C California Style

The restaurant’s logo adorns a mobile smoker. Photography by John Cox.

Chef John Cox Redefines Farm-to-Table at The Bear and Star

by C California Style

A 714-acre home ranch inspires a menu of catfish, quail and carpaccio

Chef JOHN COX. Photography by Kodiak Greenwood.

“When I cook I want to feel a very deep connection to the place,” says John Cox. So it’s understandable that the Dallas-born chef chose to build his career in Big Sur, a location many consider to be heaven on earth. After spending six years at the breathtakingly beautiful Sierra Mar restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn, Cox has moved southward to spearhead one of California’s most ambitious farm-to-table projects.

The richly hued landscape of the PARKER RANCH. Photography by John Cox.

The Bear and Star, which opened in May in downtown Los Olivos, came about serendipitously while Cox was on a soul-searching sabbatical. He wasn’t even trying to pitch a business when he met with Eli Parker to advise him on how he might best bring to market the Wagyu cattle he raises on a portion of the prominent family’s 714 acres in Foxen Canyon, in the Santa Ynez Valley. “Keeping it close to home is the best way to respect it,” Cox recalls telling the winemaker and son of legendary figure Fess Parker. So, with the lease expiring on the restaurant located in the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, the team wound up hatching a new restaurant in partnership with Eli’s sister, Ashley. “It couldn’t have been more organic,” Cox says. (The establishment’s name is a nod to both his and the Parker family’s connection to California and Texas.)

Wagyu cattle graze at the ranch. Photography by John Cox.

In this era of oft-overused restaurant descriptions, he’s doubling down on a certain philosophy: “If I were going to do ranch-to-table, it had to be to scale, and it had to make a difference,” Cox explains. Taking the hyperlocal approach, and incorporating the Parker family’s considerable wine and beer producing resources, remains at the core of Cox’s guiding principles. 

Maggie the Texas longhorn presides over THE BEAR AND STAR’s dining room. Photography by Grey Crawford.

Thoughtful and intimate spaces extend his concept of “refined ranch cuisine” to interior design, with warm woods, vintage rugs and even the skull of the Parkers’ cherished Texas longhorn gracing the fireplace. “I want to see locals more than once a year,” Cox says, so a casual breakfast of house-made sausage and poached eggs, or a Wagyu meatloaf dinner at the bar keep The Bear and Star accessible. The wine list offers plenty to excite oenology geeks, with hundreds of bottles produced in Santa Barbara County and throughout France. A more formal tasting menu option in the smaller Chef’s Room is also in the works.

Butternut squash fire-roasting on the smoker. Photography by John Cox.

With a custom-made smoker from Texas and all the resources from Fess Parker’s home ranch at his disposal—from stone fruits to chickens and rabbits—Cox isn’t into culinary pyrotechnics. Instead he cooks, in his words, “the best possible form of that thing,” whether it’s steak, stuffed quail or fried catfish. “What I want to do is create food that’s absolutely delicious and sourced the best way I can.” Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, 2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, 805-686-1359; thebearandstar.com.

A slice of a Southern classic, chess pie. Photography by John Cox.

Written by JESSICA RITZ.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of C Magazine.