The year was somewhere around 2017 and food and beverage journalist Jaime Lewis had just arrived at the garage of a seemingly “normal ranch home” in Arroyo Grande. But when she walked in, what she saw was actually a fully functioning dining establishment.
Taking a bite of head chef’s Ricky Odbert’s cooking, Lewis says she was instantly “transported,” evoking a feeling that is not too far off from what is described in the Disney Pixar movie “Ratatouille.”
“This is not a restaurant, this is an experience,” Lewis said. “Six Test Kitchen is just one of the best ways to be entertained on the Central Coast.”
For Odbert, the venue was a familiar one: his parents’ garage. He designed it to look like an exclusive, six-seat “tasting kitchen” that became recognized as an exclusive and one-of-a-kind dining experience in San Luis Obispo County.
Now, Six Test Kitchen operates as a real restaurant location in Tin City in Paso Robles.
In September 2021, Six Test Kitchen became the first restaurant in San Luis Obispo County to earn a Michelin star, one the most elite awards that can be given in the food and beverage industry.
“We started out with this being weird, relaxed, fun and serious at the same time,” Odbert said. “Everything we’ve done here has been geared towards Michelin stars, so when it happened it was very emotional because we did what we wanted to, or at least started the journey.”
Upon walking in to the Tin City location, guests are directly welcomed by Odbert and his team of chefs, in a one-room, lounge lit, 12-seat bar. The speakers are blasting loud 80s rock music and Odbert is often found wearing a casual t-shirt, rolled up to show a sleeve of tattoos, as he chops, cooks and serves all in plain view of his guests.
Odbert works with as a team of four, alongside sous chef David Ward, chef de partie Christian Humerickhouse and beverage director Matt Correll. These four men prepare, serve and interact with customers of Six Test Kitchen without any additional help.
Before opening up Six Test Kitchen, Odbert and his team spent the majority of their careers working in San Francisco, where they learned how to artfully craft dishes, under the guidance of other Michelin chefs.
This small team is what Odbert says makes his experience so unique.
“I think that there’s something to be said about having the line of communication closed,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘here are your notes for this evening’s menu, talk about it.’ It’s somebody that cooked that duck, that’s telling you about the duck dish.”
“The duck dish” is just one of many attributes that make up Chef Odbert’s ever changing tasting menu. Odbert tries to use as much local product as he can, such as sourcing fish from Morro Bay or chicken from Shandon.
Many of the dishes have French influence, but Odbert does not identify as a French restaurant.
“We’re ingredient driven,” he said.
Odbert’s menu is designed as a “tasting,” with “experiences” starting at $155. Odbert and his team do not make any modifications to their menu or accommodations to dietary restrictions.
Odbert’s team serves two groups of twelve Wednesday through Saturday night. All diners must make a reservation for their party online, with email reservations being required for groups larger than six.
On their website, reservations to Six Test Kitchen are sold as “tickets,” which launch at the beginning of each month for the next two months.
According to Correll, they are entirely “booked up” for the current ticket cycle.
The dining experience may be “four dollar signs” on yelp, but Lewis says that college students should not be discouraged to try it out only because of the price.
“When you buy a ticket say to like on Broadway, you don’t get to decide who’s playing Hamilton,” Lewis said. “You don’t get to decide the arc of the narrative. You go as an experience and you let them take you on a journey, and that’s exactly the same thing for Six Test Kitchen. If people balk at the price, they should probably think about it more like going to a show.”
And a show is what Odbert and his team put on –– which soon enough made them eligible for the Michelin guide.
“For me, there’s no point in doing something unless you’re going to try to be the very best at it,” Odbert said. “We weren’t testing recipes. We were kind of testing a concept, which was a tasting menu of fine dining restaurants in an area where that was pretty much nonexistent.”
This idea of being the best, he said, means creating food that is “Michelin worthy.”
Before Odbert’s Tin City location opened up in 2019, Michelin stars in California were only eligible to restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties. But that same year, California became the first state in America to host the prestigious red guide, allowing restaurants from across the state –– including San Luis Obispo –– to earn a spot in the guide.
In the 1900s, Michelin company, a brand known for selling tires, first implemented something called the Michelin red guide. The red guide was a way to offer travelers a quick look at places to fix a tire, get fuel and, of course, find food –– offering the best dining experiences along the road.
In the 1920s, the Michelin brothers hired anonymous dining inspectors as a way to start offering ratings to the dining locations depending on how worthy the stop along the road would be.
Today, the Michelin star is one of the most prestigious honors that can be offered to a restaurant across the world.
According to the Michelin Guide’s website, one to three stars are granted to a restaurant off a five point criteria:
- Quality of products
- Mastery of flavour and cooking techniques
- The personality of the chef represented in the dining experience
- Harmony of flavours
- Consistency between inspectors’ visits
A restaurant may be considered to receive their first star if they are said to be in “good” standing in the following categories, with a second and third being granted if the criteria reaches “exceptional.”
“Anyone could be a Michelin inspector, and so the amount of pressure is very, very real, but it pushes us to be better,” Odbert said.
When Odbert opened Six Test Kitchen, his goal was to eventually join the ranks of the other thousands of Michelin star restaurants. Now that they’ve achieved that, they are onto the next goal –– possessing more than one star.
“We started in a garage and now we have a Michelin star,” Odbert said. “Now we are playing the game. We’ve been recognized, we’ve been noticed, now it starts. The games have begun.”