Fruits of the Sea

Posted online: June 2011

by JOAN TAPPER photographs by NANCY NEIL

Here’s a recipe for a great summer dinner: Take a bounty of fresh shellfish from Santa Barbara’s harbor market, add the background of three global cooks, flavor with a dollop of retro style, and serve to a score of guests outdoors under a canopy of oaks.

Ayda Robana, Accursio Lota, and Nic George serve up dinner in a cloud of steam.

Ayda Robana, Accursio Lota, and Nic George serve up dinner in a cloud of steam.

It’s not hard to come up with an occasion. In this case, local chef and caterer Ayda Robana of Om Sweet Mama and commercial fisherman Ethan Brostedt prevailed on a friend, former chef Nic George, to put together a crab pot and seafood gathering. And George—an Australian native who moved to Santa Barbara four years ago to work as a creative director for books and films—took the opportunity to show off the century-old home he and several housemates had recently moved into. Once the chauffeur’s residence and carriage house for St. Mary’s Retreat, the property borders the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and includes a sprawling lawn at the edge of Oak Creek. “It feels like a piece of history,” says George. “The creek is still flowing, and there are always kids playing on a rope swing over the water. I used to cook at Montsalvat, an artists’ colony near Melbourne. This place reminds me of those days.”

To put together the feast, George enlisted another international foodie—Accursio Lota, a Sicilian chef and former Santa Barbara resident who now cooks at the Marine Room in La Jolla. They started by picking out huge rock crabs from SB Seafood’s Sam Shrout, as well as other fish and shellfish from the Santa Barbara Fish Market, then made various stops for greens, potatoes, herbs, and other ingredients.

The perfect rockfish; salad makings; a bird of paradise bouquet; lotsa lemons.

The perfect rockfish; salad makings; a bird of paradise bouquet; lotsa lemons.

Back at the house, tables were set and topped with brown paper and a long butcher block; bottles of wine and beer filled a wheelbarrow; and a turntable and a basket of records—yes, vinyl LPs—were readied. As Lota prepared two large rockfish and the accompanying tomato sauce inside in the kitchen and Robana assembled two colorful salads—a watermelon and watercress combination as well as a recipe incorporating lettuce and radishes—topping them with her sought-after vinaigrettes, George set a tall pot of water to boil on a grill outside. “I like this aspect of cooking,” he says. “Having everyone involved, cooking outdoors, old friends, new friends…. That’s the best.”

Herbs everywhere—underpinning the staff of life; garnishing the rockfish; and minced for the recipes.

Herbs everywhere—underpinning the staff of life; garnishing the rockfish; and minced for the recipes.

To read the full article, check out our Summer 2011 issue on stands now.

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