Brian Parks is executive chef of Coast, the signature restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara’s Canary Hotel. During a recent trip to Santa Barbara, we met on April 19 at the north end of the Tuesday afternoon farmers market and walked south on State Street. He assessed the vendors on the way down, gathered produce on the way back and shared insights in between.
Josh Lurie: Do you have anything in particular in mind for the market today?
Brian Parks: I’m looking for some blueberries because we have some blueberry ice cream on the menu that we make. A couple other grocery list item type things that I need for day-to-day stuff. Other than that, it’s kind of whatever’s jumping out at me and whatever I feel like running specials with. I’m looking at these fava beans now, and they’re looking kind of nice.
JL: What do you think you’d like to do with those?
BP: Fava beans and steaks tend to work pretty well together. I’ve got a nice aged New York that I’ll be able to play with. It’s kind of just a mix of whatever I see here. I usually end up walking all the way down to the end and making little notes of what I see, then picking up things on the way back.
JL: Are there some vendors that you go to every week?
BP: Yeah, there’s a guy down here, BD Farms. He’s always got great herbs, great lettuces and greens. He’ll do beets and stuff. Shepherd Farms is really good. They do strawberries. They do beets as well. So once you start to learn a couple guys, you just kind of stick with them because they have a whole consistency level.
JL: How often do vendors change at the Tuesday market? Is it pretty constant?
BP: It’s pretty constant. You get the same people coming up here all the time, which is good because you have a base. When you get here, you have an idea of who to see and who to talk to, and you’re not having to worry, “Is this guy’s product any good?” Or “Is this product not any good?”
JL: You were saying that you prefer the Saturday market.
BP: It starts a little earlier. You get a different crowd to it. That may just be my mentality, but it definitely feels like the Saturday market has more of a laid back attitude to it. Being here on State Street, you still have everything going on around you, so there are lots of distractions, and that’s why kind of throws you off. Like Shepherd Farms here. He’s always got great stuff, and I’ll end up picking up things from him when I come back.
JL: How often are you changing the menu over at Coast?
BP: Right now every six months. We’re going through mini changes. If it’s going the way that I like, I can run specials on a nightly basis, so that’s not a problem, but we should be able to get to the point where I’m running about 4-5 different specials a week, and kind of running with those through the night. Limit the menu a bit.
JL: They had mulberries?
BP: Yeah, they had [Pakistani] mulberries that are about this long. [places his fingers 2-3 inches apart]. They’re incredible. They’ve got a stem that runs through the middle so you can pick ‘em right off. They’re so sweet.
JL: Do you think those will make an appearance tonight?
BP: Those will most likely make an appearance tonight because it’s an incredible product.
JL: That’s actually the first food memory I have of Santa Barbara.
BP: The mulberries?
JL: Yeah, because my dad and step-mom were visiting and we ended up going out to dinner at Downey’s, over a decade ago, and for dessert, they just served crème fraiche and mulberries, that was it.
BP: Yeah, John’s always done great stuff. I’ve worked a couple events with him, and he always keeps it really simple and clean.
JL: I actually haven’t been back since then. I’m curious what it’s like at this point.
BP: Yeah, still really nice. BD’s got products you just don’t see anywhere. The flowers right there are organic chamomile. I made a simple syrup with that the other day that’s absolutely incredible, and I actually used it when I decorated some cakes because you can put that inside the cake and you pick up wonderful flavor with it.
JL: [re: mulberries] $4 a basket seems reasonable.
BP: Yes and no. You’d be surprised. They stretch pretty far. Like epazote is a good herb when you’re making beans. Which reminds me, there’s a guy at a place I need to stop at on the way because they have these dried shelling beans they get in the springtime. So I could use this along with that stuff and it would be incredible. It’s kind of fun. Like I said, he’s always got great stuff.