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Joe Hafner: Diver Stephanie Mutz Divulges on Eating, Drinking and Being Merry

Continuing our fascination with the Saturday Fishermen’s Market at Navy Pier, Word of Mouth got in touch with urchin diver Stephanie Mutz to ask her about the importance of food in her life.

Mutz dishes on her favorite drinks, go-to spots for the freshest local seafood and the amazing dinners she hosts at her house. She even has a wood-fired oven!

Joe Hafner: Tell us a little bit about what importance food holds in your life?

Stephanie Mutz: I just think it is most important not to waste food. Utilize as much of the product as you can. I provide an important, healthy protein source to my community, and I enjoy seeing it utilized and appreciated.

JH: What did you eat growing up, and what special importance does it hold for you now?

Mutz
Urchin diver Stephanie Mutz. (Fran Collin photo)

SM: I ate my mom’s cooking. Dinnertime was the time when the family sat down together and discussed your day. Dinnertime was something you could not miss. I was that kid who was at the beach all day, but I had to start riding my bike back home as soon as the street lights went on. On Saturday nights, we would eat dinner and listen to Garrison Keillor on “A Prairie Home Companion” on the radio. We still do that once in awhile.

JH: What is your greatest food memory or meal?

SM: I have a lot of great food memories. I must say that I really enjoy a meal with my dad. He knows how to dine. It is less about the food, but more about the dining experience with him. We can sit down, and as he is ordering his first cocktail, he will be explaining to the server that they will not be turning his table this evening because we will be there for a while enjoying and indulging.

One recent dining experience we had some friends over for dinner. We started with urchin and spiny lobster appetizers. Then we had homemade spiny lobster ravioli in a brown butter sauce, followed by a green salad. Dessert was cold Santa Barbara stone crab right from the shell accompanied with sauternes. Such great food and conversation. I don’t think I could even begin to re-create that evening!

JH: What is your favorite food?

SM: Sashimi of any kind.

JH: What is your favorite late-night snack?

SM: Sashimi of any kind.

JH: Do you have a food or snack that gets you through the day?

SM: I crack open a couple of sea urchins and eat those when I am diving. Almonds from Turlock, Calif. (We got connections!)

JH: Do you cook at home, and who cooks at home?

SM: Yes. Both my boyfriend, Steve, and I cook. He is much more talented than I, but I haven’t killed anyone yet. We cook well together.

JH: What do you cook at home?

SM: We cook everything — a lot of meat and seafood. We cook for ourselves, family and we cook for strangers. We are known for cooking pizzas in the wood-fired oven that Steve built, and for cooking whole pigs on a rotisserie.

A childhood friend of Steve’s visited from Turlock last summer, and he asked us what he could bring. Jokingly, we told him he could bring a pig. He did! A 140-pound whole pig! We invited everyone we knew (and didn’t know). That friend is bringing a half-cow this year. Steve took culinary classes at SBCC, so he knows how to make some mean dishes with anything from scratch.

JH: What is your favorite wine/cocktail/spirit and why?

SM: Most difficult question ever! Tequila is my spirit of choice, but I am known to make and drink a flawless Sapphire martini (up, dry, shaken and with a twist). Cocktails: Any spirit with Johnny Five Alive from Juice Ranch. That stuff is the best. Beer: Hoppy Poppy from Figueroa Mountain Brewery. I can’t get enough of it, but I think my belly shows that since they moved into town! Wine: There are too many to choose, but I am partial to Whitcraft wine.

JH: Where do you eat in Santa Barbara?

SM: I think the most underrated and superlative restaurant in Santa Barbara is The Blue Owl on Cannon Perdido. Cindy Black does things with flavors that blow my mind. She has so much passion for what she does, and it shows in her food. Hungry Cat has a great happy hour — eat the urchin there! Sushi GoGo at the harbor is good and convenient. We are semi-regulars at Anchor.

JH: What are your go-to spots for the following and why? Breakfast?

SM: Home, mostly. When I am on land for breakfast, I want to enjoy being at home for a bit.

JH: Lunch?

SM: The Blue Owl — flavors and textures and local, oh my! Also, Georgia’s Smokehouse food truck in Santa Barbara. I never liked Southern barbecue before Brian started his truck!

JH: Dinner?

SM: Julienne. These guys get it. They not only make great food, but they develop relationships with their local harvesters and connect with their community.

JH: What would your last meal be? Describe it.

SM: Steve and I would catch and harvest the food. We would prepare it together. Well, Steve and Eric Ripert would prepare it, and I would just watch in awe. It would be held on a hot summer afternoon/evening at a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Punch Brothers would be playing live, and we would drink wines from Alma Rosa and Sea Smoke. There would be a long table with succulents, jam jars and white linens. Twenty guests, so it is big enough for diverse conversation, and still intimate. Katharine Hepburn would be the guest of honor.

JH: What is your favorite food item from Santa Barbara?

SM: Juice Ranch — it’s kind of like food! Also, my new discovery: Green Star Coffee. The way I make coffee, you gotta chew it!

JH: Do you shop at the farmers market?

SM: Not regularly. I work too much.

JH: Do you grow any veggies or food at home?

SM: Yes, of course! Doesn’t everyone?!

JH: What do you think the Santa Barbara food scene needs?

SM: SB restaurants should have seafood on a chalkboard as their daily specials. Every SB restaurant that serves seafood should have a few local seafood dishes. Seafood is seasonal, just like produce, but people do not realize this because the global market fulfills the needs when weather is bad locally, or the local season is closed. Buying local seafood from local sources (fishermen) ensures quality and longevity of the marine resource. I’d like to see more SB restaurants actually care about where their food comes from and how it is harvested, instead of pretending they do.

— Chef Joe Hafner writes the weekly Noozhawk column Word of Mouth and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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