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. These may seem like ambitious goals for a 25-year-old chef from Santa Maria, but Gomez is confident for good reason. Not only is he making 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 Barbara County’s first Michelin stars – but Gomez is turning street-style 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 actually having a good time while 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 dinner service, there’s a pervasive air of subtle perfectionism, from meticulous interior design and precise menu descriptions down to every carefully spaced spoon and fork. One might imagine a restaurant that whips out a ruler to measure every place setting would leave little room for creativity, but that’s not the case. “We’re always talking about what we can do better, what we can do differently, and we’re constantly pushing each other to try something new,” he said.
That’s a good fit for Gomez, who’s been “switching it up” for years. After graduating from Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria, he went straight into the Art Institute’s culinary program in Santa Monica but dropped out after five months in 2015. Still just 18 years old, he started working full-time at Fishing with Dynamite, a seafood joint in Manhattan Beach run by Michelin-starred Water Grill veteran David LeFevre.
Also in the kitchen was Brad Mathews, now the executive chef and co-owner of BLC, who quickly noticed Gomez’s focused determination and cool confidence. But Gomez would work at Baran’s 2239 in Hermosa Beach and rise to executive chef at 1865 Crafthouse and Kitchen in San Luis Obispo before he came into the Bell’s fold in 2020. When it was time to staff up for BLC, hiring Gomez was an easy choice for Mathews.
Amid all the mentors he’s found in the restaurant business, Gomez points to his mother, Maria de Los Angeles Gomez, as the inspiration for Gomez y Gomez. “As a single mother, tacos were a festive and affordable way to make a large meal for a family gathering,” he explained.
When Gomez was 21 years old, he helped his mom get a permanent United States residence, and that opened the door for him to visit her native land of Mexico for the first time. Trips to Loreto, Zacatecas, gave Gomez a true taste of 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 serves just three items: street tacos of varying flavors, Estrella Jalisco beer, and harda crunchy snack made of puffed wheat that’s similar to chicharrones. Past pop-ups have featured squash with soyrizo, steak, and other flavors, but the signature taco is called a dial, a style popular in the border towns of 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. The meat rations and types vary, so the cooking method is key, producing taco fillings that vary in texture and flavor: tender and chunky, rich and savory, with moments of spicy, sweet, and salty, like a warm chutney wrapped up in each bite.
The pop-ups, which tend to sell out within hours of starting, are leaving an influential mark on the wine country hub of Los Olivos, bringing Mexican comfort food into a town that’s traditionally lacking much diversity. They’re cross-cultural mashups of skin colors and classes, and a bit of fusion too, as patrons order fine wines off of the BLC list to pair with their hard and dials.
Although these events sport a vibe somewhere between backyard barbecue and family reunion, Gomez is struggling to find community outside of his 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 going to events is difficult. 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 as though I am in a foreign land in Solvang,” said Gomez of where he lives, even though it’s just a half hour from 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 while regaining his grin. “Our team at Bar Le Côte is like a family.”
On top of BLC and the pop-ups, Gomez is starting to cater to private events, including a recent birthday for winemaker Drake Whitcraft, who was an early supporter of Guerrilla Tacos founder Wes Avila, now a superstar chef. It’s hard to imagine that 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 restaurants, and I love the family we have,” said Gomez. “Honestly, I’m just thankful to be doing what I love.”
Gomez loves sneakers, sporting different pairs frequently at work and sometimes changing several times in an evening. “We are on our feet for sometimes 16 hours a day,” he said. “You never want to wear the same shoes for that long.”
For Work: “My most-worn pair for work are my Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Citrine Non-Reflectives. I usually wear these at the start of my shift. They are beat-up and so comfortable. Sometimes I’ll switch it up and wear Vans. My Birkenstock clogs are classic kitchen shoes and what I wear toward the end of my shift. ”
For Going Out: “My Sean Wotherspoon Jiminy Crickets or Yeezy Desert Boots, for sure. But I’m also a big fan of The Ten from Off-White by Virgil Abloh, pretty much all the Pharrell shoes, and a classic Air Force 1. ”
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