Paul Cocking Gabriella Cafe Santa Cruz
Dining Reviews

Looking Back on Gabriella Cafe’s 25 Years in Santa Cruz

Gabriella Cafe turns 25, plus a celebration for Live Earth’s Farm Discovery Program

Owner Paul Cocking opened Gabriella—named after his daughter—a quarter-century ago.

Twenty-five years ago, Paul Cocking gathered together a team of young foodies, eclectic produce from local growers, and a funky hand-printed menu and opened Gabriella Café, to the delight of everyone within eating distance. With founding chef Jim Denevan in the kitchen, Cocking played host to what over the years has become a part-salon, part-living-room, all-romantic destination for flavors of the season transformed into award-winning cuisine. Still holding down the front table with his omnipresent Times, laptop, and bowl of pasta, Cocking is justly proud of the landmark dining room named for his daughter.

A showcase for local artists, writers, winemakers, and raconteurs, Gabriella has been an incubator for top chefs, including Denevan (Outstanding in the Field), Rebecca King (Garden Variety Cheese), Sean Baker (Gather), Jessica Yarr (Assembly) and Brad Briske (Home). A fixture at local farmers markets, Cocking flexes his social networking skills every weekend while combing the stalls for something fresh for his current chef, Gema Cruz, to transform into the next menu. Last week, her gifts were applied to a spectacular dish of tagliatelle with fresh porcini that had me wishing I were a much larger woman.

Always the mentor to can-do talent, Cocking currently shows off the handiwork of his in-house pastry chef Krista Pollock with seasonal desserts such as earthy persimmon pudding with pomegranate seeds and pumpkin seed brittle. From the beginning, Gabriella developed close relationships with top winemakers—Randall Grahm and Steve Storrs often unveiled wines within the restaurant’s three tiny dining rooms—and organic farmers like Orin Martin who were given an open door to demystify their homegrown specialties.

From the start, the wines-by-the-glass menu allowed visitors and locals to graze our local terroir. And the menu has always acknowledged its primary sources of produce, Live Earth and Route 1 farms. It’s not a stretch to suggest that Gabriella was key in the diaspora of the organic, local, and seasonal cooking that came to define not only California cuisine, but New American cooking today. The salons on first Tuesdays add a seasoning of political, literary, and history-laced conversation, and the restaurant’s intimate charm expands with live music the middle of every week. The fact that I had my tonsils taken out long ago in this Mediterranean-style suite has only increased my enjoyment of Gabriella through all its chefs. The secret to these 25 years remains its wise and amiable founder, a man who does it all from waiting tables to making coffee to visiting each group of guests with a personal welcome and a juicy spot of gossip. Thanks, Paul, for all the delicious memories!


Lúpulo Celebrates

The Farm Discovery program at Live Earth Farm invites kids and families to learn about life on a farm, and get close to the living network between nature, farming and food. Remember the first time you saw animals up close on a farm? These are experiences that can open eyes and change lives. So it’s a pretty big deal that the Farm Discovery program has opened up Live Earth farm for 10 years, welcoming thousands of young people and their families to visit. Join the board and staff of this program on Thursday, Dec. 14 starting at 6 p.m. at Lúpulo Craft Beer House for a 10th anniversary celebration and Holiday Party. Stop by and be on board with the year-end fund drive—Lúpulo will donate 10 percent of the proceeds on Dec. 14 to help fund next year’s farm program.

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