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Friday, October 24, 2008

Chocolate De Vine Anyone?

By Silvia Uribe


"Chocolate is like love - a sweet release that lightens the spirit," a friend told me as a truffle was slowly dissolving in her mouth. "Dark chocolate, however, is like good sex - exciting, strong and delicious." You may add your own definition of chocolate, and also enjoy a delicious tasting opportunity with your friends. Now, in the unthinkable (to me) possibility that you are less of a chocolate lover and more of a wine person, you'll be elated too. Yes, I've found an event that combines both chocolate and wine tasting at its best.

But before going into the details of the event, here's a very brief background on these two products:

* The cacao is a tree which seeds can be processed into chocolate. The first people known to have made chocolate beverage were the ancient cultures of Mexico, mainly the Maya and Aztec 250-900 A.D. The flavor of this drink was a little spicy then, but later the Spanish conquistadors took the seeds to Spain where other flavors, and sugar were added making it widely accepted. Because the cacao was imported and expensive, chocolate became a symbol of wealth and power in Europe. It was not until the 19th century that the mass production of chocolate started.

* The wine's history goes far back, 6000 to 5,000 B.C. and according to archeologists, evidence suggests that Georgia and Iran were the first places that produced it. 6,500 years ago, wine production started in Europe, in what was known as Macedonia. Time after, it became very common in Greece and Rome. Wine was forbidden in certain cultures during medieval times, but it got widely accepted later. It was not until after 1870 that growing regions were established throughout the world.

Now, back to our main point. Here's what you'll be in for at the event. Be prepared to find several of our local chefs coming together to put their skills at work by creating not only silky and delicious, but also artistic pieces of chocolate that will be competing for our nomination for the best chocolate in town. Yes, we'll be asked to vote on "The People's Choice Award." Other categories that will be judged are "Best Table Top Presentation", and "Best Flavor Appeal". Also, the area vintners will present their world-renowned wines for us to sample.

This is like a dream come true for those of us who like to indulge our palates!

But that's not all! If you're also a risk taker go-getter, you'll be in heaven. You'll find the live auction, conducted by professional auctioneer John Glines, irresistible. We'll be bidding on no less than a) a one week stay in Spain at a house at the beach or in the mountains, your choice, b) a one week stay at a luxurious condo at a Colorado ski resort, which includes maid service, a land rover to take you places, and other amenities, and c) a trip to Catalina Island in a private plane.

Now, if you are extremely conscientious, you might be considering the extra calorie ingestion. Don't even think about it because you'll easily burn those calories at the dance floor, with the Latino rhythms and beats of local band "Somos Son" - my feet are moving already - that will provide the entertainment.

Thanks to the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, its generous donors, and its laborious volunteers, "Chocolate De Vine" is a dream event come true. Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 8th at 5:30 p.m. at Carriage & Western Art Museum, 129 Castillo St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. Don't miss it! It is without a doubt an event to enjoy, and at the same time, a chance to support a good cause. For ticket information you can call 805-963-6832.

Count me in!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Conversation with El Sitio's Jose and Sanjua Gil

Silvia Uribe Talks with the Successful Restaurateurs on Family, Work, and Food

By Silvia Uribe

I've known Jose and Sanjua for a few years. I've always admired them not only for their success as entrepreneurs, but mainly for their family values and for their humbleness. But don't get me wrong: This interview was not an easy one to get. They finally agreed to it, but in exchange, I had to accept a dinner at their home. Being the devoted writer that I am, I said yes.

Once at the dinner table, the conversation flowed as the roasted lamb garnished with veggies and rice, and the salsa, guacamole, and tortillas were quickly disappearing.

First, we spoke about the business's name. "El Sitio," in Spanish, means the "place, the site." El Sitio is also a town located in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, "where we were born and raised," Jose and Sanjua proudly said. However, in Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista we identify "El Sitio" as the place where we can go for lunch or dinner, and enjoy great Mexican food without going out of our budget.

Jose started by telling me that he arrived in Santa Barbara in 1971, and Sanjua, his then fiancee, arrived in 1979 to get married and established. From the beginning, they knew they were here to prosper and create a future for themselves and their future family, but never in a million years would they have imagined what they have so far accomplished.

"My parents were poor, very poor farmers who grew corn and beans. As the oldest son of 13 children, I helped my father with planting and harvesting." Jose said. It is with humbleness that Jose explained that "in the old days we didn't have tractors. One of us would be guiding the horse that carried the plow, while the other one went behind covering the seeds," he remembered.

Once in Santa Barbara, Jose's first business was gardening while Sanjua got a job at the production line at CUI Corporation. For this young couple, hard work and saving were their creeds. "We worked really hard. I worked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. When Sanjua came back home from work, she did the bookkeeping and accounting for our business. She's always been good with numbers."

By Silvia Uribe

Sanjua and Jose Gil.

Another thing that Sanjua was very good at, was cooking. "I've been cooking since I was six years old, and I've always loved it. I'm good at it!" she said, her eyes lighting up with joy. Her 13-year-old daughter Ivette corroborated with an enthusiastic nod and an ample smile.

Both Jose and Sanjua knew that this particular skill was a gold mine, but it would take them years to tap into it. In 1990, they open their first restaurant on Salinas Street. Jose scratched his head as he told me, "It was not an easy thing, by any means. It took us eight long months and the good will, patience, and guidance of our business landlord, Mr. Fred Winters, to bring our dream to reality. We didn't know where to start or how to go about permits; plus we didn't have the money, but Mr. Winters believed in us." Sanjua said she can't forget that their family and friends opposed the Salinas Street location. "Everyone suggested either State Street or Milpas, instead. We didn't pay attention. Jose and I intuitively knew that the food would attract the people, so we went for it."

After the Salinas location got accredited, the Fairview branch opened in 1994, and then in 1996 the next El Sitio opened at the Ralph's shopping center on De la Vina Street. They didn't stop there. In 2001, it was the one on Calle Real, on the northwestern part of Goleta, followed by the Isla Vista location, in 2004.

Even longtime fans of El Sitio may not know that the restaurant will soon open its doors in Ventura as well. "It is a great location, at 2771 N. Ventura Ave., and we hope to have it ready in the next couple of months," said Jose. But he warns anyone thinking of following a similar route that they should not think that the job of a restaurateur is an easy business or that money will be made immediately. "It takes a long time of reinvesting your profits before you can take any money out," he said. "But God has allowed us to live free of financial pressures now, and have some extra cash to help others."

Jose and Sanjua were reluctant to talk more about their charitable contributions, but it is well known that they frequently give to organizations in the community by donating food for nonprofit events, for school functions, for children's sports, and for other causes. "Let's just say that it is our way to give back to this wonderful community," Jose said. "People have given us a lot, and we feel good giving to others."

My conversation with Jose and Sanjua also centered around their children: Ivette and Pepe, 15, who was at a football practice during out dinner. They are two very impressive youths, not only because they are well-mannered, but also because they are excellent students who proudly carry their family's cultural heritage. "It was Dad's 55th birthday, and I wrote him a letter," Ivette told me as we were eating our dessert.

She allowed me to share its ending. "Even though we're from different eras, and we're sometimes on a different page, I admire you. Your siblings, my aunts and uncles, are grand for their education, but you're grand for your perseverance. You never give up! This is what I love the most about you, and it is a great example for me to follow. You're the best father on the face of the earth. I love you."

Yes, family and their love for one another are the most important things for the Gils. Their home has two decorative themes: hearts and roses. These can be found on the steps, on the shape of their chairs, carved into the chimney mantel and on the benches next to the pool, hanging on the walls, decorating the bathroom, and on the floor mats. Unless you're very observant, you wouldn't notice them, but there they are. Why? Sanjua has the explanation: "Red roses and a heart charm were the two presents that Jose gave me when we became boyfriend and girlfriend. He didn't have any money then, but because of what they meant, those two things are the best presents anyone has ever given me."

On my way out of the Gils' beautiful home atop a hill in Goleta, from which you have a 360-degree view of the city, the ocean, and the mountains, I still had two questions for them: How do you define each other? After considering it for a minute, Sanjua said, "He sure is perseverant. Whatever his idea or his goal is, he applies himself until he attains it." Jose told me, looking at Sanjua with great love, shaking his head from side to side, and giggling, "She is active, very active. She never gets tired and she's always doing something."

I also asked them what the most important lesson they've learned is. Both agreed. "The greatest success anyone can have in life is forming a strong, loving family that might not be perfect but will always be there for you."

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - Santa Barbara

138 S. Salinas St., Santa Barbara 805-963-0171. More Info

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - Isla Vista

6850 Pardall Rd., Isla Vista, CA 805-685-5015. More Info

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - Fairview

102 S. Fairview Ave., Goleta 805-964-6104. More Info

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - De La Vina

2830 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara 805-682-9747. More Info

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the