ORCUTT, Calif. - From the outside, it may not look like anything new is going on. The old sign for the Jetty is still up. But when you step inside the renovated interior of 135 East Foster Road in Orcutt, you'll realize this place is just what you've been missing. For the chef, it was the customers.
"I feel blessed," chef Rick Manson said, "Seeing the joy they have that we're up and running again."
Chef Rick's Ultimately Fine Foods marks the return of the popular chef who opened his first restaurant in the area in 1989.
"I love the work," Manson said. "I love cooking."
Manson never stopped cooking for a living, but it's been a while since he's had a place to call his own. Manson closed his original Orcutt restaurant in 2011 and became executive chef at the Far Western Tavern and ran a catering business. The new place opened in May, and the word is out.
"They're coming from San Diego. They heard about us in Los Angeles," Manson said. "Just like the old days."
Locals love it, too. John Stone finished a bowl of gumbo on a recent afternoon.
"Everything I've had here has been amazing. The shrimp quesadilla is excellent. I've had the (Mexican Patty Melt) sandwich. I don't want to talk too much," Stone joked, "or my wife will know I'm eating here too much."
His dining companion tried to cover for him.
"Great food," Angelo Naemi said. "We come here once a week. Not with John, though."
When you run restaurants for the better part of three decades, you forge a countless number of relationships. In the dining room, Manson stopped and chatted with a man who worked for him as an 18 year old in 1998. The man brought in his family and young child for lunch.
We here at KCOY have known Manson for just as long. He was a fixture on our newscasts with his humorous and popular cooking segments.
The artists whose work is displayed on the walls of the restaurant are old friends of the chef. Their creations add to the flavor of the dishes that are inspired by Southern sensibilities blended with Southern California, Southwest, and South American flavors.
Manson got started as a chef at the age of 20 at the King and Prince Hotel on St. Simon's Island Georgia, where he would work for a decade.
"I learned from some great cooks in that kitchen," Manson said. " Southern cuisine. Low country cuisine. That's where I start. I really like it. I love eating that food."
He is not the only one.
Chef Rick's Ultimately Fine Foods is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. There are no reservations. Manson says the signs outside will be changing soon.