Please meet Kanaloa’s new executive chef, Antonio Almeida. Before I sat down to talk with him, I had already seen YouTube footage of Antonio instructing younger chefs at the exclusive Puerto Clandestino, where he worked after attending five years of culinary school in Mexico. Perhaps that is where he gained his food aesthetic.

As he says, “With food, you first have to enjoy with your eyes and then enjoy it a second time when you eat it. Food should be a form of art.”

He also studied with the famous French Chef Antoine while in Mexico. So there is no doubt that Chef Antonio could be cooking in any number of exclusive restaurants. Lucky for us, he has chosen Santa Barbara as his home and Kanaloa as his kitchen. The fit is symbiotic, as Kanaloa is known for its superbly fresh, sustainably farmed seafood, and Chef Antonio’s first love is seafood. He grew up in Los Mochis, a Mexican beach town where the eating culture showcases fish caught, prepared, and eaten right on the beach.

When I ask him what he most likes about cooking at Kanaloa, he says without hesitation, “The fish. It’s so different from other restaurants. They really respect the fish, and I can make superior dishes because of that.” His favorite item on the menu may be the swordfish tacos, with jerk spice, peppers, and mango, although the Korean tacos with marinated salmon are a close second.

It’s really clear talking with Antonio that everything in this kitchen is made from scratch and with great pride and devotion. Even the spices used on the fish are custom blends designed especially to compliment the fish (I especially recommend the Charmoula, which takes chili, garlic, and ginger as its base and is available for sale at the counter). Antonio is in the kitchen every morning at 7:30 a.m. to receive the two truckloads of fish from Kanaloa’s wholesale processing facility in Oxnard. Based on the fish and the particular produce he receives on a given day, he creates on-the-spot daily specials, such as the extremely popular octopus tacos. On the day I am there, he has a special “Bloody Mary” ceviche. He is particularly insistent that most restaurants over-marinate their ceviche, because the seafood is not fresh. Because the fish and shrimp at Kanaloa are of such high quality, a quick margination in lime juice “cooks” them without losing their flavor.

Antonio started off life with the first love of soccer. But during a hiatus for a leg injury, he stayed with his grandmother, who introduced him to the food that would form his own style. “Every day she made me something different. I’m a chef now, but when I go home, my grandma still cooks for me.” This heart, as well as his passion for food, are what really shine through in Antonio, and that makes for amazing dishes at Kanaloa.

You can see some of Chef Antonio’s tempting creations on his Instagram: jorgetortoledoo.

Angela Borda is a Santa Barbara food writer who is delighted to be blogging about one of her favorite restaurants, Kanaloa Seafood.

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