Food and wine enthusiasts in Santa Barbara know a secret: There’s a club in this town just for them, where top local and out-of-town chefs and wine makers line up to come share their artistry.
It’s called Epicurean Santa Barbara, and the good news is anyone can join. They even let us join.
Run by husband and wife team Keith and Amy Baer Robinson, the only requirement for membership (besides the reasonable annual fee) is a love of food, cooking, wine, spirits and a desire to make friends.
“Our goal is to augment the culinary scene in Santa Barbara with things that don’t normally exist here,” Keith told us.
Amy added, “We want to inspire, entertain and delight, with a side of education. It’s also a social club where you get to meet others who are into food and wine.”
Averaging two events per month, ESB offerings range from high end to less expensive, with names like Bordeaux Experience, Friday Night Burgers, and Food and Wine of the Alpine.
Since ESB began in 2017, the guest-chef list has included, among many others, Massimo Falsini of Michelin star-rated Caruso’s, Justin Warner (winner of Chopped, season 11, episode 3), and Drew Terp (Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley, BarMasa in New York City).
“Chefs like it because they can express themselves in ways they often can’t in their restaurants,” Keith said.
“We tell them we have this great kitchen and a club of people who love good food,” Amy said. “You come and cook whatever you want and we’ll do the rest — provide the guests, set up, clean up, serve, everything.
“We rarely have a chef say no.”
From whence sprang this delightful idea? In 2015, the Robinsons moved to Santa Barbara from New York City, didn’t know anyone, and so joined the Santa Barbara Newcomers Club, where Amy immediately got involved with the food groups and Keith with the wine and spirits fans.
When the Newcomers membership time limit expired, the pair didn’t want to give up all that food and wine-based socializing … so they started ESB.
But her passion for cooking, nurtured by her mother, always made its presence felt.
“After a long day at work and a two-hour commute home, all I wanted to do was chop something,” she said.
Keith says the inspiration was deeper than that.
“New York City is a dining-out culture, and that’s where we became foodies,” he said. “But from our first date, Amy made these fantastic dinners.”
A few years after moving to Santa Barbara, and with ESB running smoothly, Amy decided to let Frodo and Bilbo find their own way musically and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education, where they’d let her chop things to her heart’s content.
She graduated in 2020, now a fully accredited chef.
These days she often prepares food for ESB wine events and certain dinners, and also offers her services as a private chef.
“I enjoy making food that’s approachable,” Amy said, “food that communicates that same emotion that a great movie score does.”
On that musical note, Keith added, “At our events, we connect the guests directly with the chef or the wine maker. It’s like going to a concert and sitting right next to your favorite musician on stage, talking to them about what they’re doing.”
If this club has a clubhouse, it’s the Robinsons’ home, where they frequently host events.
“When we first saw this house,” Keith said, “I walked straight through the kitchen to stare at the ocean view.”
Amy didn’t get that far.
“I stopped right at the kitchen,” she said. “I tell people the reason we live here in Santa Barbara is because of this kitchen.”
The Let’s Go Eat Team says: blessings upon whomever designed that kitchen.
It’s sometimes BYO on wine for the dinners, but Keith will never say no if you tell him you forgot yours (or some such story) and ask for a glass of his.
Also, get him to show you his collection of before and after dinner drinks.
Click here for more information about Epicurean Santa Barbara, see upcoming events and join.