Chef Gunnar Planter of the Mar Monte Hotel in Santa Barbara
Chef Gunnar Planter’s culinary background dates back to childhood – when he cooked breakfast in bed for his parents – and moved to restaurants soon after, starting with Mille Fleurs, Rancho’s foodie hotspot Santa Fe, when he was only 16 years old. Sixteen years later, Planter is in charge of the kitchens at the Mar Monte Hotel on the Santa Barbara waterfront, preparing Italian-leaning cuisine at the Costa Kitchen & Bar in the evenings and all-day fare for beachside enjoyment. the swimming pool at Café Lido. He tells us more below.
Respect for the mentor: Planter was trained by longtime Mille Fleurs chef Martin Woesle, once recognized as the region’s top chef by the James Beard Foundation. “He taught me the French techniques that are the basis of most modern cuisine,” Planter said. “He is still a good mentor and a friend of mine. He comes to visit all the restaurants where I work.
Far from home: This is Planter’s first time living outside of San Diego County. “I’ve lived all over San Diego, from Ocean Beach to Oceanside, but I’m 32 and this is my first time leaving the county,” Planter said. After seven years at Mille Fleurs – during which he earned a degree in culinary arts and business management from the Art Institute – he learned international cuisine and ‘giving customers what they want’ at the club private university in downtown San Diego, then practiced the restaurant game in the hotel at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, just across from Woesle. More recently, he opened Viewpoint Brewing in Del Mar and Ebullition Brew Works in Carlsbad, a steakhouse and brewery concept where he remains a minor partner.
Quick Fish: Planter loves how easy it is to get fresh fish in Santa Barbara. “Even though we had a lot of fish in San Diego, it’s a lot bigger,” he said of that market. “If you hadn’t ordered the day before, the chances of getting something the next day were pretty slim. Whereas here they prefer you to call them in the morning.
Respect for small towns: “Everything is five or 10 minutes away,” said Planter, who lives near De la Guerra and Garden, close to the State Street stage and his work. “I really didn’t understand how small this town was until I moved here.”
Menu highlights: Planter took over in January from chef Nathan Lingle, who opened Costa as an Italian restaurant with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, then stayed on for about a year. (He now appears to be roasting coffee in Ventura.) “I was able to make my mark on the menu pretty quickly,” Planter said. He’s looking to launch a massive program of dry-aged steaks — there’s a 30-day New York with bone marrow right now — but is equally proud of dishes like squid ink linguine and clams with United butter and snow peas.
The Lido also: It spreads its wings at the Lido, where everyone can feast on crispy masala prawns, harissa-crusted lamb chops or salmon niçoise salad. “We’re really focused on Costa,” Planter said, “but Lido is our little surprise.”
Defeat invisibility: “If you’re not staying at our hotel, it’s hard to really know we’re there because we’re hidden — we don’t have a huge sign that says we’re a restaurant,” Planter said. “But once people find out about it, we get a lot of repeat customers from locals. Once they come, they come back. We’re trying to shift that perception from a hotel to a great restaurant.
1111 E. Cabrillo Boulevard; (805) 882-1234; marmontehotel.com
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