Ricky Odbert spent the first part of his culinary career working in fine dining in San Francisco, restaurants where the all-consuming obsession was to earn one or more stars in the Michelin Guide. He never quite got there — for four years, he was sous chef at a one-star restaurant, and leaving without getting a second star was “a little bittersweet,” he said.
In 2015, at age 27, he left that scene behind and opened a pop-up restaurant in his parents’ garage in Arroyo Grande. His restaurant, Six Test Kitchen, is now in Paso Robles, and on Sept. 28 it became one of the first three restaurants ever in the tri-county region to win a Michelin star.
In addition to Six Test Kitchen, Bell’s in Los Alamos and Sushi Bar Montecito at the Montecito Inn were awarded one star in the 2021 Michelin Guide. They were among 27 restaurants in California with newly awarded stars, bringing the state’s total to 90 starred restaurants.
A Michelin star was nearly unthinkable when Six Test Kitchen opened, because until the French tire company started a California version of its restaurant guide in 2019 it had never awarded stars in the state outside of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Without the option of Michelin being in the area, it was almost liberating in a lot of ways,” Odbert said. “We didn’t have that looming over our heads.”
Odbert and the restaurant’s three other employees are all from the Central Coast, so there was some extra local pride involved in Six Test Kitchen’s star. There was also personal pride on a level that Odbert said goes beyond what he would have felt winning a star while working for someone else.
“Every decision that’s made in the restaurant is mine,” he said. “I feel it’s so much bigger when it’s my project and my restaurant, and I think it’s the same for the staff, too.”
All three of the Central Coast restaurants awarded stars were promoted from “New Discovery” status in the previous Michelin Guide. Stars are the guide’s highest currency; three stars are reserved for the world’s finest restaurants, while one-star and two-star restaurants are still among the best reviewed by Michelin’s inspectors. California has six three-star restaurants, 16 two-star restaurants and 68 with one star.
Bell’s is a French-inspired bistro in Los Alamos, owned by the husband-and-wife team of CEO Greg Ryan and Executive Chef Daisy Ryan. “This is cooking that tastes as good as it looks, shining a spotlight on local purveyors” with “unpretentious dishes,” Michelin’s inspectors said.
Sushi Bar Montecito has seating for 10 people at its bar and serves a $145 chef’s-choice, or omakase, menu. “This is no ordinary omakase eatery,” Michelin’s inspectors said, calling head sushi chef Lennon Silvers-Lee’s nigiri “not just supremely finessed but also infused with original touches.”
Six Test Kitchen has 12 seats and serves a 12-course, $185 tasting menu, which Obdert plans to expand to 16 courses. Michelin’s inspectors said the food is “inspired by the seasons of the Central Coast … with dishes that highlight the chef’s unique style and creative vision.”
Now that his restaurant has one Michelin star, Odbert’s focus is on earning a second.
“That’s the whole point,” he said. “We’re not stopping at one. … Getting two stars means putting ourselves under a microscope and dissecting every dinner service. The details matter a lot more.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated shortly after it was posted to include an interview with Ricky Odbert of Six Test Kitchen.