July 19, 2016 — Chef Brad Briske, who became known for his farm-forward, fresh and intensely flavorful cuisine at Carmel’s La Balena and Il Grillo and before that, Soquel’s Main Street Garden & Café, will head back to Santa Cruz County this fall to open his own place.
“It’s really a dream,” Briske says of the chance to own and run his own restaurant, and he has big plans for it.
Briske intends to call the restaurant Home — a reference both to the homey vibe he wants to create with the restaurant’s food and atmosphere, as well as the sense of home the Grass Valley native feels in Santa Cruz, where his first child was born and he had some of his most formative cooking experiences.
Briske is also particularly excited about the location of the new restaurant and the concept it will enable him to pursue, but he isn’t disclosing details about the place or his plans until his purchase is completed. Still, devotees of the handmade pastas, fresh-from-the-farm vegetables and house-butchered and slow-cooked meats that he cooks at La Balena and Il Grillo are unlikely to be disappointed.
“We wish Brad all the best and are so happy he was able to find his dream spot,” says Anna Bartolini, who with husband Emanuele opened La Balena in 2012 (and sister restaurant Il Grillo in 2015) with the vision of supporting local organic farms and offering the kind of simple, seasonal handmade food of Emanuele’s childhood in Tuscany, served with the sort of attention to hospitality that Emanuele helped deliver when he worked as a senior manager at Del Posto, the fame
d New York restaurant owned jointly by Mario Batali and Lidia and Joseph Bastianich.
The Bartolinis found what they were looking for in a chef when they met Briske, who was cooking a farm dinner organized by Edible Monterey Bay at Live Earth Farm in Watsonville. Together, Briske and the Bartolinis developed a reputation for exceptional commitment to sourcing ingredients directly from local farms, and in 2014 won Edible Monterey Bay’s reader-selected Best Chef/Best Restaurant Local Hero award.
“We are proud to have had the opportunity to provide and support a space for Brad to grow and explore his role as a chef by allowing him the freedom to express and develop his style of cuisine during his time with us,” Anna Bartolini says.
To replace Briske as lead chef, the Bartolinis will promote Adelfo Barragan, who has been cooking alongside Briske for more than three years and knows the restaurant’s cuisine intimately. He will be assisted by Eva Monreal.
rate their dedication to our philosophy and take pride in the dishes they serve,” Anna Bartolini says, adding that she and Emanuele will assist with menu creation and continue to develop La Balena and Il Grillo’s extensive wine program. Pastry chef Emily Garcia and sommelier Jay Madrid will both take on larger roles.
“We have a solid base of amazing sources for food and are committed to maintaining the quality of ingredients we have been serving with Brad,” Bartolini says. “We believe we operate a restaurant in one of the best places in the world for the ability to find bea
utiful, fresh ingredients year round here in California.”
Diners who realize that Briske butchers his own meat may be surprised to learn that in childhood he became a vegetarian, and by the time he started his culinary training at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute, he was a vegan. Following his studies, he interned at Millennium, the acclaimed vegan restaurant in San Francisco.
After Millennium, he followed fellow Millennium cook Sean Baker to Menlo Park’s Flea Street and later, Santa Cruz’s Gabriella Café. Eventually, Main Street Garden provided Briske with his first chance to join a restaurant as its chef. It was there that Briske (who is no longer a vegetarian) began butchering and cooking whole animals.
It was also at Main Street that Briske served then-Casanova chef John Cox, who was duly impressed and invited Briske to contact him if he ever wanted a job. Briske took Cox up on the offer, but Cox soon left Casanova for Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar and Briske joined the Bartolinis at La Balena.
Briske will remain chef at La Balena until mid-August, and hopes to open his new restaurant by late October.