‘Cow by Bear’ is the Most Unique Dining Experience You’ll Have in San Diego
If you haven’t heard of ‘Cow by Bear’ yet, you may be wondering if I was smoking some funny stuff before I wrote this post, but I can assure you that Cow by Bear is a very real, very good and very unique dining experience in San Diego that you should know about!
Cow by Bear is more than a pop-up restaurant- it’s a truly unique, curated dining experience.
Run by an anonymous chef known only as “Bear,” who dons a full grizzly costume at every dinner in order to conceal his identity, Cow by Bear has rapidly made a name for itself as one of the more unique dining experiences here in SD.
Each dinner location is surreptitiously sent to guests immediately prior to when the actual dinner takes place to preserve the mystery. When guests arrive, they are greeted with a specialty cocktail, and snack in preparation for a delicious food and fine wine pairing, culminating in a 50-day dry aged ribeye.
What sets this experience apart from other pop-ups (aside from the fact that you’re being wined and dined by a bear)? The food at Cow by Bear is known for being something truly special, and clearly cooked with a lot of heart.
However, the reason behind that is definitely the Bear himself. The experience of dining with, and the story behind Bear is so unique, there’s even a documentary series being made on him (more on that below).
I was lucky enough to talk with Bear about inspiration, creating community through food, and acclimating to the city from the wild.
There SD: You started this out of your apartment in 2011- was Cow by Bear always an end game? What was your intention when you first began?
Bear: There was no plan at the beginning. There’s barely even a plan now. This started as an experiment and it’s still very much that. I just wanted to cook and put on a fun, nontraditional experience for friends and I’m still doing the same thing, only now it’s for strangers that are becoming new friends. I’ve realized that bringing humans together over food and this experience, and creating new friendships is what brings me the most joy in life.
There SD: Obviously, you’re a Bear, but have you always identified this way? What is it inside you that makes cooking “the way you like to let your hair down, and shake your little Bear fanny”- so to speak?
Bear: Bears are very connected with the earth and with nature, obviously, so food may have a different meaning for me than it does for humans. Much of my life, I had to work really hard for my food. To snatch a salmon out of the water, or take my time and make sure the fresh berries I just picked aren’t gonna kill me. So I feel very fortunate to be able to cook and use this amazing food that I have at my beck and call. I try to remember that I’m very lucky and it wasn’t always like that, so when I’m cooking and putting on a dinner party, you’re darned right my fur will be down and my fanny will be shaking.
There SD: You say in the documentary that you didn’t want the Cow by Bear experience to be like that of a restaurant, but rather “recreate how dinner goes down in the wild.” Can you speak a little more about what that means to you?
Bear: I’ve just never thought of what we do as being a restaurant. Sure, there are some similarities, most notably that the experience is based around food, but I’m not looking at restaurants for inspiration or ideas. I grew up in a community that would come together for every meal, no matter who brought the food to the proverbial table. We’d get loud and boisterous, eat and drink and dance until we just couldn’t take it anymore. And it’s that bear environment I try to create at our dinner parties.
There SD: Your story is really moving in that you haven’t been immune to struggle. Do you have any words of Bear wisdom for culinary creatives (or otherwise) who are finding their footing in the face of adversity?
Bear: I’m sometimes referred to as the Stoic Bear for my even-keeled philosophies. I try to never get too high with the highs or low with the lows. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life but also had my fair share of setbacks, like everyone. Most of my successes have come right in the face of adversity. I try to turn these obstacles into positives and have realized the more you do that, the more your uniqueness comes out. Don’t run from your obstacles. The obstacle is the way.
There SD: How does a Bear in Europe find his way back to the states, and choose to land here in San Diego?
Bear: The longer I lived in a human world, the less I wanted to hibernate. I love life too much and love cooking too much to just throw away three months of the year sleeping. So really it was about the weather. I needed to find somewhere that was nice all year round so I didn’t have an excuse to just hunker down and sleep all the time. And once I got here I fell in love with the place. It’s home.
There SD: Cow by Bear is a beacon for togetherness and community. How do people inspire your cooking, and what inspires you to facilitate this unique human experience?
Bear: Bringing humans together over my food and seeing their faces light up over a dish, or watching as strangers create new friendships is all the inspiration I need to do what I do. All I’m ever thinking about is how can we make the experience better for our guests. But a lot of it is for selfish reasons – it makes me feel really, really good to see my guests smiling and laughing together and having a great time.
There SD: What is the dish that inspired you to start cooking, and where does your culinary point of view stand today?
Bear: I remember this day vividly. I was seven years old and had my eye on a campsite where a young family was sitting down for a dinner together. I didn’t recognize what they were eating as I’d never seen it before in the Bear world. That night I came in to investigate, and found one leftover piece of pepperoni pizza. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever put in my mouth, and to this day every dish I make I try to replicate that feeling of when I tasted pizza for the first time.
There SD: Where do you see Cow by Bear in the future?
Bear: I have no idea. I know it sounds cliché, but really I’m just taking it one day at a time and focusing on making the experience for our guests better and better. If I do that, everything else will take care of itself and we’ll remain an experience that people want to partake in.
There SD: What’s your ideal last meal, and who’s coming to dinner?
Bear: I’d love to spend a last meal with all the Bears that came before me and really helped pave the way for me to acclimate in the human world. Bears like Yogi & Boo-Boo, Baloo, Smokey, Gentle Ben, the Coca Cola Polar Bears, Little Bear, Teddy Ruxpin, Fozzie, the Berenstain Bear family, Winnie, etc. And you better believe we’d be chowing down on the best pizza we could get our paws on.
Watch the preview of the documentary on Cow by Bear below
Eat with Cow by Bear
Want to pull up a chair at Cow by Bear?
Me too – but like all good things worth their salt in life, we must wait, wait.
Hop on the Cow by Bear reservation list to snag your spot for what will undoubtedly be an unforgettable experience.