Monday, May 28, 2018
As a young child with his Bolivian father, Alejandro Medina recalls frequenting the back patio of the old restaurant Papagallo’s, where he admired the beauty of De La Guerra Plaza. Today, he's the general manager of Bibi Ji, the hottest restaurant in Santa Barbara, and its patio has the same view Alejandro used to marvel at.
Medina is extremely personable. I got to know him as frequent customer of Loquita, and I attributed a lot of that restaurant’s early success to his personality. I told a friend of mine that Alejandro’s charisma, attentiveness, and enthusiasm are a perfect match for Bibi Ji’s attractive environment and extraordinary food, which fuses Indian and Australian flavors. Spicy, rich, flavorful smells greet you the moment you walk in the door. Alejandro buzzes around the room looking after customers with genuine warmth.
As we sit for an early lunch at Louie’s, Alejandro explains that he doesn’t get a lot of down time – most days, he clocks in at 11 a.m. at Bibi Ji and clocks out 12 hours later. He’s excited about the second phase of the restaurant (after its much lauded opening), launching a new summer menu (that includes a succulent summer corn salad with chickpeas), and opening the front patio on State Street.
What's remarkable about Bibi Ji’s food is how the flavors and spices build with every bite. “Some curries start being cooked early in the morning,” Alejandro explains. “I’m learning so many new spices, seeds, and what this remarkable cuisine has to offer.” Bibi Ji is the brainchild of chef Jessi Singh, who was born in India and raised in Australia.
Alejandro was born in Cottage Hospital and lived in Lompoc for a little while. He started high school in Denver, but returned to graduate from Cabrillo High School. He pursued business and economics at UC Riverside, and then stayed in Los Angeles until his late 20s, working for Wells Fargo for a while. “I was anxiously looking for the next chapter,” he recalls of his time in L.A. “I was trying to get serious.”
He came back to Santa Barbara and worked for Palmina winery as their tasting room manager. “I love the area and the county,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s become an incredible destination.”
He was hired to be the general manager of the Santa Barbara Wine Collective by Sherry Villanueva, and then served as the wine director for Loquita. “I’m forever grateful to that company,” he tells me. “I was trained to such a professional level. It was great to learn from Skyler Gamble [Loquita's GM], who’d had so much experience.”
Now, Alejandro is a partner of Bibi Ji with Jessi and his brother, chef de cuisine Gary Singh. Alejandro loves what each of them is able to bring in as partners. The killer wine and beer list is by Rajat Parr. “I love we’re delivering an extraordinary experience to guests day in and day out,” Alejandro says. “The gratitude I feel, to be able to deliver that, is great.”
Alejandro Medina answers the Proust Questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I have always been intrigued and inspired by early Latin Artists like Diego Rivera and Jose Guadalupe Posada. I think it was a very interesting time for Hispanics making their way not only to the United States, but the entire world. In a time when they were barely accepted and were creating powerful art that is still revered to this day. That to me, is fascinating. I still remember every Latin Folk Art class I took in college, and when I first learned that Diego had a studio in Santa Barbara, I appreciated his work even more.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Passion. How they apply that to whatever it is they do shows a strong trait about who they are.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Positive energy that passes on to all those around me.
What do you like most about your job?
The ability to interact with guests in the restaurant is always my inspiration. Providing a service that creates a memorable experience is a great accomplishment.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A balanced life.
What is your greatest fear?
Who do you most admire?
My Mother, for always being a strong woman: driven, focused, and loving.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Enjoying great food, with great wines—and great friends.
What is your current state of mind?
Grateful, passionate, focused.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
People who are passive aggressive, just let it go!
What do you most value in friends?
Culture. No two of my friends are alike, and culture has always been something that intrigues me.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I’m on my way.”
Which talent would you most like to have?
To play the guitar.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To be more patient. The industry I am in is so fast paced that often as a person outside of the restaurant I forget to slow down and enjoy what is around me.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Graduating the University of California with a Business & Economics Degree.
Where would you most like to live?
The Amalfi Coast.
What is your most treasured possession?
My family, and my grandfather’s 1998 Cadillac.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My nephews, Hollister and Hunter.
What is your motto?
If you're going to start something, finish it.
On what occasion do you lie?
To sales reps…