One to Watch

Posted online: September 2013

Mattei’s Tavern chef Robbie Wilson

by GINA Z. TERLINDEN photograph by CORAL VON ZUMWALT

Wilson at Mattei’s Tavern.

Born in Texas, this French-trained chef has worked everywhere from Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry in Napa to Nobu Matsuhisa’s Aspen restaurant to Nashville steak house Kayne Prime—all of which have influenced his multifaceted approach to cooking. When mutual friends introduced Wilson and his wife/managing partner, Emily, to Charles and Ali Banks, the Montecito-based investors who purchased the historic Mattei’s Tavern property in 2008 (and former owners of Napa winery Screaming Eagle and Meadowood resort), they “quickly discovered a like-mindedness about food, wine, aesthetics, and hospitality,” he says. After successfully reopening the beloved tavern last July, Wilson took a breather to talk to us about his vision, his signature touches, and his future plans.

What was your vision in renovating Mattei’s Tavern? It was a collaborative effort with Ali and Charles based on the desire to preserve its heritage and history while simultaneously updating the space.

 

What’s one of your signature touches you’ve brought to the restaurant? Bringing in members of the community and creating a cooperative of sorts. Los Olivos resident Frank Palmer made the black walnut Winemakers Table, local potter Michelle Griffoul made plates and serving ware, Solvang tailor Kriss Agin created our drapery, and we love using lettuce from Lompoc-based Apple Creek Ranch. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

Did you ever envision living in Santa Ynez? Emily and I both lived in Los Angeles before we met, so we had spent time here. When we began dating in 2008, we expressed a desire to live in Santa Barbara County one day. We had no idea it would be so soon.

What’s one of the most interesting things that has struck you about living in Santa Ynez? The diversity of both the residents and the products. We have so many fascinating locals from all walks of life, and regarding the products, it’s not just avocados and lemons, but Sumatran cherries and finger limes to name a few.

Where are your favorite places to unwind in town? We always look forward to dining with friends—usually in someone’s home. And while we spend most of our time at Mattei’s, we have a place in Santa Barbara so we’re able to enjoy some days by the ocean. We love walking on Butterfly Beach with our dog, Milton.

What other projects do you have coming down the pipeline? Our current focus is on Mattei’s as well as the tasting room and wine bar behind it, The Watering Hole, to which we are adding a pizza oven. Guests can soon come sip wine and enjoy pizzas at picnic tables in the courtyard or cornfield. We will do another restaurant down the road, but not until Mattei’s Tavern and The Watering Hole have fully hit their stride.

 

[SB PEOPLE, Fall 2013]

 

 

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