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?
JW: I considered other careers in Outdoor Studies and Forestry. But by the time that consideration came to light I had already spent 10 years in restaurants so re-directing myself into another industry seemed like a hassle. Plus I liked my life, I have always enjoyed cooking and the people who work in restaurants so I just decided to stay put in this industry. Once I decided that I was going to spend my life in this industry I signed myself up for Culinary School to legitimize it and try to be the best at it that I could be. I didn’t want to be a restaurant worker that just did this for the rest of my life cause I didn’t do anything else.. (There’s a lot of those people in the industry).
JL: Who gets to work at Julienne or Wildwood Kitchen? What attributes do those people possess?
JW: Well, you need to have a good palate for sure. Flavor balance is something that can’t really be taught. You either have it or you don’t. They are usually people who have some cooking experience, but not a lot. Skills I can teach. If you can’t taste salt and acid levels we are screwed. What they all possess though is a passion for food and a certain twinkle in their eye that I can’t explain.
JL: Which people in the restaurant community continue to inspire you as a chef?
JW: I am constantly finding inspiration in the farmers. Their dedication to farming and adaptation to the challenging growing conditions that this never ending drought have created are commendable to say the least.
John Downey is a constant inspiration too because he’s been doing it in this town for such a long time.
Cindy Black at The Blue Owl never ceases to amaze me on her work ethic and creativity in making not only insanely tasty menu items but doing business in spaces that are under-equipped for a person of her skill level.
Juan and his family at Cajun Kitchen, always, for showing the restaurant industry in this town what consistency of service and product look like.
Bill Kaneko at Arigato Sushi for his dedication to freshness. I have never had a piece of fish at Arigato that has ever been less that perfect.
Kim and Aaron at Handlebar Coffee for raising the bar on coffee roasting in Santa Barbara and for their dedication to perfection and process.
Ramón over at Corazon for sticking with his dream and finally getting his taco shop open. He’s been talking about this for years and I love seeing fellow chefs get after it and make their dreams of opening their own spot a reality.