Duo Catering – Fresh Flavors for the Foodie in You

What do you get when you combine an explosion of freshness, colors, flavors and home grown, high quality goodness? You get Duo Catering and Events, and this is a look at the daily lives of the two men behind this emerging powerhouse catering company.

The following story appeared in the first edition of LoaLiving Magazine.


LoaLiving recently sent writing duo Eric Cárdenas and Matt Perko to shop, eat, and chat with Duo’s founders. Here is a timeline of their of their experiences.

As experienced by Matt Perko:

4:50 p.m. I arrive at the farmers’ market. I’ve never met Brian and have only a vague idea what he looks like. I’m here to photograph him and his business partner Ashley Transki for LoaLiving Magazine. All I know is that we are meeting in thirty minutes at the corner of Cota and State – right in the heart of the market.

Brian Congdon with some market goodies

5:00 p.m. Brian calls out to me with his raspy voice. He’s a short guy with a thick blonde goatee. He reminds me of a boxer. We duck into a pub for a pint. I meet Ashley – the taller, yet somehow less intimidating of the Duo duo, and they both tell me about their barter system with local farmers.

5:20 p.m. We tour the market, filling up crates full of fresh fruit and veggies. Amazing smells of herbs and citrus surround us. The chefs hand out tokens in place of money. This feels like THEIR market – they walk around helping themselves to the fresh fare. Every few feet, someone from the community stops them to say hi.

Ashley Transki at work

6:00 p.m. Time to head to the Duo kitchen on the east side. They’ve unloaded the food, and prepping begins. They’re working on a local white sea bass ceviche. Brian slices the fish with precision. He is careful as he plates the wafer thin slices, each piece overlapping the other on a clean white plate. Ashley peels ginger and juices it with lime juice and mango. Brian riffs on a melon dish with prosciutto, mozzarella and mint. He sautés some Padron peppers on the side. We begin to taste the melon dish and munch on peppers while the fish marinates. Both are delicious.

6:15 p.m. The ceviche is done. It’s colorful – garnished with avocado, micro greens, and thai basil. I take the dish away to photograph it in the beautiful late-afternoon window light. Duo’s style is clean and simple. I get in close to really show the textures.

Bass escabiche (see recipe below)

6:30 p.m. Brian starts a John Coltrane station on Pandora while Ashley opens a bottle of wine. We dig into the ceviche. This is my first time eating raw fish. I don’t even like fish cooked. Despite my trepidation, it’s mouth-watering. Ginger, avocado, thai basil, and lime juice all combine to turn the fish into something more meat-like. “It almost becomes like a carpaccio,” says Brian.

7:00 p.m. I set up a small studio in their front seating area and we make some fun portraits. The conversation turns to life in Santa Barbara. I realize that this pair has a great thing going – they have families, strong ties to the community, great relationships with local farmers, and a vibrant local business. I pack up, thank them for their wonderful hospitality, and head home.

As experienced by Eric Cárdenas:

6:00 p.m. I arrive by bike at the home of Brian and Vicki Congdon near sundown, sweating after pedaling up a decent incline. Brian is outside with his two boys. He’s talking to a neighbor. We chat a few minutes, pet the neighborhood dogs, and head indoors. A seafood pasta dish simmers on the stove, filling the air with the scent of tomato sauce and shrimp.

6:20 p.m. Brian and I share a drink and delve into details of his latest culinary adventure as Vicki arrives home from work. We talk about how Brian and his business partner Ashley Transki started cooking together at Santa Barbara’s Sage and Onion back in 2000. They enjoyed cooking as a team, so they threw around some ideas about opening a restaurant together. Duo (once called “Cassoulet”) was born. They also had a plan to support local farmers – a commitment reflected in the produce they buy. Ninety-seven percent of Duo’s produce comes from the farmers’ market. They also buy as much seafood as possible from local fishermen, and support sustainable fisheries.

7:00 p.m. The kids bounce from the kitchen into the living room, and then out into the garage. One child shows off his latest karate moves, and even tries the infamous spin-kick-roundhouse-to-the-booty move on me. I block the incoming flurry of feet and hands. The children exhaust themselves with their new moves from karate class. Vicki puts them to bed.

7:20 p.m. Mission accomplished – kids asleep. Brian offers me homemade chips and salsa. The chips are perfectly salted and the salsa has just the right spice. As Brian listens in from the kitchen, Vicki and I share some laughs at the dinner table. We’re both UCSB alums – the good old Gaucho days. The sea bass marinates and the pasta continues to simmer. Reggae plays in the background.

8:00 p.m. Brian brings out the ceviche dish. It’s done – and it’s beautiful. The white sea bass is marinated in fresh mango, cucumber and lime juice. Brian topped the fish with pineapple chutney, Serrano chile, avocado and a drop of homemade hot sauce – a perfect pairing with white wine.

8:20 p.m. The kale salad is next. The greens are crisp and drizzled in a light balsamic and olive oil dressing. Then comes the seafood pasta. The prawns are now cooked – they took longer than Brian expected. Brian still wonders about the fish appetizer: “It needed more Serrano, didn’t it?” he asks. Vicki and I nod.

9:00 p.m. Vicki whips up some margaritas and tells us to go to the garage. It’s a man cave! The room houses hundreds of old vinyl records. Brian grabs congas and bongos from the shelf. “We’ll do dishes later,” he says. The three of us start a mini drum circle. We jam for an hour.

10:00 p.m. My hands are sore from banging away on the drums. Brian and Vicki walk me to my bike. I put on my helmet, thank my hosts, and pedal out into the night.

by Eric Cárdenas and Matt Perko | Photos by Matt Perko

Impress your friends with this special recipe, courtesy of Duo Catering

Bass Escabeche, makes 4, 4oz portions

1lb Local White Sea Bass (Look at Blood Line For Bright Red Color)
2 ea. Limes
2 ea. Serrano, Thinly Sliced
1 ea. Avocado, Thin Sliced
1 ea. Cucumber (peeled and diced)
2 tsp Ginger Minced
1 cup Radish Sprouts
4 sprigs Cilantro, leaves picked
Pinch of Sea Salt on each piece of fish
2 tbsp Olive Oil

Procedure: Thinly Slice Sea Bass. Evenly distribute 4 oz of bass per plate next to each other. Squeeze juice of ½ a lime on each portion 15 minutes prior to eating. Place avocado, ginger, chili, radish, cilantro and sea salt evenly over bass. Drizzle olive oil to finish. Enjoy as a 1st Course on a hot afternoon.


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