Restaurant dishes

The longtime former General Manager of Restaurant Sierra Mar is preparing a new life, as a teacher and author. | Eat + Drink

When a Santa Barbara wine industry luminary calls and says she’s bringing Julia Child for dinner, there’s a certain amount of action that takes place. It’s a state of being that former Sierra Mar CEO Wanda Straw describes as “hyper alert.”

That call came in 2001, and Thekla Sanford, one of the founders of Sanford Winery & Vineyards, was online. Straw worked in the wine department a few evenings a week, in addition to management, so the team quickly thought through and developed a strategy.

“I had a few other prominent people there that night,” Straw recalls. “Julia and Thekla came in and sat in a cubicle and Julia said,” Wanda, I want you to choose a good wine for us. “”

The straw went with a Burgundy (“reasonably priced,” she says) that was of a certain age. She introduced it to the table, opened it and Child didn’t really answer. And then she did.

“Julia says, ‘Hmm, I don’t know,’” Straw said. “I said, ‘He’s about 10, let’s give him a few minutes to open up.’ And Julia said, ‘Wanda, I don’t think it’s there, I don’t think it’s good.’ “

Three more bottles were opened – “I kept making more expensive ones because I wanted to make her happy,” Straw says, and just as quickly dismissed. Then Straw pulled out a big, juicy pinot noir, gave Child a taste, and got the response she was expecting, “She says,” Oh, that’s delicious. “”

And these beautiful opened bottles returned to the wine cellar, to then be shared with the owners of the restaurant at the time, Tony and Tricia Perault.

The kid, meanwhile, returned the next morning and had a cheeseburger for breakfast.

After 19 years at Sierra Mar, including 16 as Managing Director, Straw decided the change was needed. The change: Quit catering, write books, consult and teach. The straw spoke to the Weekly about this change.

Weekly: How did you come to Monterey County?

Straw: I worked for a company that did media for defense contracts, and I came here because we were trying to get the contract for the Defense Language Institute. I never wanted to live in California, but they picked me up in a convertible and drove me down Highway 1 and as we drove past Santa Cruz I said, “I have to get this contract. . Then they wanted me to move to Maryland. My brother had been killed in a car accident and I was working to death without taking care of him. I took a leap of faith and left. It was in 1989.

What happened after?

Someone suggested that I work in a restaurant like I did in college, and I went to Flaherty as a waiter and manager. Then the Peraults called. I walked into the restaurant to the window of table 15 and you could see 70 miles from the coast and thought, “I could do this for a year.” Then 19 years passed.

What are some of your fondest memories of Sierra Mar?

Sean Parker’s wedding in 2013 – it was wow. Two weeks before we get a call saying he wants to have this cinematic experience – it’s a Game Of Thrones nobody, and he wants a viewing and a truffle pizza, all of those different things. That night was amazing. It was the Red Wedding episode, and they watched it outside after their wedding.

Why did you finally leave?

In 2014 I had a birthday and did the math of my life. I couldn’t take a vacation anymore because we were so busy. I was completely exhausted. It was never: ‘Today was an easy day.’

How did you come to work at Rancho Cielo?

A neighbor suggested that I volunteer there and they hired me part time to run the hospitality program. I was like, what am I doing here? I don’t know how to talk to teenagers. But I said, I’m just going to be myself and if they have my sense of humor they get it.

One thing is to teach them to have an intention. I showed them how to polish silverware and I said, we have to pretend that we are paid by the piece and not by the hour. They like to be pushed. They like to learn. I came to really love him. Most are just showing up.

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