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Chef Gubbins climbs back into local restaurant ring

Chef Amiko Gubbins, Special Ops: Food and Flavor for Cohn Restaurant Group's new OB Warehouse.
Chef Amiko Gubbins, Special Ops: Food and Flavor for Cohn Restaurant Group's new OB Warehouse. — Rick Nocon

There’s one tough cookie inside the kitchen at OB Warehouse. Her name is Amiko Gubbins.

Peering into the windows of the former Airstream camper that designer Philippe Beltran converted to encapsulate the cooking arena; the executive chef’s petite frame is poised for battle. She exudes the kind of brazenness that comes with graduating from the school of hard knocks at the top of her class.

It all began in the 1980s, when the self-taught chef talked her way into the kitchen at the best restaurant in San Diego—Gustaf Anders—with only one year of experience.

“I realized from Day 1 that I wanted to get to the top. I wanted to be the best, an alpha dog, and to do it, I had to learn from someone who was already there.”

The general manager hired 19-year-old Gubbins on the spot, but she knew the road would be rough when the kitchen gasped collectively as she entered it for the first time: a woman. That was followed by executive chef and owner Ulf Anders taking one look at her and saying “no way.” But the argument that ensued between the general manager and the chef won Gubbins a chance, and within three months of proving herself indispensable, wound up becoming Anders’ “pet.”

“Working there was the golden ticket to get me into any kitchen,” she said of the trailblazing restaurant that she credits for much of her identity as a chef.

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Interior view of OB Warehouse. — Rick Nocon

Her return to helming a kitchen is a big deal. She hasn’t done it since 2007, when she hung up her coat after a seven-year run at her award-winning restaurant, the now-closed Parallel 33 in Mission Hills, to move to New York City with Lenny Kravitz as his personal chef.

“It’s almost like writing a gold record, and then putting it away so no one can listen to it anymore,” said Gubbins of walking away while on top. She’s since changed her tune with OB Warehouse restaurant and bar, where she’s resurrected several dishes that longtime followers never thought they’d taste again, such as the Moroccan spiced rub flat iron steak and garam masala dusted scallops.

Last year, when Gubbins joined the Cohn Restaurant Group, she negotiated the terms of her position. It wouldn’t be “corporate chef” or have any other buttoned-up title — although she would be traveling around to several CRG restaurants (Prado, Beau-Bo, 100 Wines and more) and work with chefs to develop and update menus. Gubbins insisted that if anything were to be printed on her white coat, it would have to read “Special Ops, Food and Flavor.”

That she is, with her added duties at OB Warehouse, 4839 Newport Ave., Ocean Beach. Gubbins does it all full-on.

“I told David (Cohn) that if my name is on this, there will be expectations. I’m militant about how I run things, and it all circles back to Ulf (Anders). When you learn from the best, you’re like, ok, I get what it takes.”

Gubbins brings fun food from around the globe to Ocean Beach. Like a shy rock star, she prefers performing for a packed audience, composing detailed dishes, such as sea bass dusted with fennel pollen, creamy grits, heirloom carrots and snap peas. Even the salads are rad; try the heirloom nectarine tomato, which includes juicy slices of the fruit alongside creamy burata and greens dressed with a honey-lavender vinaigrette.

“I know how to bridge flavors,” she said of all the intricacies at play in her dishes. “It’s something I learned from Ulf all those years ago. I just make it happen.”

Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at amytgranite@gmail.com.

 
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