Chef Augusto Caudillo cooks food the way his grandmother did: from scratch, over several days if needed, with local ingredients and a nod of respect to people in his family. And like his grandmother, Caudillo’s notion of family extends to customers, local growers and mentors as well as actual relations. Caudillo runs Scratch Kitchen in Lompoc alongside his brother-in-law-partner Gonzalo Pacheco, with lots of help from his wife, sister and the greater community.
Caudillo knows it takes a community to successfully run an affordable farm-to-table restaurant. So food producers like Santa Rita Farms become family, dropping by on Wednesday evenings to let Caudillo shop their truck, plan future plantings and have a beer. His cooking mentor Chef Maili Halme also became family, as the pair worked together over years perfecting their crispy fried chicken recipe. His version of that dish is now on Caudillo’s menu at the popular eatery.
Caudillo sources chicken from Jimenez Family Farm in Santa Ynez for the quality of the meat and the sustainability of the farming, but also because it is a family-run farm. He wants his small family to help support other small families, creating a sense of community among them. This larger family also helps keep him connected to where our food comes from.
To make Caudillo & Halme’s perfect fried chicken, Caudillo starts a day ahead. He brines the chicken in buttermilk, salt and spices (add any spices or flavorings you like) for 24 hours. He then mixes equal parts flour and Panko bread crumbs (use more Panko for more crunch) and covers each piece with the crumb mixture. Caudillo heats vegetable oil (he uses canola/soy) in a fryer to 375 degrees and cooks each piece for 7-8 minutes — this temperature is important so as not to over-brown the chicken. He then cooks it in a 350 degree oven for 13-15 minutes or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees.
Caudillo’s sauce is his own, a “no-waste” traditional French veal sauce. He sautées carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, in-house smoked bacon and any recent meat trimmings, then adds stock and red wine, reducing it until thick.