Interview: chef Justin West (Julienne + Wildwood Kitchen)
Justin West started cooking by age 11 in his father’s five restaurants in Eugene, Oregon. He committed to the restaurant world at an early age. He met Emma, his wife and front of house partner, at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. They relocated to Santa Barbara. He spent time with The Wine Cask and San Ysidro Ranch in numerous capacities before the couple opened seasonally focused Julienne across from El Presidio State Historic Park in 2008. They added Wildwood Kitchen to end 2015, delivering “West Coast BBQ” to The Mill, a multi-faceted venue. I reconnected with Justin West at a Santa Barbara culinary showcase in L.A., and he recently shared several insights about his family’s Santa Barbara restaurants.
Josh Lurie: How did you decide on barbecue as a follow up to Julienne?
Justin West: My dad owned a BBQ restaurant called West Bros BBQ, for 15 years when I was growing up. These flavors have always been meaningful to me. Plus, the blueprint for this concept was there and tested. The other tenants at The Mill really liked the idea of BBQ and after a couple tastings of what my style of BBQ is, we were off to the races.
Josh Lurie: How did you decide which style of barbecue to go with at Wildwood Kitchen, and which type of wood to smoke your meats?
JW: We are calling Wildwood “West Coast BBQ”. We have a higher focus on Salad and Seafood than any other “traditional” BBQ restaurant. That being said, our style of smoking meats is very Southern and regional to the meats we prepare. The chicken and brisket are Texas style. The ribs are started Memphis style and finished Kansas City style. The pulled pork is Carolina style… When my dad opened West Bros. him and his brothers took a six-week road trip across the country and ate BBQ from all the different BBQ regions and what they brought back to Eugene was a “best of the best” idea of all the great styles under one roof. It fits perfectly with the West Coast BBQ idea because most Southerners are so proud of how THEY do it that they would never even consider combining styles like this, regions just stay focused on what they do (for the most part). But the West Coast is such a melting pot already… why not have the all under one roof style?
JL: What are the criteria for a dish at Julienne versus a dish at Wildwood Kitchen?
JW: Well, Julienne is more about what is in season at the market and trying to show the variety that the market provides. At the same time, at Julienne we dabble in many different cuisine types. At Wildwood, I still use the farmers market to help me write my menus in the Side Dishes and Salads section but the flavors are always going to be based in American cuisine.
JL: What is the first dish you remember cooking, ever? How did it turn out?
JW: The first thing I ever cooked was a Cream of Chicken Soup with Vegetables. It was a Julia Child recipe that I got from a CD Rom (did I just date myself?) on a Gateway 2000 computer that my parents bought for the family.. haha… There were cooking class videos on the CD and this soup was one of them It was unique though because there was very little cream in it. It used pureed white rice and onions as the thickener and “creaming” element.
JL: Was it a given that you’d work in restaurants since your father ran five restaurants in Eugene, Oregon, or did you consider other careers?