“You’re always eating with your eyes first.”
Q: How did your career start?
A: I’m from the Bay Area originally. When I was touring culinary schools we came down here [Santa Barbara] one weekend and checked out Santa Barbara City College. We didn’t know it at the time but it’s one of the best culinary schools in the country that a city college could offer. Most of my friends were going to CIA […] and after High School I was like I’m going to go to a community college and save some money. I saw the stadium stairs that lead down to the ocean and said that’s it, this is the one. So I went to school right there, it’s just down the way. Alot of my chef friends also came out of the same college.
I got my first job at Chipotle, it’s kind of funny to think about but Chipotle taught me alot of the basics of dice skills and time management. People joke and laugh about it but it taught me so many of the finer things. I became the kitchen manager and then I got a job at The Lark restaurant. I was a sous chef there I worked with Chef Jason Peluska for about 6 years. Chef Jason is still a mentor of mine and you can kind of tell I have a similar style to him now. During covid, [my girlfriend and I] moved down to San Diego and worked for Brian Malarkey, Top Chef and restaurateur. He got me into doing some cooking shows, I did the show Chopped Next Gen. It was an amazing opportunity. […] Most recently I was on Netflix’s Pressure Cooker. […] Eventually, I got an offer to come back up to Loquita and come back to the Acme family. I came in and I built a team here and I’ve been here for two years now.
Q: What got you into cooking?
A: Everyone always asks me how I got into it and I don’t know. I think randomly when I was in 5th grade I was like I want to do that. I grew up with people who would watch Bobby Flay or whoever is the older equivalent. It’s just always been a passion. I definitely love being on the creative side of these. I’m very much a soldier in the kitchen, and know you get busy and tickets are flying the whole kitchen culture is happening. It’s kind of an amazing thing to be apart of, if you think about it it’s the same 10 or 15 people in the kitchen and they show up every day because we all have this passion to put out amazing food for people.
Q: How would you describe Loquita and it’s origins?
A: Loquita opened in 2016, it was Acme Hosiptality’s second or third restaurant. […] Peter Lee was the opening chef, he had a very Las Vegas, French background and created the stepping stones. I’m now the 4th chef to take over the reigns of Loquita.
Q: What sets Loquita apart from other restuarants?
A: Loquita stands for “that crazy little girl” so the menu and the space is supposed to be very playful, very open. The menu also is focusing on very fun, whimsical dishes. We do have the core grill and the open kitchen concept is very fun […] we have people come up to the pass all the time and go “what are you guys doing over here” and we say “there’s the paella station and that’s that station.” It’s alot of fun. Being in the central coast we have all this amazing seafood and wine country right at our doorstep so we get all these great spanish wines.
In 2021, we got a Michelin: Bib Gourmand recognition for Loquita and that’s pretty amazing. That means we’re in a more narrow group of restaurants. It means we have outstanding food, outstanding service and we’re able to keep it this price point. Loquita especially has a lot of staff who have been here since day 1 and that kind of really shows the culture we are trying to keep. It’s a very family friendly environment.
Q: What do you like about Loquita’s menu?
A: It’s very fun, playful; we try to keep it light. My whole thing on the menu is you’re always eating with your eyes first so I like to make my food bright and beautiful. Also easily plated. It’s very family friendly and inviting. I love my crudo’s and raw fish so I’m starting to be the unofficial “Crudo King” of Santa Barbara. My first three weeks working here, I put a new fish dish on the menu and we were selling 60, 70 a night so it’s just kind of incredible to see when you’re making food fly out the window. I definitely love big and bright flavors with high acidity.
Q: How long have you been with Premier Meat Company?
A: We’ve had Premier ever since Loquita’s opening but also during my time at Lark we used Premier the whole time as well so 10+ years. They’ve been with Acme Hospitality as a leading supplier for us. I’ve worked with Mike [Premier Meat Company Sales Rep] for a long time and he’s very nice.
Q: In terms of quality what do you look for in your proteins?
A: I think it’s important to have a product that tells a story. We use alot of different cuts of meat like those Niman Ranch pork chops that are pre-cut, pre-portioned for us. It’s a beautiful product that we’re able to brine and put on top of our paella and tell a story of how this got here.
Q: What is your favorite dish to make?
A: My stepmom is Indian, I started falling in love with Indian. I never used to make it before but now I have this love and appreciation for what Indian food is and all these layers of flavors. I started watching all the Top Chef stuff and Padma [Chef on Top Chef] doing all this Indian food cooking. I’d take all these techniques and make it for staff and now I take it home and make it at home. […] I love spices and I have what I call my “infamous” butter chicken because I don’t make it that often but when I do everyone’s like “it’s so good.”