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How A Famed California Chef Prioritized Positivity to Bring His Dreams to Life

Chef Budi Kazali emphasized wellness and passion to build a remarkable career — and you can, too.

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Wellness and positivity are not always easy to embrace. Finding balance in our lives is often challenging, just like it was for Chef Budi Kazali. With a childhood split between the Indonesian island of Java and Santa Barbara, Calif., the renowned culinary expert grew up knowing he wanted to do something remarkable — but the road was not always easy. Today, Kazali’s style can best be summarized as “East Meets West” — also the name of the popular TV culinary show on which he has made frequent appearances. His multicultural approach to food and classic culinary training has helped him forge a notable career following his passion.

After building up a resume studded with highly-acclaimed restaurants, Kazali did what scared him most: he started his own eatery. He bought the Ballard Inn and The Gathering Table restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley in order to fuse his globally-inspired approach with the wealth of California’s local bounty. But there’s more to Kazali’s success than just talent — he had to learn how to have faith in himself and his abilities — something we can all learn from, too.

I spoke with Kazali about how he discovered the culinary world was his calling and how his philosophy of balance in all arenas of your life has allowed him to excel and build up the confidence to pursue his dreams.

Beth Doane: Your food has been hailed for its uniqueness and creativity. What was your journey to entering the cooking world?
Chef Budi Kazali:
My first love has been food. My mother was an amazing cook and was always making incredible Indonesian food. Many of my childhood memories are flavored by the smells of her cooking. She was my first teacher.

My second love is art. I love to draw and paint. In college, I took every art class I could fit into my schedule! Becoming a chef was my way of combining both things that I love doing.

Credit: Emily, the JetSetting Fashionista

Doane: You worked for some very impressive restaurants, from La Folie to Ambrosia on Huntington to Blue Ginger, before opening your own. What was the biggest challenge you encountered, and how did you overcome it?
Kazali: The hardest thing to overcome was finding the confidence to buy Ballard Inn and The Gathering Table. I was a young chef with a few jobs under my belt. I was newly married and had a baby. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on running my own restaurant, let alone a hotel along with it. We decided the opportunity was too good to pass up, especially in a place as beautiful and important to me as the Santa Ynez Valley. I’ve never had a regret. It was the best decision I ever made!

Doane: Finding that confidence is a feat in itself. How have wellness and caring for your mental health guided you, and how can others apply these tips to their lives?
Kazali: When it comes to wellness, I believe in balance. You have to have things in your life — other passions, relationships and hobbies — to balance the stress of work, and make sure that you’re balancing business and home life. For me, spending time with my family is the most important. My family is very supportive and I have great kids.

I also ensure that I take time off to prevent burn out. On a daily basis, I make sure I exercise, and I play tennis several times a week.

Credit: Tenley Fohl Photography

Doane: How are your wellness values reflected in your cooking?
Kazali: My menu focuses on seasonal and local food, from the produce to the seafood to the meat to the wine. You can’t capture the flavors of Santa Barbara, and, even more close to home, the flavors of the Santa Ynez Valley, if you’re not using what you can find nearby. It’s also really important to me that The Gathering Table is a place where people can come together with their friends and their families and feel comfortable and happy. That’s part of wellness to me, too.

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