On 'Cue: Bear & Star Restaurant in Santa Barbara Wine Country Launches Cooking Classes

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/9/18

At the Bear and Star, class is in session.
The popular Los Olivos restaurant helmed by Chef John Cox is launching a series of super intimate, hands-on cooking classes this weekend. The first in the series, dubbed “Summer BBQ,” will focus on techniques for grilling local seafood and shellfish. Scheduled for 4-8pm, it’ll culminate with a sit-down meal with Chef Cox and his team.
“For me, these classes are something I felt there was a need for,” says Chef Cox, who, in partnership with the Fess Parker family, helped launch the restaurant in May of 2017 inside the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. “Plus, I love interfacing with customers.”
Classes will be limited to just 12 students.
The Bear and Star team leading the new BBQ cooking classes, from left: Chef Trent Shank, Chef Jeremy Tummell & Chef John Cox
The inaugural session will highlight the bounty in Santa Barbara’s waters and take on a culinary topic that many home chefs find “intimidating,” according to Mr. Cox.
“I think people just need permission to see and understand how easy grilling seafood can be,” he says. “With seafood that's fresh, all it’s about is not messing it up!”
Ahead of this Sunday’s class, Chef Cox will visit the Santa Barbara Fisherman’s Market, the every-Saturday experience that allows consumers to buy the morning’s fresh catch right off the fishing boats. “This is something I do every Saturday,” says the chef, who lives on a boat in the Santa Barbara Harbor.
Based on what Saturday reels in, Sunday’s class and menu will highlight techniques for making Pacific Coast Oysters “Rockefeller” Style; local sea urchin prepared with Meyer lemon and garlic butter; goat cheese-stuffed summer squash with basil; an heirloom tomato salad with grilled prawns and black radish vinaigrette; whole grilled local rockfish with foraged fennel and house-made chorizo; and dessert from the Parker family farm.
“Sea urchin, for example -- it’s a lot easier to grill than people might think,” says Chef Cox, who admits to preferring the echinoderm, famously harvested along the Santa Barbara coast by diver Stephanie Mutz, raw. “But on the grill, we’ll use a touch of cream, parmesan, lemon – almost making a sea urchin fondue inside the shell. You get these smoky, mellow flavors and the cooking takes a bit of the harshness out of the urchin. Grilling is an easy gateway to eating urchin.”
The class and dinner costs $90 per person or $160 per couple, with a $50 upsell for wine pairings curated by the Bear & Star’s wine expert, Allison Crawford.
Much of the inevitable appeal of these first-ever classes at the Bear and Star stems from John Cox’ own renown, which includes several years running the kitchen at the legendary Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur and even a recent guest appearance on the hit Food Network show, Beat Bobby Flay. Primarily, however, his notoriety is a product of what he’s accomplished at what’s become one of the buzziest restaurants in the Santa Ynez Valley: a home-grown program driven by an unabashed pursuit for sustainability. Most every item on the Bear and Star menu is raised, grown or harvested on the Parker family’s 710-acre ranch, less than seven miles away, including Wagyu beef, pork, rabbits, quail, chicken and organically grown vegetables, herbs and fruits. “A true ecosystem,” Chef Cox has called it in the past.
Food is slow-smoked and barbecued on the restaurant’s proprietary 30-foot custom reverse-flow Texas smoker and no fewer than six Big Green Egg grills.
In July, I  joined Chef Cox for a gorgeous dinner experience at the Parker ranch, w/all food cooked on that awesome smoker
The cooking classes will take place at the Bear & Star’s outdoor kitchen and inside the exclusive Chef’s Room. The second class in the series, BBQ Classics, is slated for September 9th and will highlight techniques for perfecting brisket, ribs and smoked chicken; it’ll be led by Chef Jeremy Tummel and John Cox. A class titled Save the Autumn Harvest, an October 14th session led by Chef Trent Shank and Mr. Cox, will focus on preservation techniques – smoking, fermenting, pickling and canning – and include a visit to the Parker ranch to harvest a variety of produce.
These classes are all about making cooking accessible to consumers, says Chef Cox. “For us [chefs], though,” he adds, “there’s nothing more exciting than interacting with people who get excited about food and about preparing it and talking about it.”
For tickets, call 805-686-1359 or click here.
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