- PHOTO BY KIRK IRWIN
We are quite fortunate here on the Central Coast to be able to have a personal relationship with our chefs, a situation that’s rare in major cities like San Francisco or L.A. Our best example is that of Chef Rick Manson of Chef Rick’s Ultimately Fine Foods in Orcutt. For more than two decades, he has earned respect for his fine cuisine, generous portions, and uber-friendly service from the chef and his wait staff. Manson doesn’t hesitate to go into the dining room and talk with his guests. He not only draws locals regularly, he is a favorite of world-famous chefs, vintners, and rock stars, all of whom made it a point to dine at Chef Rick’s whenever they traveled through the Santa Maria Valley. I have always admired Manson because he treats every customer with respect, be it his neighbor, friend, winemaker, another local chef, or celebrity.
That’s why we locals were downright upset to hear that after 22 years, Chef Rick’s would serve its last dinner on Saturday, June 26. Although I couldn’t be there (poorly timed periodontal surgery), I heard from close friends that the last night at Chef Rick’s was like a “surprise birthday party.” Regulars packed the place, bringing Manson gifts and great wines they wanted to share. And he rewarded his loyal patrons with the promise that their Chef Rick’s gift cards would be honored at his new job as executive chef at the Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe.
The funny thing is, locals claimed online through social networks that Manson at Far Western wasn’t a good fit, and they asked: “Why fix what isn’t broken at Far Western?” Or they complained that Chef Rick’s signature foods won’t be the same at Far Western. Having been a professional chef, I dismiss those statements because they’re ridiculous. The Far Western has always ranked among my favorite of local steakhouses. Yet I’ve always known it could stand improvement. Bringing in a chef of Manson’s caliber will take Far Western far beyond its peers, and I say it’s about time. With all due respect to chef Barbara Abernathy, founder Clarence Minetti’s niece who has managed the kitchen at Far Western for nearly four decades, bringing in a talented, professional chef is long overdue.
“This is a win-win situation, and I’m really excited about it,” Manson explained. “I’m not going away, I’m just moving up the road.”
The Far Western’s operations are now overseen by Renee Righetti-Fowler, the granddaughter of Clarence and Rosalie Minetti. The third generation restaurateur pointed out that Manson has been a longtime family friend. Her grandfather, the late Clarence Minetti, who passed away last March at 93 due to an automobile accident, was a true fan of Manson: “He had a great respect for Rick’s commitment to quality and his passion for food and hospitality.” The traditional Far Western menu will remain intact, she explained: “You can still look forward to the familiar favorites. And you can expect to see Rick’s signature creativity on display in our nightly specials, and in our banquet room and catering offerings.”
Six months earlier, a press release announced that the Far Western was moving to Old Orcutt. The building in Guadalupe, originally the Palace Hotel built in 1912, is owned by the Minetti family. They will collaborate with the city of Guadalupe to find a workable solution for it. However, they felt the best option was moving, and they say they plan to capture the spirit and ambiance of the original restaurant. The new Far Western will also have its banquet room on the second story.
Located at 300 Clark Ave. at Pacific St., their new restaurant will be near the hub of recently built restaurants on Broadway. The projected opening is spring 2012, and the old site will remain open until a few weeks before the move.
“Anyone who is familiar with Rick knows he’s the perfect person to bring energy and enthusiasm to our kitchen,” Righetti-Fowler said, “and to hit the ground running at the new restaurant.”
To be remembered
Ardison Phillips (1941-2011)
Santa Barbara County has lost one of its original vintners, Ardison Phillips, an advocate of the region’s wine industry for three decades. Phillips and his wife Susan McKeon-Phillips founded McKeon-Phillips Winery in Santa Maria Valley in 1995. Phillips succumbed to heart failure at the age of 70 in early June. A renaissance man with a zest for life, Phillips was an artist, chef, winemaker, and teacher, naturally talented in every field he embraced. His early artwork earned him an art history scholarship in Europe in 1964. There, he developed a connoisseur’s appreciation and appetite for fine wine and food. He earned a master’s degree at the Otis Art Institute in L.A., and in 1970 his art was featured in Osaka, Japan. When he returned to L.A., his European experiences inspired him to become a chef.
He opened the Studio Grill with a partner, and his menu focused on pairing wine with food. Phillips earned fame for his winemakers’ dinners, among the first in L.A. And he showcased wines from the Central Coast’s rising star winemakers in his restaurant. In 1976, Philips began buying winegrapes from Santa Barbara County to make his own wine, and decided to relocate here. In 1995 he created his own winery, McKeon-Phillips. His original artwork was featured on his wine labels, and on the labels of several other wineries. The Phillips’ beloved son Bailey became winemaker for them until his untimely death in 2009.
A man who believed in sharing his vast knowledge, Phillips also taught at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria. In 2005, Phillips and his students joined forces to write the Allan Hancock College Wine Country Cookbook. Phillips will always be remembered for his love of his craft and his generosity in sharing his knowledge with anyone with the desire to learn.
Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.