INTIMATE DISPLAY: Six Test Kitchen guests get to watch Chef Ricky Odbert right up close and ask questions all night long.
Six Test Kitchen’s Garage Gourmet Stupefies
Arroyo Grande Chef Ricky Odbert Creates Gastronomic Wonder in His Parents’ Tricked-Out Garage
Thursday, December 22, 2016
If exploring the possibilities of food through a 14-course meal in the tricked-out garage of a suburban Arroyo Grande tract home doesn’t tickle your epicurean fancy, just stop reading now. If, on the other hand, you revel in food experiences where deliciousness is only the tip of the iceberg, where each dish opens your mind to the possibilities of what ingredients can be, where you uncover morsels of chemistry and windows into foreign cultures with every bite, then welcome to Six Test Kitchen, perhaps the most interesting culinary experience in California today.
By Courtesy Photo
Charred Onion Chicharrones, Onion Cream, Hazelnut.
Six Test Kitchen is the six-seat suburban experiment of 29-year-old Chef Ricky Odbert, who, after a decade of working in San Francisco’s top kitchens, decided to literally come home. “I grew up in this house,” he explained to me somewhere between the onion chicharrones and chicken/scallop chawanmushi courses a few weeks ago, explaining that his bedroom was behind the door. I’d joined five winemakers from the nearby Edna Valley for dinner in the garage turned commercial kitchen, where the sous vide station and stainless-steel countertops occupy the space once reserved for old records, faded pictures, and resident spiders. “I didn’t want to work for anybody,” explained Odbert. “I was just over it. I wanted to do my own thing.”
As Toto and other ’80s hits played in the background and multiple bottles of wine were uncorked (it’s BYOB), Odbert explained each meticulously plated dish, from the flash-fried tapioca chips and aerated sunchokes with roe to the toothpaste-looking chicken liver squeeze and year-old persimmon dessert, which looked more like thick salami. Over the course of three hours, we were thoroughly entertained, educated, and amazed, including those of my companions who’d already been there, some multiple times.
By Courtesy Photo
Garnet Yam, and Winter Squash, Mole, Caramelized White Chocolate, CIlantro and Peanut.
“This is an accumulation of all the techniques that I’ve learned and latched onto throughout my career that I am now able to do in a more controlled environment,” said Odbert, whose dishes pull from a panoply of culinary palettes. He relies almost entirely on seasonal Central Coast produce, but he incorporates traditional French and Japanese influences and employs techniques ranging from molecular (like the chicken presse that turns poultry into a dense, savory cake, or the white chocolate “dust” that decorates the yams) to homesteader (house-made vinegar, butter, bread, and even preserved citrus, more than two years in the making).
“It’s the hardest thing to get people to understand,” Odbert told me over the phone the next day, when we spoke for more than an hour. I was curious about what the average Arroyo Grande diner expects since creative fine dining has only recently been able to get a foothold there. “People say, ‘I can’t believe you make your own bread.’ But every grandma makes bread. Who makes vinegar?” he laughed. “The whole idea of making everything in house is lost on many of them. People still think that the quantity of food you get is immediately correlated with the quality of food you’re getting.”