August 5, 2014 – Soif Restaurant and Wine Bar in Santa Cruz has hired Mark Denham as its new executive chef, replacing Santos Majano who left in June to start his own kitchen inside Discretion Brewing.
Denham is a veteran Bay Area chef, who has worked with everyone from David Tanis at Chez Panisse in the 1980s to Cindy Pawlcyn, Daniel Patterson and David Kinch of Manresa.
“I’m thrilled,” said Patrice Boyle, owner of Soif and La Posta restaurants. “He’s a really sharp person, interested in pushing the envelope and for a long time he’s been doing a lot of the types of things we’re interested in.”
Denham has been seamlessly filling in for chef Katherine Stern at La Posta since the beginning of the year, while Stern gave birth to twins—a boy and a girl. “She’s still not working 100% and we want to make sure she takes enough time and is good to go,” said Boyle, explaining that Denham will be transitioning over to Soif gradually as Stern returns to work over the next several weeks.
Soif’s new chef headed the kitchen at San Francisco’s Laïola in 2007, which he says was way ahead of the curve: “We were a Catalan-inspired Spanish restaurant that only bought whole animals and only used ingredients from California, except vanilla. So we had lamb and pork on the menu, but customers were served a different cut each night.”
He moved to Santa Cruz in 2010 with dreams of spending most of his time surfing, but soon found himself working alongside Penny Ice Creamery chef/owner Kendra Baker to open the Picnic Basket across the street from the main beach. It’s a job that introduced him to many local growers and food artisans.
As for the direction he hopes to take the kitchen at Soif, Denham says the menu will continue to be shaped by the seasonal ingredients he finds at the downtown farmers’ market next door on Wednesdays. It will likely feature dishes inspired by Spanish, Italian, Greek and other cuisines of the Mediterranean region.
“We like to dance around the periphery of these things, but as a rule I prefer cooking with olive oil rather than butter and I like to thicken sauces with picada,” he says.
Denham is also preparing a house made charcuterie plate with a rich pork terrine to be served in the restaurant and at a new wine bar inside the bottle shop. The wine bar is now open daily starting at noon, serving wine by the glass and snacks that also include olives, almonds.
“Our two young chefs Mike Raskin and Jon Harper have been doing a really great job since Santos left,” said Boyle. “But it’s going to be really fun to have Mark doing his own thing here at Soif.”
“It was a real stroke of luck for us to have him to rely on while Katherine was gone,” she adds. “Everything has worked out way better than I could have planned.”