Meet Bear - the furry chef behind Cow by Bear, a fairly new downtown dinner party experience. But who is the chef behind the mask? That’s the big question. Back in 2011, Bear would host dinner parties for a few friends at his/her apartment in Little Italy. Bear was excited to introduce new meats, including a 45-day dry-aged ribeye, and different wines to the table. As word spread, Bear started hosting dinners with members of the public out of his/her apartment. Finally by the end of last year, Bear decided it was time to take the dinners out into the neighborhood.
Cow by Bear hosts dinners for 10 to 16 guests on Saturdays and most Fridays at four different locations, which is always secret until the day before. The menu changes every month, but the main course is always the 45-day dry-aged ribeye. Hence the “cow” in the name and the bear, well, you get it.
Q: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about Cow by Bear?
A: I suppose there are some people that assume since the cook is a bear that this must be a gimmick. But that’s just who I am. I’m a great chef that knows how to throw an amazing dinner party that happens to be as a bear. Our dinners often put 10 strangers together at a table, so when they arrive, I think there is some comfort knowing they’ll at least be able to talk about the bear chef to break the awkward silence. It never takes long before friends are being made and they realize they are in for a world-class meal and experience.
Q: If you could be any other animal besides the bear, what would it be and why?
A: I would have to say our great nation’s national emblem, the bald eagle. While our signature plate is the dry aged ribeye, this is really due to my beef with the cow (another story for another day). I love salmon. I’m always overtaken with jealousy when I take one of my bi-annual trips to Seattle and see the baldies dive-bombing one of those beautiful underwater creatures.
Q: Describe your most perfect day in San Diego.
It would start on the ocean catching a wave as the sun rises. After a couple hours, I’d be at James Coffee getting an Ethiopian pour-over. I’ll fire up the laptop and look over the guest list for the upcoming dinner making sure there are no allergies or restrictions. Then off to a couple hours at the Little Italy Farmers Market, seeing what has just come in to incorporate into the next dinner. It’s hot out, and these days a bit humid - and I’m a bear - so I need a beer at Ballast Point to cool me off. I go for the Ginger-Eye IPA. I’m getting hungry, so I cruise out to Point Loma and get some fish tacos at Mitch’s Seafood. Mitch came in for a dinner a few months ago and I’ve been a bit obsessed with his fine establishment ever since. Then I’m driving out to Temecula to see if I can find a new wine to start serving. Most of our wine comes from Washington state, Oregon, Napa or Mendoza. We only serve wine I’ve tasted at the winery and am in love with. There are a few wines in Temecula that are now on my radar, most specifically the lineup at Doffo. They are fantastic and I purchase two cases for upcoming dinners. I pull back into town and head to the office and makeshift cocktail lab to test out a new drink for the next dinner. I’m working on a version of the Dark ‘n Stormy, but adding a beer, the Ballast Point Ginger-Eye, and bitters. Of course we’re using Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti, which we use in all of our cocktails. We’re calling the drink The Glamour & The Squalor. I’m hungry again so I head into Starlite. I start off with a mule and a few appetizers and wrap up with the fish of the day. It is excellent. It’s getting late, but I’m not ready to go home. Pinback is playing at the Casbah, and it’s a sin to be in San Diego and miss that, so I’m there. They put on another epic performance and cap a perfect day for Bear in San Diego. I fall asleep watching airplanes fly over my rooftop garden.
Q: Things customers do to piss you off?
A: We are really fortunate for the clientele we have. I think people come to Cow by Bear for the right reasons and are very into the experience, so it’s hard to ever be pissed off. I feel blessed. But if you ask me for salt or pepper, you might get mauled.
Q: Restaurant or chef that you admire and why??
A: Magnus Nilsson at Fäviken in Sweden. I was fortunate enough to dine at his restaurant a couple years ago and it changed my mindset in a lot of ways. He pushes the creative boundaries in so many ways and to me is the most inspiring chef in the world. Catch his episode of “Chef’s Table” on Netflix and you might feel the same way.
Q: Favorite dish you love preparing for yourself and why?
A: This meal is simple. I’m fishing off the coast of Oregon in Port Orford and bringing in a 30-pound salmon. I’m not going to eat it that night, because salmon needs a day or two out of the water. But on day two, I’m cooking it on an open flame. All I need is Jacobsen salt, pepper, lemon and a bit of my own mayonnaise concoction to coat it. The heat takes care of the rest. And I don’t need any sides.
Q: Favorite quote or motto you try to live by?
A: Any day my head is not mounted up on some rich guy’s wall is a good day.