He seems to be everywhere, popping in and out of restaurants of all kinds, willing to pursue new food experiences and embrace all that Sacramento has to offer. Much of it is documented on his Instagram page, @sillyseabass. Zuniga, 29, a graduate student at California State University, Sacramento, who works full time with at-risk infants as a family resource aid, has emerged as one of the area’s most enthusiastic foodies. We caught up with Zuniga to ask him about his dining habits, how he can live so well on a modest income and why he thinks Sacramento is on the rise as a culinary town.
How do you feel about being pegged as one of Sacramento’s top foodies?
I’m a little embarrassed. I grew up in public housing, very poor. There were times when we had just beans, and we might eat that for three or four weeks straight. If we had sour cream or queso fresco, that was a good night. I’m not trying to live like a millionaire. Especially with what I’m trying to do with my life, working with kids and improving the lives of children, there’s no money in that.
What inspires you to go out and embrace what Sacramento is all about food-wise?
I consider myself someone who appreciates food, and I try not to be a snob about it. Growing up in public housing and not leaving the neighborhood until my early 20s, I was drinking (Miller ) High Life and Mickey’s and eating simply. I still have a connection to that. I never thought I would go to college. I thought that was something in movies. Then I went to UC Davis, and it changed my whole perspective.
I’ve spotted you at Mother countless times.
I shake their hands every time I see them because I feel like I’m going to eat something very good. It all starts with Mike (owner Michael Thiemann). I used to be under the impression that being a great chef was about ego and saying “This is my restaurant and this is how this dish will be prepared.” But the other cooks have freedom to create, and if they come up with something good, it’s on the menu. ... Mother is my favorite restaurant, and it’s expressing everything that Sacramento is about.
I’ve seen on Instagram that some days you go to four or five different places.
With the money I’m making, I can’t do that all the time. But I’ve got ideas and things I want to try. I go to Little Saigon and walk the plazas and file away in my head these ideas.
Are you a food explorer?
Before I went to college, I wasn’t like this. When I got to college and explored different things, like fancy wine and cheese, I learned to try anything. If I pigeonhole myself, I might not be able to experience something that could become a favorite food. I don’t want to limit myself. I want to maximize my own potential.
Do you cook, too?
I do. But I don’t like to take shortcuts. I make everything from scratch and share it with my friends. It’s real food. It’s love.
Do you give up certain things in order to live this way?
I don’t have a car. I don’t have cable. I only have a few basic bills.
What do you still want to try?
I want to go to The Kitchen. It’s a very Sacramento restaurant. ... I wouldn’t want to experience it without a friend. The second one – and it’s right near where I live – is Kru. ...Part of prioritizing is figuring out what I can afford. For these two, I have to save up to do it right.
Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.
Sebastian Atilano Zuniga
Graduate student and avid foodie
Based on his countless visits to local restaurants and his willingness to try any new food experience, Zuniga may well be one of Sacramento’s most enthusiastic foodies.