All photos by Garrick Ramirez
Since opening in 2002, Soif has been our go-to spot for a globe-hopping wines, perfectly paired dishes, and a fetching, candle-lit atmosphere. Now, new chef Marshall Bishop promises to elevate the experience further. After working alongside superstar chefs such as Thomas Keller, Bishop is bringing some sparkle to the Santa Cruz food scene. In between his menu planning and dropping off bowls of complimentary spiced popcorn at diners’ tables, we sat down with Chef Bishop to chat food, Santa Cruz, and his method for creating recipes.
What was today’s popcorn flavor?
Espelette chili, sea salt, and a microplane of lime and Meyer lemon.
You recently moved to Santa Cruz, but you have a previous connection here, right?
I was born and raised in Merced, but my grandparents lived in La Selva Beach, so I’ve been in and out of Santa Cruz my whole life. My grandmother is the one who gave me the itch for cooking. She had a greenhouse and garden where we’d pick out the veggies for our meals. And where my mom and I were all about meat—we’d buy whole animals at the local fair and store the meat in our freezer—Grandma was all about seafood, striking up relationships with fisherman down at the Santa Cruz harbor. Because of those early experiences, cooking fresh and local ingredients is highly important to me. Thomas Keller once told me that if you have to tell people you’re doing farm-to-table, you’re doing something wrong.
What’s a dish you remember?
Her seafood pasta with fish, mussels, and calamari. I helped clean the squid and make the pasta from scratch. At the time, I didn’t appreciate all that work, but I definitely loved the final product!
Describe a typical day at Soif?
Three days a week, I start my morning at the farmers’ market. After, that, I come back to the restaurant to see what we have on hand, and start to formulate recipes. Some aspect of our menu changes every day, and the final menu is usually completed by 3 p.m. We do staff line-up around 4:30 p.m. and open at 5 p.m.
What’s your process for creating a recipe?
I keep a database of previous recipes that I sometimes reference, pulling out elements from each. I recently added a chestnut soup to the menu. Aside from chestnuts, I thought about what else would go into the soup: leeks, onions, maybe some roasted carrots from the previous night. We keep it vegan, so I add reduced veggie stock and a splash of cognac for depth. To give it a creamy consistency, I also added almond puree. After tasting it, I thought it needed some more acidity, so I made some pickled apples and an apple and beet foam to top it off.
Tell us something the average person may be surprised to learn about restaurant kitchens?
The level of technique that goes into each dish. I think most diners want something that they couldn’t easily make at home. Anyone can cook a steak and put some mashed potatoes next to it. I like to use techniques to elevate the experience. A chef I worked with would challenge me to prepare one item in nine different ways. We do something similar with carrots, slow roasting them, grilling them, and making a chimichurri with the green tops.
Name a kitchen tool that you can’t live without.
A food dehydrator. It allows you to achieve so many different textures from foods. When we juice carrots, we’re left with mounds of pulp. We started dehydrating that pulp and grinding it into a carrot powder which we season with different spices.
Where do you take a visiting friend in Santa Cruz?
I drive up the coast to Davenport. Afterward, I’d probably head to The Picnic Basket to get some of their great salads and sandwiches, and do a picnic across the way at Main Beach.
Burrito or burger?
Burger. Probably from In ‘N Out.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)