Meet Sergei Simonov, Loquita’s new chef

It’s only been about six months since Sergei Simonov started leading the Loquita kitchen as a chef, but it already feels like 10 years. “This summer we did the biggest business since the opening of the restaurant,” says Simonov, who tells more about his circular culinary journey below.

Tutored by Jason Paluska: Simonov moved from the Bay Area to culinary school at Santa Barbara City College in 2011, then landed a job as a sous chef at The Lark under executive chef Jason Paluska. “I still call him about things like how to cost a dish,” Simonov said of his mentor. “He taught me from A to Z, not just the flavor profile and flavor.” He still borrows from Paluska’s plating style and love for pickled elements.

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

From big city to small screen, a decade at The Lark made Simonov yearn for new challenges, so he moved to San Diego to work as an executive sous chef at Herb & Wood, the flagship of Brian Malarkey’s 15 restaurants. As a finalist on Top Chef All StarsMalarkey woke up the showman in Simonov, who arrived at the dessert round Chopped Next Gen. He can only vaguely talk about an in-the-can Netflix cooking competition show he’s on that should air later this year. “The shows mimic the fast pace the kitchen already is and teach you creativity very quickly,” said Simonov, who wants to do more TV. “top chef would be a dream.”

Staying Local: His stay in San Diego taught him the importance of staying local, especially in seafood. “We want to offer a uniquely Californian product that still has the Spanish influence,” he said of the Loquita formula, noting the great flavors of the restaurant’s red oak grill. He is particularly proud of a current menuster, a yellowtail crudo from the Channel Islands.

Young for Exec Chef: Simonov is Loquita’s fourth chef in six years and he plans to stay. “I want to make this a shining star in Santa Barbara, more than it already is,” says Simonov, admitting the transition to boss can be challenging. “Cooking is easy,” he said. “It’s all management and dealing with people and numbers that I’m learning.”

Elevating Everywhere: Hoping to do it all, from brunch to off-site events to Dining at Sea, Simonov sees many opportunities in the two sides of Spanish cuisine: the Michelin-starred gourmet palaces and the humble home food, for starters with pan con tomate. “The future of Spanish cuisine is to elevate these humble ingredients and dishes into something bigger,” he said. “That’s what we’re good at at Loquita.”

State Street 202, 805-880-3380,

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or one-off contribution.

Leave a Comment