Dear Montecito: Jakob Hammer
I met Jakob Hammer, son of two of my favorite MUS teachers (Jackie and Kurt Hammer), in second grade. With our diametrically opposed love of Star Wars and Star Trek, Webkinz and Club Penguin, and contradictory opinions about Crocs as footwear, Jakob and I may not have seemed like a natural pairing, but we’ve now been close friends for over half my life.
As far back as I remember, Jakob has been a dedicated visual artist. This took form in doodles, mostly, back during our elementary school days and branched out into game design and acrylic paint as we aged. Given what I knew of this passion, I was surprised when he announced that he planned to pursue the culinary arts. Well, I say surprised, but perhaps skeptical more aptly fits the bill here. In my mind, my friend and I still had the culinary sophistication of our eight-year-old selves, sucking on popsicles after the jog-a-thon. However, my skepticism was quickly put into check after seeing Jakob’s essential reading for his major: textbooks ranging from a digestible pamphlet on “sanitary kitchen practices” all the way to a 750-page monster about meat chemistry; this kid wasn’t messing around. Additionally, since Jakob’s entry into culinary school, I’ve been treated to a few dinners at the Hammer household, and let me tell you, whatever they’re teaching the students at the SBCC Culinary Course, it’s working!
I grew up on Hosmer Lane, going to school at the YMCA and then MUS. Even though my family and I moved to Carpinteria and then Goleta, I’ve always felt connected to Montecito – not only because my mom is a teacher at MUS – but because of how many best friends I met there.
Starting at MUS, I gravitated towards art and creative writing – anything that would let me make stuff. After that, I was homeschooled, which gave me the freedom to more deeply explore these and to consider which of my interests I’d end up studying in college. Game design, concept art, architecture, writing, and culinary arts were all, at one point, my career path of choice. As of right now, I’m a Culinary Arts student at SBCC set to graduate next year. I still set aside time for art classes and the occasional writing project (mostly in the form of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns for friends and family), but the majority of my time is dedicated to the SBCC kitchens, located below the cafeteria.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours split between the bakeshop, lab kitchen, and student-run cafe, and I’m incredibly fond of these spaces as well as the people who learn and teach in them. This semester I was enrolled in the Advanced Restaurant class where a dedicated cadre of my peers and I worked together to open a restaurant, bringing the menu to life ourselves. The beginning was rocky, but we quickly got in the swing of running a gourmet restaurant. Open on Thursday and Friday nights, we served a four-course menu featuring dishes such as green tea-smoked quail salad, corn custard empanadas with mezcal ice cream, and Chinese beef noodle soup. One of my personal favorites on the menu was the farro salad which was a delightful combination of farro, sauteed mushrooms, corn, carrots, and peas, with a buttermilk feta dressing.
I was devastated when, like most restaurants, we had to close our doors due to COVID-19. My classmates and I spent the remainder of our semester talking shop over Zoom and plotting to open a food truck. In the process of coming up with dishes for the restaurant, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my favorite meals and food memories, many of which are centered in Montecito. It was a welcome surprise when my friend Stella asked me to write a letter reflecting on my hometown.
I have great memories of walking with my brother to get sandwiches from John’s or going to Pierre Lafond with my aunt for madeleines and an Orangina. I took my first cooking class after school at MUS – I think it was second or third grade? Often when I cook now or theory-craft recipes in my head, I’m trying to evoke that same kind of comfort and indulgence I felt in those spaces as a kid. I would spend countless hours playing at Manning Park with my friends, acting out our own imaginary stores. All that time dedicated to play is why I think it got stuck in my head that all I had to do was find a way to play for my living, then I’d be set! And I’m still determined to figure it out.
My first job was at Jeannine’s Bakery where I’ve worked on and off for the past couple years, getting a taste of the exacting dedication to the community that it takes to be a local institution for so long. I’ve gotten a chance to work at each of the locations (even briefly as a cake decorator at the Montecito shop). And just a block away from there is Scoops, home of a wonderful pistachio gelato which I would often indulge in after work. I probably frequented the ice cream shop more than strictly necessary, but as a cook, I’m legally allowed to write it off as research. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I find myself in Montecito from time to time, usually when I’m helping out in my mom’s classroom or visiting friends. I’m always struck by how small it is and how much the community cares for each other.
The global pandemic has hit my routine like a truck and it’s been strange being suddenly inundated with free time after spending nearly all my time at school, in between, or working (procrastinating) on homework. Old hobbies are coming back into my life vying for my attention. I feel a bit of pressure to be productive and efficient with my time, but I’m trying to be patient with myself and stay in touch with the part of me that has always found joy in making things for their own sake. My friends and I are sporadically collaborating on comic ideas and video games, and I’m continuing to study whatever I find interesting at the moment; I’m currently lost somewhere deep in the YouTube rabbit hole devoted to coffee.
I’m thinking more and more about the future as I get closer to graduating from college. Travel is definitely in the books, but mostly I plan to find a place to work where I like the food and the people making it. Beyond that, I’ve been thinking increasingly about the sort of spaces I like to spend time in. Ones that have good food and encourage a healthy sort of laziness where you feel comfortable sitting for hours drawing or chatting with friends. Fireplaces and board games come to mind as well as fantastic coffee and fresh bread. I want to eventually open a cafe, serving hours from 6 am to 12 am, featuring everything from delicious gelato to whole baked fish. It’s probably a bad idea given how many restaurants fail, but as is tradition, I’m going to try anyway.