When not in the classroom teaching biology, Chris Pollastrini makes his own popcorn.
The idea popped up when he was in college, and the La Cuesta High School instructor is now alternating between the excited voices of teenagers and the noise of popping kernels.
“I come over here most days after school and start poppin’,” he said of the commercial kitchen he rents in downtown Santa Barbara. “I make it by hand and I make it with care.”
Pollastrini said his students love the popcorn. On the day Noozhawk visited, he was busy popping enough popcorn for everyone attending La Cuesta’s graduation a few hours later.
“I’ve always liked it, but I’ve gotten more into it as an adult,” he said of his relationship to popcorn.
The snack comes in five flavors: maple and brown sugar, honey dijon, balsamic vinegar and Italian herb, jalapeño jack, and sea salt and olive oil.
“I love balsamic vinegar, and I can’t believe there hasn’t been a balsamic vinegar popcorn yet,” Pollastrini said.
Because you cannot put moisture or any water-based seasonings on popcorn without it softening, Pollastrini dehydrates the flavorous solutions before putting them on the popcorn that is whirling in a kitchen tumbler.
“It has taken a few years to develop these recipes,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work.”
Pollastrini said he’s spent most of his free time in the kitchen ever since he started his new business in April. He pops the popcorn, seasons it, and scoops and seals it into bags over and over during every kitchen visit.
“I make 30 to 40 bags an hour,” he explained.
Standing, watching and hearing the corn burst and then spin “is actually pretty meditative,” he said. “A lot of thoughts about life come up.”
Pollastrini says he still puts all of his attention on the production because “it takes a lot of focus to make the batch right.”
“Once, I accidentally put twice the amount of jalapeño and it was quite hot,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t sell a bad batch like that. “Some would have liked it, but you never know who’s gonna buy it, so I can’t. I don’t want to burn anybody’s tongue off.”
Pollastrini gets his kernels from a family-run organic corn farm in California.
The snack, sold under the name Santa Barbara Popcorn Company, is 90 percent to 100 percent organic, GMO- and gluten-free, vegan, whole grain and California grown, and contains neither artificial ingredients nor trans fat.
Although Pollastrini has tried to sell his product to national chains like Whole Foods Market, he said he would be satisfied with it remaining only locally available in Santa Barbara.
“If it’s a hit, that would be great,” he said. “But if it just makes it in Santa Barbara, that would be OK, too.”
The popcorn can be purchased at Isabella Gourmet Foods, 5 E. Figueroa St. in downtown Santa Barbara.