epicure.sb | An Artists’ Dialogue 

The definition of geeking out is spending an eve with two friends- the Principal of an innovative architectural firm, AB design studio, and Cajun culinary trendsetting chef of The Outpost at the Goodland Hotel. With a creative ambiance at Santa Barbara’s new hotspot, Julian Martinez’s Barbareno Restaurant, we engaged in a three hour dialogue [between arguably the most stylish men within Santa Barbara’s hospitality community] on the dynamism of design. 

Clay Aurell and Derek Simcik were proponents of the synergy between architecture and design, aesthetics and functionality, and how it could dictate human interaction and vibrancy. Dining was rarely exclusively about the food, but rather the scene, socializing, and sense of place. When executed properly, a restaurant’s design enhanced all of the elements. It was a synergistic and powerful dance between the design, food menu and beverage program.

Proper design offered solutions to concerns, sometimes to problems that were unknown to clients and consumers. I am not a lateral thinker springing from creative possibility to creative possibility. I am a linear thinker. I identified a problem and wanted to devise an effective solution, even if it was unconventional. I believed in infinite possibilities, but limited opportunities. With effective design, there was freedom of personalization. Both of these gents identified a void in the market, identified the demand and explored what was possible- creating something unique to Santa Barbara and unequivocally representative of themselves. 

While known throughout California, AB design studio was hailed as the renaissance architects who redefined Santa Barbara’s neglected industrial space with the creation of the Funk Zone. We were partnered with Derek for our winemaker dinner and I was beyond impressed by the inventiveness of his food and revolutionary mindset when it came to hospitality design. What these artists had in common was the curiosity to ask- what was vibrancy? What could be done? How do we rethink conventionality? 

Designers use the term “sense of place,” but what the best artists do- whether it be architects or chefs- was space making. True innovation occurred when someone took something already in existence and brought new life to it. As an architect, a big tenant was repurposing an existing space. How did we use what was already available? I asked Derek what was the most substantial difference between Chicago and Santa Barbara- fresh produce. He did not use blueberries most of the year because he found artificiality in using frozen berries in fresh dishes. Clay made an analysis of what existed on Yanonoli Street and what could be beneficial to the community. True artists do not always invent new platforms, they rethink existing spaces. AB design studio and The Goodland Hotel were both experiments testing what was possible and examining how they could make a difference. I always said you do not sell the services, you sell the solution. And the solution was to create visual balance and harmony whether it be creating a physical structure or a culinary endeavor. 

What was particularly intriguing about this evening was the collaborative thinking between an architect who designed commercial kitchens and a chef who engaged in the conceptual design of multiple hotels. Can a chef still know little on wine and create a successful food menu, and can a hospitality architect be ignorant on the day-to-day functionality of a kitchen and still design an effective restaurant? The answer was simply, no. 

It was important that all design parties be interested in *both* what was on the walls and on the plates. Being good in the kitchen was important, but understanding the role of the beverage menu and interior design was tantamount to a restaurant. A restaurant could have a lot of striking features and feel finished, but never settled. There must be a core idea bringing the elements together to reflect the tenor of the food. 

What both of these men brought to fruition was Luxury 2.0. They renovated and retained the intimacy and residential quality of their respective spaces and blurred the divisions between the programmatic elements- mixed use retail and hospitality.
 One of the most significant challenges was respecting and preserving the original architecture, while sensitively modernizing it. In design, you pay homage to culture. But you also fabricate a narrative that is not cliche by incorporating both traditional techniques that capture the essence of the locale, while simultaneously stitching in contemporary textures and materials. AB design studio’s The Lark and The Outpost at the Goodland Hotel (Kimpton) both represent hospitality spaces with continuity between architecture, interior design, and culinary perceptions. They created epicure.sb. 

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2 Comments

  1. Brilliant thoughts which require careful digestion. My first thought was that surely a chef can create a great menu with limited wine knowledge, but then upon consideration, I realize that what that chef will create is a “menu with food”.

    These pieces are creating an imaginary aesthetic for me as I am actually appreciating the chance to listen to the concepts about design without seeing photos to reference. I have to re-read as design isn’t an area that I have any expertise in. It isn’t unlike blind tasting wine. Truly double blind where you don’t know a theme & didn’t bring your own bottle. I love that & love reading your writing as it is making me think differently. I’ll be thoughtful of the settled nature of places I visit & look forward to hopefully seeing them through a different lens.

    Hopefully coherent,
    Anthony

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  2. I had never properly articulated the idea of a core idea tying together restaurant elements, to myself anyway and I’m struck about how strongly I agree with you. I certainly hadn’t considered design as an element to bring those elements together. I also hope that I’m not making the point of the writing too elementary.

    Arianna- these posts make me think. I know nothing of design, but I can now at least digest the concept of “settled” and that is such a relatable word. We all certainly want to feel that way. I also love the concept of terroir or “sense of place” through the lens of an artist, and then your challenge to redefine that sense of place.

    So I wanted to leave a really profound comment for you, but I feel I’ve just blathered. Thanks for doing this blog. I genuinely enjoy it.
    Anthony

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