Jessica Yarr and the team at Assembly in Santa Cruz
Dining Reviews

New Chef For Assembly

Jessica Yarr becomes new executive chef at Assembly, and John Locke leaves Soif for Birichino Wines

Jessica Yarr, the new executive chef at Assembly, says she wants her menu to appeal to millennials. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER

Tapped to become Executive Chef at the evolving Assembly restaurant, Jessica Yarr—barely into her 30s—enjoys a substantial resumé of local establishments that includes Gabriella Cafe, Theo’s, River Café and most recently Mint in Scotts Valley. Pastry has long been a specialty of the mother of three, and for the past seven months Yarr has managed the pastry chef program at The Penny Ice Creamery. Yarr says she felt an instant kinship with Assembly/Penny co-owner Kendra Baker.

“She was also a woman chef with small children, so I felt good about that,” says Yarr. “I was happy to join their team.”

Once onboard, Yarr began working with the many Penny/Assembly events. “I became Kendra’s go-to for events. I did two Outstanding in the Fields, a Live Earth Farm, and a Route One dinner,” and plenty of farmers market pop-ups, she says. “They knew I was more interested in full-service restaurant work, and they asked me to be Executive Chef at Assembly.”
Yarr is already getting the lay of the land. “It’s busy in unpredictable ways,” she says. “It’s huge, and it’s a challenge.” But, she says, she intends to give it her best, and “to see what I can bring to this role. It’s a definite step forward and up from what I’ve done in the past.”

The new chef wants to attract “a real diversity, especially some younger patrons.” Yarr acknowledges that the sheer size of the restaurant, developed by business partners Zach Davis and Kendra Baker, cuts into a sense of comfort that some patrons seek.

“We need to be targeting millennials. They work hard for their money, and they want quality foods that are good values. People who go to gastropubs, who are interested in fermented and artisan foods,” she says. Yarr believes that the Baker/Davis presence has already elevated the local food scene. “Now the restaurant is the last piece that needs to be polished,” she says.

As far as new menu design, Yarr chuckles that her job is to “compete with the burger,”  Assembly’s popular signature. “Accessible food, but food that they can’t do at home,” she explains. “I would like to work on fermented, sprouted, crafted foods. More in-house condiments. I’m not there yet. I have to wrap my brain around the beast first.”

We can’t wait to taste what Yarr can do with such an ambitious kitchen. assembly.restaurant.


Swing Shift at Soif Wine

John Locke, for years the red-haired oeno-savant at Soif, has exited the building to devote himself fulltime to Birichino, the wine brand he partners with Alex Krause. A brick and mortar tasting room is being conceived as we speak. This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that Locke gets to reinvent himself yet again, after years as the savant conspirator with Randall Grahm on the infamous newsletter and other linguistic hijinks. And, after shaping and styling the wine inventory, the wine events, and the seemingly limitless wine lore offered to Soif patrons over the past 10 years, Locke will turn his talents to developing his own stable of Birichino wines. The other good news is that “two weeks ago, we/they hired a gentleman named Brett Tebo to work with Alyssa [Twelker] on the wine programs,” he says. Locke feels that with a substantial Bay Area wine resumé Tebo “will make a great addition and a needed fresh pair of eyes. My admiration for Alyssa is immense. Few realize what a prodigy she really is. I am sure she will shine in this new arrangement,” says Locke. The bad news is that Soif regulars will lose the mercurial and impish presence of Locke’s seemingly endless wine expertise. Change happens. Stay tuned.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in journalism, painting, music, woodworking, winetasting, trail running, reiki, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir.

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