Trading a home on the East Coast for one on the West, Chef Joe Hafner admits he’s still exploring Santa Barbara’s hidden culinary gems since moving to the city eight months ago.
The private chef, formerly at the helm of Providence, R.I., farm-to-table restaurant Gracie’s for almost five years, is the latest addition to Noozhawk’s team of columnists, and will be writing Word of Mouth, a weekly offering focused on the many angles of Santa Barbara County’s food landscape. Click here to read his debut column.
Instead of writing reviews, Hafner’s column will focus on things such as posing 20 questions with personalities who make up Santa Barbara culinary landscape.
Recipes paired with local outings to the Saturday fish markets and a once-a-month trip to a local farmers market to explore local ingredients are also in the works.
“Part of it is just exploring the food scene here,” he said.
Hafner is already steeped in the food culture of Santa Barbara’s Eastside, living just blocks from one of Julia Child’s favorite local haunts, La Super Rica Taqueria.
He’s interested in looking at some of the hardworking personalities behind the scenes, such as sous-chefs and local winemakers.
“I always find those people fascinating,” he said.
Hafner also said he won’t be shy about diving into meatier topics. Water and property rights, high rent prices that have lead to a proliferation of food trucks on the South Coast, and fishing practices are policy issues that have very real implications on what ends up on the plates, and in the restaurants, of residents, he said.
Some columns looking at food- and wine-based weekend trips on the Central Coast may also be in the works, he said.
When he’s not writing for Noozhawk, Hafner spends his time working as a private chef locally.
In addition to his tenure at Gracie’s, during which the restaurant was featured in Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, Hafner also worked as a private chef for director Wes Anderson and the cast of Moonrise Kingdom during the movie’s shoot in Rhode Island.
Hafner’s road to the culinary wasn’t always so clear cut. Just one semester short of graduating with a degree in political science with the aim of going on to law school, Hafner admits to doing some soul-searching and calling his mom for advice. She encouraged him to pursue cooking, and “it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Hafner said.
Hafner studied at the Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts, completed internships in England and France, and went on to cook at the James Beard House, travel to Burgundy to be a guest chef for BikeRiders and was even featured on the Today show.
Hafner has been working in Southern California for two years, but officially moved to Santa Barbara eight months ago.
Hafner’s girlfriend, Jessica, is already active among Santa Barbara’s wine scene and is working for Jaffurs Wine Cellars.
“We’re lucky to live out here,” he said. “We plan to stay around.”