Ranch to Table: Parkers’ New Restaurant Sources Products from Family Ranch

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Chef John Cox, Kodiak Greenwood & Grey Crawford
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/27/16

Katie Parker on the family ranch (my pic)
On a horseback ride through her family’s 700-acre ranch last week, Katie Parker reminisced about her grandfather.  “He was a real visionary,” she said of Fess Parker, the Disney icon and Santa Barbara entrepreneur who passed away seven years ago. As she speaks, her steed’s steady gait takes her over rolling hills, past flourishing vines and across leafy pastures as far as the eye can see.  “He would have loved what we’re doing now,” adds the mother of four young children, “because I think he always imagined it.”

When Fess Parker bought this plot in the mid-1980s – a rambling property that sprawls along Foxen Canyon and abuts what was once Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch – it was wild and unkempt.  Today, it’s a working ranch run by his kids and grandkids, home to a vineyard that carries his name and a thriving ecosystem that includes dozens of Wagyu cattle, pigs, rabbits, quail, chicken, bees, fruit trees and heirloom vegetables.  And because it’s integrally linked to what’s about to become the newest restaurant in the county, it’s also part of could well be one of the most comprehensive culinary enterprises that this area has ever seen.

Chef John Cox
When The Bear and Star opens to the public on May 1, it’ll be a return to the restaurant business for the Parker family.  Located inside the deluxe Fess Parker Wine Country Inn in downtown Los Olivos, this is where Restaurant Marcella once flourished – a pet project for Fess and Marcy Parker that was as much a spot to eat as a place for neighbors and friends to gather.  It was leased out and renamed Petros in 2008, however, until the restaurant closed last summer.

Driven by a new vision, Ashley and Eli Parker are launching The Bear and Star as homage to their father, for one: the Star pays tribute to Fess Parker’s home state of Texas while the Bear denotes his adopted state of California.  But this is also about synergy.  It’s about producing and preparing food in a closed loop – from beginning to end, from ranch to plate – based on the notion that controlling every element guarantees quality and creates a unique customer experience.

Located just seven miles away, the Parkers’ ranch, then, plays a pivotal role.

“No one has a connection to those cattle and animals and produce the way the Parkers do,” says Executive Chef John Cox, who partnered with the Parker family to create The Bear and Star.  “They’re the only ones who can bring it to consumers in a very personal and intimate way.”

The Bear and Star's menu is inspired in large part by the dozens of Wagyu cattle that call the Parker Ranch home (my pic)
Mr. Cox, 36, comes from Sierra Mar Restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, where, for the last 15 years, he’s helped create one of the most lucrative dining experiences in the country.  “I wasn’t looking to move on from Post Ranch – it’s a lifetime job, as good as it gets,” he says.  But a serendipitous meeting with Eli Parker and a visit to the Parker ranch struck a very personal chord for the fellow Texas native.

As chef and contributing food writer for several national magazines, “I’ve always been a voice for sustainable food and farming practices,” he says.  “So many restaurants claim they’re ‘farm to table,’ but are they? Are they really making a difference in their community? This project, to me, was a chance to do something sustainable in a much larger scale.”

The Chef's Room, above, and the dining room bar at The Bear and Star
Chef Cox spent more than three months living on the ranch while he created The Bear and Star menu.  He calls it “refined ranch cuisine.”  For the Parkers, many of the recipes are actually familiar, since they’re inspired by meals created by Marcy Parker herself.

“We have been calling it family recipes with a twist, or re-envisioned,” says Ashley Parker.

The bar and main menus are inspired expressions of the ranch, the cattle in particular.  There’s an 18-oz. Wagyu Ribeye, a Wagyu Burger topped with smoked cheddar and tomato jam, a Smoked Wagyu Carpaccio, Wagyu fries and a Wagyu Meatloaf served with potato puree and garden vegetables.  The Berkshire Pork Chop comes with cheesy grits and syrah-braised cabbage.  The Stuffed Quail is doled out with farro risotto and bay laurel.  The Gnocchi Stroganoff features farm-grown mushrooms and crispy herbs.  The Parker Ranch Chile is served with cheddar, chives and cornbread croutons.

Bar Menu prices range between $3 and $15 and entrees on the Main Menu are priced between $14 and $32.

For breakfast, offerings range from Home-Made Country Sausage with poached eggs and sourdough country toast to Smoked Wagyu Hash with farm eggs, root vegetables and lemon-thyme hollandaise.

Chef Cox will, naturally, reach beyond the ranch as needed, although he’ll keep the spotlight squarely on the region, including neighboring farms and local seafood.  “It wouldn’t make sense for me to serve dishes I made in Big Sur,” he insists.  “The way I cook is really about creating an experience that reflects an environment.  In that sense, there’s no better place to do what we’re doing than Santa Barbara.”

Smoked Wagyu Meatloaf, above, and Classic Cheese Pie
The Bear and Star’s sommelier-run wine program will feature the family’s three labels prominently – Fess Parker, Epiphany and Fesstivity sparkling wines.  It’ll be buoyed by selections from Santa Barbara to France and a by-the-glass program focused on iconic and older vintages.  The market cocktail program will follow local and seasonally driven ingredients; the Wagyu Bull Shot is made with vodka, beef bone broth, turmeric and ginger.

In the kitchen, Chef Cox’s team includes Santa Barbara native Chef Jeremy Tummel and Sous Chef Trent Shank.  The revamped state-of-the-art kitchen will be the restaurant's gastronomic epicenter, for sure.  But the crux of the cooking will be performed on a custom, self-contained, reverse-flow, Texas-made, 30-foot smoker.  Complete with Big Green Egg barbecue, pizza oven, three-compartment sink with running water and on-board refrigeration and lighting, it’s parked out back.  But as a veritable kitchen on wheels, it’ll be on the move often.  “I want to be able to pull into anywhere and, without water or electricity, be able to cook for a couple hundred people,” says Chef Cox. “It’s a pretty awesome tool.”

The design of the revamped restaurant is both ranch-inspired and sleek.  There are four environments, including a glossy bar-lounge.  The main dining room has velvet chairs and bronze metal café tables, and it opens both to a terrace along Grand Avenue and a back patio decked out in raised herb planters and aquaponic fish tank.  The preserved skull of Maggie, a cherished Texas Longhorn that was fatally injured on the Parker ranch, is displayed above the fireplace.

The Wine Room has a secret entrance – a sliding wall of more than 200 wine bottles – and is earmarked for winemaker get-togethers.  “They can go completely off the radar here, enjoy wine, get geeky, invite friends – if they get rowdy, it’s okay,” says Chef Cox.  Private events can be booked here, too.

And the Chef’s Room is a sexy space, complete with chandeliers and nine-foot marble table, which the chef describes as his command center.  Festooned with dry-aging cabinets and a personal collection of cookbooks and chef’s knives that spans 20 years, this is a space “for creative inspiration,” according to Chef Cox.  “The idea is to take all our cooks’ combined decades of fine dining experience and distill recipes, so that we can make them as best we can.”

For more information, check out thebearandstar.com.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, on horseback, Katie Parker reveals her own plans to help bring this culinary experience full circle: offering guided rides through the ranch to the public, beginning in a few weeks.  “It’s confirmation that we really are ranch to table,” she says.  “Come see it – it’s all here.”

Katie recently led me and my two boys on a trot through the Parkers' home ranch, check it out: 


Your New Summer White: Grenache Blanc

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/13/17

Grenache blanc has likely been on your wine drinking periphery for a while now.  You’ve seen it on the shelf, you’ve spotted it on a few wine lists.  But the time to try it, is now.

My visit to the SB Rhone Rangers tasting, w/Tercero's Larry Schaffer
A bevy of grenache blancs were on display last week, when the Santa Barbara chapter of the Rhone Rangers – a non-profit advocacy group aiming to elevate the marketplace visibility of Rhone grapes – poured for the public.  The intimate event at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective, in the Funk Zone, featured winemakers showing off world-class syrah, grenache and viognier wines.  But it was the grenache blanc that really shone for me.

One of the most widely planted white wine grapes in all of France,  grenache blanc is still a novelty in California.  Most figures I’ve found put the state's total planting of grenache blanc at under 200 acres.  Most of the recent surge in grenache blanc interest, though, is driven by wineries throughout the Central Coast, and by some of Santa Barbara’s own top producers specifically.

Part of grenache blanc’s delicious appeal, to me, comes from balance.  With a drinking experience reminiscent of sauvignon blanc or a very crisp chardonnay, grenache blanc tends to be generous and bright all at once, rich and crisp, full and vibrant.  That makes this easy-drinking white wine as a much a perfect afternoon sipper as a dinner table companion for dishes like sushi and pork chops.

Here are some Santa Barbara grenache blanc wines and blends worth discovering.

Tercero Grenache Blanc 2014 ($30)
Tercero winemaker Larry Schaffer, an unabashed champion of all things Rhone, often serves his grenache blanc at room temperature, not chilled. That allows the wine’s aromas and richness to come alive, he told me.  This wine has bright and beautiful aromatics, a racy acidity that reminds me of ripe grapefruit and clean, generous flavors.  Aged in neutral French oak barrels for 15 months.

Bernat Grenache Blanc 2013 ($24)
A bit more age, and no filtering or fining, gives this grenache blanc extra body, extra creaminess.  But this wonderful richness is balanced by lively acidity, citrus notes and a splash of minerality.  The finish delivers subtle spiciness.  Sourced from Camp 4 Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.  Bernat is a pet project for winemaker Sam Marmorstein, who, with wife Shawnda, also owns the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café.

Jaffurs Grenache Blanc 2013 ($27)
Winemaker Craig Jaffurs poured at the Rhone Rangers tasting; although he sold his eponymous label last year, he’s still helping to promote its Rhone-inspired portfolio.  The just-released grenache blanc did not go through full malolactic fermentation, he told me, which keeps the wine clean and crisp.  The mouth feel is rounded, nonetheless, and the tropical notes are lovely.  Sourced from the Thompson Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley.

Fess Parker Winery “Marcella’s” 2015 ($20)
Named for the late Disney icon’s wife, Marcella, this wine showcases how well grenache blanc can get along.  As a blending agent – and, at 53%, the biggest component here – it provides green apple flavors, lemon tart nuances and just enough palate heft.  The other players in this wine include viognier, roussanne and marsanne, which impart floral and tropical fruit overtones.  An all-Santa Ynez Valley wine.

Zaca Mesa Z Blanc 2014 ($20)
Grenache blanc is not the biggest player in this blend; the wine is 28% grenache blanc, along with 66% roussanne and 6% viognier.  The latter two components add an array of flavors and floral notes, while the grenache blanc imparts refreshing flavors of green apple and lively minerality.  Another win by winemaker Eric Mohseni and the winery that brought the Rhone to Santa Barbara when Zaca planted the county’s first syrah vines in 1978.

Do you have a favorite wine? Let me know about it on Twitter or Instagram!


In Julia’s Honor: Celeb Chef Nancy Silverton to Launch Culinary Weekend Named for Julia Child

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo 
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/6/17

Chef Nancy Silverton still calls her now-famous TV appearance with Julia Child her “defining moment.”

“I felt that knock on my hip, so I knew I had to hurry up,” she recalls of the 1997 “Baking With Julia” episode that she taped at the master chef’s historic Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen.  The tap was Julia Child’s way of letting Ms. Silverton know it was time to wrap up her cooking segment.  So the guest chef finished up her dessert dish – a crème fraiche custard brioche tart with white wine sabayon, toasted nuts and powdered sugar – and topped it off with a very hot stone fruit syrup.

Screen grab: Baking with Julia, 7/11/97, PBS
“She stuffed it in her mouth, and then – I see tears in her eyes!  And I thought, ‘Wow – I burned her!” says Ms. Silverton.

Julia Child, instead, catches her breath, smiles and then raves.  “A dessert to cry over – a triumph!” she proclaims.  “The best dessert I ever tasted.”

Beyond this special moment, Ms. Silverton’s culinary career is speckled with successes.  The budding gourmand who dropped out of college to pursue cooking in Europe would go on to become the first pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, a co-originator of L.A.’s Campanile and a bread-making phenom as co-founder of La Brea Bakery.  She’s authored several best-selling cookbooks and twice won a James Beard Foundation award, most recently in 2014.  Currently, she helms Osteria Mozza in Hollywood, a joint venture with Mario Battali and restaurateur Joseph Bastianich.  And she just launched a line of gourmet gelatos and sorbets, Nancy’s Fancy.  Even through several setbacks – there was that nasty experience with Bernie Madoff that cost her millions – Ms. Silverton has gained fame by elevating the American dining experience and inspiring a still-growing culinary movement.

“For my mom’s generation, food was a function of convenience – women had to get food on the table,” Ms. Silverton says during an exclusive interview this week.  “Today, there are more choices, and cooking is like a culture that everyone wants to be a part of.”

But back to Julia Child.

That disarming moment when the famous chef actually wept when she tasted her food – that moment tops any accomplishment.  “Reporters always ask me, ‘What’s the most remarkable or defining moment of your career?’ And it’s so special that I actually have one.”

Nancy Silverton
Ms. Silverton reminisces about Julia Child’s approach to food, an authenticity that drove her impact and success.  “You could tell she oved what she did,” she says.  “She loved to cook and loved to eat, and that came across.  She wasn’t going to change anything because of trends or fads or diets.  She was confident in what she believed in and what she wanted to do.  In an era when people thought of food as a chore and an obligation, Julia made cooking seem fun and enjoyable, as it is.”

It is apropos, then, that Ms. Silverton would headline this year’s Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend, a three-day culinary extravaganza that honors Julia Child and is presented by the Santa Barbara-based Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.  The event, now in its fourth year, returns to Bacara this weekend, April 7-9.  Tickets are available at bacaraculinaryweekend.com.

The food fete features a Grand Dinner with Santa Barbara wine pioneer Richard Sanford and Bacara Executive Chef Vincent Lesage ($250); a locally-sourced wood-fire lunch with Full of Life Flatbread Chef Clark Staub ($65); a Craft Brewer’s Garden with Santa Barbara-made beer, cider, mead and cocktails $35; a slew of cooking demos and tastings ($20-$45); and a Neighborhood Market Tour highlighting local culinary hotspots, from Los Alamos to the Funk Zone ($20 kids, $50 adults).  Julia Child’s great-nephew, Alex Purd’homme, will lead a discussion of his new book, The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act (Free).  And the hit film Julie & Julia, with Meryl Streep portraying Child, will be screened at 4pm Saturday in Bacara’s state-of-the-art theater (Free).

Ms. Silverton is teaming up with Santa Barbara Vintners to kick off the weekend with a Wine Reception ($99).  The Friday evening event will take place in Bacara’s brand new oceanfront restaurant, Angel Oak, and will include a tribute to Julia Child.  To pair myriad local wines, Ms. Silverton’s menu includes roasted carrots in a cumin vinaigrette, garlic-rubbed skirt steak served with Santa Maria-style beans and marinated baby peppers with tuna.  A mozzarella bar – an Osteria Mozza concept that has garnered Ms. Silverton acclaim – will feature Burrata and several accompaniments, like pesto, slow-roasted tomatoes and black olive tapenade.

Nancy's Fancy (Jason Varney photo)
Dessert will feature Ms. Silverton’s brand new Nancy’s Fancy line.  The Italian-inspired sorbetti and gelati feature flavors like roasted banana with pecan praline, spiced coffee with cocoa nibs, butterscotch budino, salted peanut butter and non-dairy coconut stracciatella.  “I’m profiling flavors with a lot of punch to them,” says Ms. Silverton, “and they’re made with real fruit, not flavorings.”

Ms. Silverton is looking forward to returning to Santa Barbara this week, a getaway destination with which the Hollywood resident is very familiar.  “I started making the pilgrimage up there when Julia started talking about La Super Rica,” she says, recalling the Mexican restaurant along Milpas Street that continues to reap the publicity rewards of Julia Child’s steady patronage.  Today, Ms. Silverton, who was an investor in Santa Barbara’s recently-closed Hungry Cat, has several favorite local food stops, including The Lark, Wine Cask and Bob’s Well Bread.  And she marvels at the epicurean evolution of Santa Barbara's neighbor communities like Buellton and Los Alamos.

“You only travel 90 miles to get there, but you feel like you’re on vacation!”

For more information on Nancy Silverton, visit Osteria Mozza LA.

Watch the PBS "Baking with Julia" episode with Julia Child, Nancy Silverton and that tear-worthy crème fraiche custard brioche tart (aired 7/11/97).


Wine Review: Cordon of Santa Barbara Syrah 2014

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo

Etienne Terlinden knocks it out of the park with the wines he makes for Santa Barbara's Summerland Winery label.  But the wines under his pet project, Cordon, come across as especially personal.  The wines feature exceptional grape sources and employ classic, thoughtful, Old World-inspired methods -- a tip of the hat to Terlinden's Belgian and European upbringing and to an appreciation for wine that begans when he was young.

I recently got my hands on one of the last remaining bottles of the 2014 vintage of Cordon's White Hawk Vineyard syrah.  Only 90 cases were made, so this is a small-batch, hand-crafted endeavor through and through.  Sourced from an organically and sustainably farmed vineyard, and aged for 18 months in half-new/half-neutral French oak barrels, the wine is smooth and elegant and well-rounded in the mouth.  Rich earth notes are balanced by ripe dark berry flavors.  A perfect match for any grilled meats, especially lamb and filet mignon.

Look out for the 2015 rendition of this wine, coming soon.

  • Label: Cordon Syrah
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Source: White Hawk Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
  • Winemaker: Etienne Terlinden
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Price: $32 (though some shops with a few remaining bottles are pricing it under $20)

Find out more about Cordon of Santa Barbara at cordonwine.com.