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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Q-and-A with Clark Staub, founder of Full of Life Flatbread

BY WENDY THIES SELL

Owner of one of the most popular destinations in Northern Santa Barbara County’s restaurant scene, Clark Staub, has built a thriving business centered on pizza, or as he prefers to call it, flatbread.

For 13 years, Full of Life Flatbread has handcrafted seasonal flatbreads, baked fast in a scorching hot, oak-fired stone oven, and served to the throngs of locals and in-the-know out-of-town foodies lined up for supper at the restaurant in Los Alamos.


OUTSTANDING IN HIS FIELD
On a field bake, Full of Life Flatbread owner Clark Staub brings his seasonal farm-fresh flatbreads to the people.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Staub also creates and sells thousands of certified organic frozen pizzas nationwide at grocery stores such as Whole Foods.

He recently took a break from his thriving business to talk “flatbread.”

WTS: Why do you think pizza is so popular?

Staub: It’s simple to eat. It’s such a perfect platform to present some really good ingredients and create a really good meal. Pizza arguably started out as street food—easy to eat and nourishing. We use the flatbread form as a base to put together some really wonderful, local, seasonal ingredients, prepared in a very, very thoughtful way. People tend to love it. What we’ve been doing for 13 years now is presenting very high quality food that in another format, in another restaurant, may be very expensive.

WTS: Why do you call it flatbread instead of pizza?

Staub: Traditional pizza is a flatbread. Pizza crust is a flat bread with a topping. I called it flatbread based on the fact that I’m not trying to be an Italian restaurant. We use a lot of Mediterranean and Italian influences, but we can broaden that scope. We have a set of flatbreads that are the same throughout the year, and then every week we change the right side of the menu, depending on what’s seasonal, what’s local, what’s prime in season.

WTS: One recent Full of Life creation, Coachella Valley Date and Bacon Flatbread, had house cured bacon, smoked leek sauce, walnuts, blue cheese, and wild nettles. Your toppings are pretty exotic for pizza. Where do you source such incredible ingredients?

Staub: Generally, on any given week, we go to three to four farmers markets. For instance, sometimes I’ll go to the Los Osos farmers market just because I like going up there to get away—it’s a quaint little market. We also actually go to the farm and pick up or have it brought to the farmers market; 90 to 95 percent of our ingredients are local to Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and a little bit into Monterey County. We also get people coming to us, whether it’s foragers with wild mushrooms or wild boar or quail. It’s pretty cool to build up the reputation where people come to us.


FAMOUS FLATBREAD
Full of Life’s special flatbreads change weekly—shown here is a flatbread with baby Maui onions, shaved new potatoes, and housemade pancetta with garlic ricotta sauce.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

WTS: You change your specials weekly. When do you create the menu?

Staub: We don’t write the menu until Wednesday after we’ve already seen some farmer lists of what’s coming in. Working with the farmers directly as we do, we might know that leeks are coming in or fishermen are coming in, and they have squid or anchovies or whatever it is. The fruits and vegetables are really what dictate how we’re writing the menu.

WTS: Let’s talk dough. What goes into making your marvelous flatbread crust?

Staub: Our crusts here are modeled on an artisan bread-making technique. I had a bread bakery for four years before I did this. And so we use a wild, yeasted, 36-hour cold rise fermentation dough. We make our dough in smaller batches. We let it rise for 24 hours, and then we scale it to the crust—the dough balls—and then let that sit for another 12 hours. So the dough itself is able to develop a lot of natural flavors and preservatives. Basically our dough is flour, water, and a little bit of salt. There’s no oil, no sugars, no refined—we’re using a highly unprocessed wheat. It’s similar to a whole wheat—it’s got bran and wheat germ. That acts as the base for our flatbread pizzas.

WTS: What’s the story behind your wood-fired oven, visible to all in the dining room?

Eat good food
Full of Life Flatbread is located at 225 Bell St., Los Alamos. The restaurant is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday nights. Call 344-4400. Click on fulloflifefoods.com.

Staub: In the restaurant, we have an oven that I built. It’s about 20 tons. It’s made out of stone and clay. It’s modeled on a Quebec beehive oven, sort of turned on its side. What we do is build a fire down the center of the oven, and then bake pizzas on the floor on either side of the fire trough−a minute and a half to two minutes, depending on what the flavor is. We’re baking at about 750 to 850 degrees in there to bake our pizzas. We utilize the ash and coals to roast vegetables for preparations for our pizza toppings, so we have a grill in there for other entrees. You can take a winter squash or eggplant and bury it in the coals, when the oven is “cold,” 300 degrees, let it completely cook, take it out, clean off/brush off the ash, and use the ingredients for that. If you do fennel like that, it’s fantastic! The fennel comes out tasting like candied licorice.

WTS: You also have a traveling oven for field bakes. What catering events are coming up?

Staub: We’ve been doing the big Coachella Music Festival for seven years. Last November, we did an Outstanding In The Field dinner up in Big Sur. We’re doing an event for Rolls Royce. We’re kind of on the road a lot. This June, we’ll be doing the Museum of Natural History in L.A. gala fundraiser for 800 people. Everything we do on that level is wood burning.

Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at wthies@santamariasun.com.