Luis Gomez of Bar Le Côte prepares cultural comfort food

THE SMILING CHEF: Luis Gomez is still smiling even though he’s so busy working in the kitchen at Bar Le Côte, running a taco pop-up called Gomez y Gomez, and looking for community in the Santa Ynez Valley. | Credit: John Troxell @troxphotos

Within two years, he’ll master his role at Bar Le Côte, where he now works in Los Olivos, and then open his own brick-and-mortar business. Those goals may seem ambitious for a 25-year-old chef from Santa Maria, but Gomez is confident for good reason. Not only did he make a name for himself as the youngest member of the kitchen team at Bar Le Côte – the second restaurant opened by the owners of Bell’s in Los Alamos, winner of one of Santa County’s first Michelin stars Barbara – but Gomez turns street tacos into sold-out pop-ups under the name Gomez y Gomez.

Despite working up to 12 hour days at BLC, Gomez remains enthusiastic about his chosen career. “We’re an accumulation of like-minded people who are passionate about what we do,” he explained, “and having a great time doing it.”

While BLC is simply described as a “seafood tavern”, the operation is a tightly controlled, well-oiled machine. Beneath the cool, calm exterior of the table service, there’s an all-pervading air of subtle perfectionism, from the meticulous interior decorating and precise menu descriptions down to every carefully spaced spoon and fork. You would imagine that a restaurant that pulls out a ruler to measure each place setting would leave little room for creativity, but that is not the case. “We’re always talking about what we can do better, what we can do differently, and we’re constantly pushing ourselves to try something new,” he said.

It’s a good choice for Gomez, who has been “changing” for years. After graduating from Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, he entered directly into the culinary program at the Art Institute of Santa Monica, but dropped out after five months in 2015. At just 18, he started working full-time at Fishing with Dynamite, a Manhattan Beach seafood restaurant run by Michelin-starred Water Grill veteran David LeFevre.

Also in the kitchen was Brad Mathews, now executive chef and co-owner of BLC, who was quick to notice Gomez’s focused determination and cold confidence. But Gomez would work at 2239 de Baran in Hermosa Beach and become an executive chef at 1865 Crafthouse and Kitchen in San Luis Obispo before coming into the Bell fold in 2020. When it came time to recruit for BLC, hiring Gomez was an easy choice. . for Matthew.

Of all the mentors he has found in the restaurant industry, Gomez singles out his mother, Maria de Los Angeles Gomez, as the inspiration for Gomez y Gomez. “As a single mom, tacos were a festive and affordable way to make a big meal for a family reunion,” he explained.

When Gomez was 21, he helped his mother obtain permanent residence in the United States, which opened the door for him to visit his native country of Mexico for the first time. Trips to Loreto, Zacatecas gave Gomez real insight into his family’s heritage, and those lessons became strong influences in the food he serves today.

Gomez y Gomez, which he runs with sous chef Jose Gomez (no relation), typically only serves three dishes: street tacos in assorted flavors, Estrella Jalisco beer and tougha crunchy snack made from puffed wheat that looks like chicharrones. Past pop-ups have featured squash with soyrizo, bistec, and other flavors, but the signature taco is called a discada, a style popular in border towns in northern Mexico. It involves cooking a mixture of meats – usually pork and beef, but everything from bacon and hot dogs to ham and steak – in a giant metal disc over an open flame. Rations and types of meat vary, so the method of cooking is key, producing taco fillings that vary in texture and flavor: tender and thick, rich and savory, with spicy, sweet and savory moments, like a chutney. warm wrapped in every bite.

Credit: John Troxell @troxphotos

The pop-ups, which tend to sell out within hours of starting, are leaving an influential mark on the Los Olivos wine hub, bringing Mexican comfort food to a city that has traditionally lacked diversity. These are cross-cultural mashups of skin tones and classes, and a bit of a fusion too, as customers order fine wines from the BLC list to pair with their tough and discadas.

While these events have a vibe somewhere between backyard barbecue and family reunion, Gomez struggles to find a community outside of her pop-ups. “When you work in a restaurant, it’s hard to make friends outside of the industry,” he said. “We work nights and weekends, so it’s hard to go to events. Especially in a small town like Los Olivos, there isn’t much to do other than wine tasting.

For a brief moment, his smile disappeared. “To be honest, I almost feel like I’m in a foreign country in Solvang,” Gomez said of where he lives, even though it’s only half an hour away. his hometown. “In LA, there was a lot more diversity and so much to do on my days off.” But he’s making an effort, he explained, regaining his smile. “Our team at Bar Le Côte is like a family.

In addition to BLC and pop-ups, Gomez is starting to host private events, including a recent birthday party for winemaker Drake Whitcraft, who was an early supporter of Guerrilla Tacos founder Wes Avila, now a superstar chef. . It’s hard to imagine Gomez would have the energy to do more, but he’s ready.

“I love where I live in Solvang, I love my job, I love the people I work with, I love the restaurants and I love the family we have,” Gomez said. “Honestly, I’m just grateful to do what I love.”

shoe fanatic

Gomez loves sneakers, frequently wearing different pairs to work and sometimes changing multiple times in one night. “We’re up sometimes 16 hours a day,” he said. “You never want to wear the same shoes for so long.”

For work: “My most worn pair to work is my Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Citrin Non-Reflectives. I usually wear them at the start of my shift. They are beat up and so comfortable. Sometimes I change it and wear Vans. My Birkenstock clogs are classic kitchen shoes and what I wear towards the end of my shift.

To exit: “My Sean Wotherspoon Jiminy Crickets or Yeezy Desert Boots, of course. But I’m also a big fan of Virgil Abloh’s The Ten from Off-White, almost every Pharrell shoe, and a classic Air Force 1.

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