Brian Champlin is like a cat with nine lives. Going through two near-death experiences that he survived to tell about and discovering his real calling in life has made him a better person, giving him the chance to explore the culinary arts and become the passionate chef and restaurant owner he is today.
Life In the Fast Lane
Brian grew up in Orange County, California, and dropped out of high school during the dot.com era to develop a full-service web design company that included clients such as Ford. Seeing that the company was not evolving, Brian opted out to become a motocross racer. Brian chose to live a shady lifestyle filled with sex, drugs, and alcohol in the fast lane. Looking back, Brian now frowns upon this existence.
Brian made a trip to Mexico in 2003 for a 250-mile race. This race was about to change Brian’s life forever. On a straightaway, while in 3rd place during a sand storm with little visibility, Brian decided to make his move to pass the racers ahead of him. What Brian did not observe was the turn in the road. Instead, Brian went straight ahead over a cliff, flipping over his bike. He ruptured his spleen, broke eight ribs, fractured his Pelvis, dislocated his sternum, collapsed a lung, and broke a wrist.
When Brian came to, he could not breathe, and as Brian put it, “I welcomed Death. As soon as I welcomed death, I could breathe”. Brian had to figure out how to get up the hill to safety with all his injuries, but he could not lift his arms or stand up. To this day, Brian doesn’t remember how he did it, but as Brian says, “the Angels took me up the hill.” One can only imagine the inner strength and willpower that got him up that hill.
Brian was taken to a doctor who exclaimed, “He is dead,” and turned him away. Brian was then escorted to a real hospital four hours away in Ensenada. He learned he needed surgery, but Brian wanted to go across the border, stating, “I would rather try to get to the border than die on the table with a rusty knife.” With extensive internal bleeding, a friend’s dad convinced Brian to have the surgery immediately. When Brian woke 3-4 days later, he was transferred to a private hospital, where he recuperated for several months.
During this time, Brian did some soul searching, determining where he had been, what he had done with his life, who were his true friends, and where he was going. At twenty-seven, he was torn apart as to why he was still around. Was someone watching over him? At this juncture, he decided he must embrace life more. With the help of a spiritual friend, Brian realized he was being given a second chance, and in order to help others, he must first straighten himself out.
The Culinary Arts
Brian changed the direction of his life by embracing a new career and passion, the culinary arts. Enrolling in Santa Barbara City College, he received an AA degree in Culinary Science. During this time, he met Chad Stevens, the owner of Chad’s Restaurant, and Sambo’s, who inspired Brian. With no positions available at Chad’s, Brian persevered, stopping by the restaurant daily until Chad created a job for Brian, an expeditor, a food runner for waiters. After four years, Brian became the main chef.
A Culinary Arts Challenge
One night while working at Chad’s, Brian encountered his second life-threatening accident. Leaving work on his bicycle, Brian was jumped by two guys who hit him in the head with a blunt metal object. Brian woke up from emergency brain surgery at the hospital in ICU. With tremendous memory loss, Brian had to relearn to speak, write, spell and walk. He had lost all his motor skills. Brian’s brain was like a fragmented hard drive needing reorganization. Information was there, but Brian needed to find it through rehabilitation. Like a stroke victim, it took several months.
After this accident, Brian hit another bottom, feeling he was slowly moving back toward his old ways. It was time to clean up his act again by refocusing his goals. Brian decided to focus entirely on his culinary arts career as all else would fall into place.
Finding he could no longer work at Chad’s, Brian went to work as a Sou Chef at Epiphany Restaurant. From there, he moved to Mondrial – Quantum working with chef and owner Cynthia Miranda. When Quantum closed, Brian and Cynthia, now romantically involved, went into partnership with Elements, starting their catering business. When the restaurant sold, Brian and Cynthia moved up to Solvang with David Cecchini to run the catering portion of Cecco Restaurant.
Culinary Arts: Solvang Restaurant
This year Brian and Cynthia, now married, opened Succulent Café and Trading Company in Solvang. Santa Ynez Valley is the Napa of Southern California. The movie Sideways brought attention to this area. There is a tremendous need for higher-scale restaurants to complement the wines of this region and elevate the restaurant scene to compete with Napa and Sonoma. Brian and Cynthia are helping to achieve this goal.
Brian’s passion in the culinary arts is Charcuterie, as he loves the preservation of local and seasonal foods, whether it be smoking or drying meats, pickling vegetables, or jarring jams. Brian preserved his life by making significant life-altering changes to better himself, thus improving the lives of those around him. It seems apropos that his culinary love is preserving foods.
With Brian’s life-altering experiences, his relationships with his family and friends have evolved too. As Brian says, his father puts it, “Go Big or Go Home.”
Since the original writing of this article, Brian and Cynthia no longer own the Succulent Café. Cynthia now owns the Lucky Hen Larder.