A Star Debuts in Los Olivos
Chefs create a destination well worth the trip north
When John Cox first visited the stunning 714-acre Fess Parker Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley last year, it was just as a favor to a friend, Paul Hoyle, president of the Fess Parker hotel group. Cox, an acclaimed chef, found himself on a tour past the ranch’s long-established vineyards and new Wagyu cattle, as owner Eli Parker sought Cox’s advice for selling the prized beef to restaurants.
But Cox immediately saw potential for something even better. He imagined creating a restaurant for the Parkers where they could serve the Wagyu and other products from their ranch themselves.
The Parkers, heirs of the late actor Fess Parker—a proud Texan and savvy real estate investor who owned the ranch—lost little time in taking Cox up on the idea. The result: The Bear and Star restaurant, located at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn in downtown Los Olivos.
The restaurant’s name is a reference to California and Texas, the two states Fess Parker considered home. Both influence the restaurant’s “refined ranch cuisine.”
“For the most part, we’re thinking back to meals that really resonated with us growing up, re-envisioned for a modern California restaurant,” Cox says, describing the intent behind the restaurant’s cuisine and referring to his and sous chef Trent Shank’s childhoods in Texas, and chef Jeremy Tummel’s experience growing up on Santa Maria tri-tip in Santa Barbara.
Standouts at a tasting held before the May opening included deviled eggs prepared with Santa Barbara sea urchin and sea cucumber roe, and a remarkably umami-filled blackened tofu dish served with an update of Texas caviar, the tasty marinated salad traditionally built around black-eyed peas rather than fish roe.
The food is likely to only get better, as ranch director Carly Connelly and a multitude of other ranch staff, gradually ramp up the ranch’s production and replace the ingredients the chefs are purchasing with meat, vegetables, fruits and eggs produced right on the ranch.
The plan is to feed the livestock grape pomace from the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard and spent grain from Third Window, Parker family member Kris Parker’s nearby craft brewery, in something of a closed loop of sustainability akin to those of other farm-operating chefs who have inspired Cox, such as Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York.
On the restaurant’s back patio, diners can see an aquaponics system the restaurant built with repurposed grape bins and uses to produce catfish, edible flowers and greens. Venture into the “chef ‘s room”—a private dining room lined with Cox’s personal knife and cookbook collection—and you’ll find mushrooms growing in a glass tower; peer through a window to the kitchen and you’ll view microgreens thriving.
For more info, visit TheBearAndStar.com.