Upcoming Santa Cruz restaurant Assembly hires veteran San Francisco chef

Carlo Espina will be Executive Chef at Santa Cruz restaurant Assembly (photo credit: Nader Khouri)

Carlo Espinas will be Executive Chef at Santa Cruz restaurant Assembly (photo credit: Nader Khouri)

The team behind Santa Cruz’s The Penny Ice Creamery and The Picnic Basket are opening their first full-service restaurant – Assembly – in a few weeks. They just hired Carlo Espinas as Executive Chef, and this is great news for the local dining community!

California Culinary Academy alumnus Espinas is moving to Santa Cruz next week, leaving his current chef position at San Francisco’s Comstock Saloon. After Espinas’ 2005 CCA graduation he worked at Incanto under chef Chris Cosentino, where he learned a lot including the importance of seasonally changing menus (you may recognize Cosentino’s name from TV’s Top Chef Masters and Chefs vs. City). Espinas also worked at SF restaurants such as Piccino Café, where he served as opening chef, and Camino, where he worked under Russell Moore who spent 20 years at Chez Panisse.

Assembly, opening in the next couple months at 1108 Pacific Ave.,  is slated to be a 100-seat restaurant with “rustic California Cuisine.” Speaking of his culinary styles and passions, Espinas says, “…My food tends to skew towards Mediterranean and regional American cuisine. California is the intersection of all of this: amazing produce and growing seasons that are coupled with rich cultural traditions from all over the country and world.”

Espinas is excited to cook for the Santa Cruz community and to make Assembly visitors feel like family. His own family is a big influence on his vision. “I am one of six in my family and I have 46 cousins, just on my mom’s side. Coming from a large, extended Filipino family, I grew up in a culture that centers around the table; chatting, laughing, and eating,” he explains. “I like food that brings people to the table, that facilitates conversation and cheer; and food that excites and satiates. I often think about my family when I cook…it keeps me grounded and focused on food that is tasty, tantalizing, but approachable.”

Assembly co-owners Kendra Baker and Zach Davis couldn’t be happier that Espinas said yes to their job offer. Baker first met Espinas when she was pastry chef at SF’s Bar Tartine, and has been keeping tabs on him ever since. “I knew Carlo was one to watch,” Baker says. “When Zach and I started talking about people we would want to work with, he immediately came to mind.”

Pastry Chef Anna St. John will also be part of the Assembly team. An experienced Penny staff member, St. John will work with Baker to create a range of tantalizing desserts.

It seems there is nothing Baker and Davis can’t accomplish in the culinary world. They started The Penny Ice Creamery with a Cedar Street location in August 2010 and expanded with a Pacific Ave. kiosk in November 2011 and a Pleasure Point location in February 2013. They also run beachfront café The Picnic Basket. What’s next? Hard to imagine, but in the meantime I can’t wait to try Assembly!

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