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science, and Technology (SBCAST). Visit for information and tickets.

Learn from Regenerative Ranching Expert

The Las Cumbres Ranch Foundation, which owns a property near Los Alamos, is hosting Alejandro Carrilllo’s visit. | Credit: Courtesy

This week, I spent a long time on the phone with Alejandro Carrillo, one of the world’s leading experts in regenerative ranching. He runs cattle on a 30,000-acre ranch on the Chihuahuan desert of northern Mexico, where he’s aligned his ranching practices with the cycles of nature to bring back native species and even foster more effective rainstorms.

His efforts are umbrellaed under the Grasslands Regeneration Project, and he’s a critical player in the growing movement to integrate ranching into habitat restoration for the benefit of all species. I’ll be publishing my interview with him by next week.

Carrillo is coming to town as a guest of the Las Cumbres Ranch Foundation next weekend, April 1-2, running a two-day workshop in Los Alamos and then speaking to the public for free at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 2, at the S.B. Wine Collective in the Funk Zone. Click here to attend.

Santa Barbara Restaurant Week Returns

Offering a great opportunity to try new places or just return to old favorites, Santa Barbara Restaurant Week returns form April 14-23, when participating restaurants will serve prix-fixe menus at discounted prices ($35 for two-course lunch; $45-$55 for three-course dinners).

Though a popular promotion at cities around the country since the first one was held in New York in 1992, this is only the fifth time that Santa Barbarans will experience the format. I wrote about the inaugural week in 2018 here and tasted a number of menus to promote the following year in 2019 here, before COVID threw some wrenches in the mix.

Participants are still being rounded up, and any restaurant owner/manager interested in joining can attend a registration event on Monday, March 27, 4-6 p.m., at the Montesano Market on Coast Village Road. RSVP to


Boozy Poetry Night

Almost a decade ago, my longtime colleague (and former college professor) George Yatchisin and his fellow poets started “Spirits in the Air: Potent Potable Poetry” as a showcase of poems written with alcohol in mind. The ninth edition comes to The Good Lion on April 19, 5:30-6:30 p.m., when Yatchisin and many others — including Indy contributors Rebecca Horrigan and David Starkey — do their thing. Admission is free, but you gotta buy your drinks. Might as well buy one for the bards as well.

Taste Wine, Fix Diabetes

More than 20 producers of wine, beer, booze, and coffee will share their wares to raise money for the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum on September 23, 4-8 p.m. during the Taste of the Vine, which is celebrating its 15th year. Duo Catering will be serving a sit-down dinner in the museum’s courtyard, all to support the efforts of SDRI to improve the health and quality of life for people with diabetes around the world. See

Fun to Come Up North

Credit: Courtesy
  • Ready for what everyone expects to be an epic wildflower season? Check it out in comfort by staying at the Cuyama Buckhorn, which is surrounded by the usually dry Cuyama Valley and just minutes from the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The remote resort embraces the flowers in all ways, with themed cocktails and pastries, and brings baking into the mix May 5-7 with the annual Wild Flour event, featuring classes and feasts. See
  • Down the highway, Condor’s Hope Vineyard is hosting a bevy of spring flings, including Wine & Wildflowers with a barbecue and botany lessons on April 1, noon-5 p.m.; a “Climate Farm School” from April 15-21 to teach agroecological farming over food and wine; a wine club gathering in Santa Barbara on April 30, noon-4 p.m.; yoga in the vineyard May 5-7; and the Memorial Day Weekend work party, May 27-29, where volunteers can camp and get fed in exchange for their labor. Learn more and sign up for these here.
  • Further north, Hotel San Luis Obispo and its wine tasting room Region S.L.O. are throwing the second annual “Rosé the S.L.O. Way” fest and fundraiser on April 23, 1-4 p.m., with more than 20 wineries pouring.
  • Need another place to stay in S.L.O.? After cracking the code in Santa Barbara, where the original concept was rebranded as The Waterman in 2021, the Wayfarer San Luis Obispo is now open, with a restaurant called Schoolyard Burgers & Brew.


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