Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing: A Santa Barbara Original

“Enough! I grow weary of your sexually suggestive dancing. Bring me my ranch dressing hose!”

-Homer Simpson

It’s a nutritionist’s nightmare, a glutton’s godsend. It’s the king of salad dressings and a cornerstone of the condiment world. Ranch dressing is a key component behind a slew of popular exercises in cardiotoxic consumption, such as sopping hot cheesy slices of pizza through chilled puddles of it. Plunging spicy Buffalo wings and golden fried onion rings into pools of it, like a fat guy doing a cannonball into a Seven Falls swimming hole. Baboosh! If it wasn’t a favorite food it’d make a popular pastime.

In 1954, Steve and Gayle Henson purchased a 120-acre parcel of land in Santa Barbara County called Sweetwater Ranch. It lay amid oak shrouded San Jose Creek Canyon on the south slope of the Santa Ynez Mountains. (Jack’s Map)

Henson promptly renamed his slice of paradise “Hidden Valley.” He began serving guests at Hidden Valley Ranch his own signature salad dressing using a recipe he had put together while working in Alaska.

Recalls Audrey Ovington, the flamboyant and colorful owner of the Cold Spring Tavern, a fabulously funky eatery near Hidden Valley: “The first I knew of the dressing was one day when he [Henson] came in the tavern’s family entrance and headed straight for the kitchen and said, `Gotta mix something up.’ He came out with a little white bowl. Handing me a spoon, he said, `Taste it. What do you think?’ It took off in my mouth like a freight train.

“`What was that?’ I asked.”

“`That,’ he said, smiling, `is Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing.'”

Immediately Ovington put it on the menu, and that’s how it all began.

Steve and Gayle Henson

And from there, Steve Henson’s creamy herbed concoction went from a little known backwoods treat whipped up on a Santa Barbara County ranch, to a national bestselling dressing and a household name.

The story behind Hidden Valley Ranch dressing:

Sergio Ortiz, Houston Chronicle 02/24/1999, “Hidden Valley founder whips buttermilk, mayo into legend”

Related Post:

McDonald’s Egg McMuffin Born in Santa Barbara

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8 Responses to Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing: A Santa Barbara Original

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your epic culinary contribution!

  2. stevenschlah says:

    It is my understanding that Guy M. Robitallie was the head chef at Hidden Valley Ranch and had a hand in the formulation of the now world famous dressing. I was told that when ‘they’ sold the rights to “Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, Guy, who is the Montreal born uncle of Luc Robitallie, former NHL hockey player, took his ‘share’ and ‘built’ Robitallie Chocolates at 900 Linden in Carpinteria. He still makes other dressings too.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      No way. Wow. Thanks again for the added value to my post!

      • stevenschlah says:

        Jack: I lived in Santa Barbara from 1959-1986 and have lived in Ventura since then. But as a History grad of SBCC and UCSB and a credentialed high school History teacher from CSUN, Santa Barbara history has always fascinated me. Walker Thompkins was my hero, who had a daily program “It Happened in Santa Barbara”, on the old KTMS for years, up until is death. So your ‘blog’ ‘post’, whatever your generation calls it, is vary special to me. Fast story, semi-related to SB.
        In the ’50s, there was a TV program called the “Cisco Kid”, that told semi-fictional stories about SB and LA. It starred Duncan Reynaldo (title role) and Leo Carrillo (yea THAT Leo Carrillo, for which the beach is named) (I have the series on DVD). Anyway, Duncan lived on Debra Ln. above Foothill, until his death (I met him there, as his neighbor were friends of mine). When I met him, Itold him the following story, which brought tears to his eyes, about his old friend, and he corroborated the story. Anyway, I met Leo Carrillo, who lived up the street (Kingman Av. in Santa Monica, off 7th St. as it winds down to Entrada Dr. to Will Rogers Beach) from my aunt. At age 7, while staying with my Aunt Peggy Schlah Darling Redwine (my folks were on vacation, without me, though I enjoyed staying with her), I wandered on to his property (which is now paer of the Riviera Country Club) and he came out to iinvestigate. We talked and he invited me in for lemonade and proceeded to tell me about his movie career in the 30s, 40s and 50s (Cisco Kid was still on at that time). With this said (I’m getting to the purpose of this reply), he said that his family was given a “ranch” during the Spanish Land Grant period, which included: from Santa Monica to where Neptune’s Net is today. Instead of paying Sate and Federal taxes, he gave ‘land’ to both. Thus, some of the Malibu Canyon/ Las Virginas Canyon Federal Park, once belonged to him AND so did the State Beach Park (Arroyo Sequit, that we old surfers knew as Secos) was given to the State and they named it after him…..While not exactly a Santa Barbara story, I thought this might be of interest to you. Steve Schlah

      • stevenschlah says:

        I hope my last comments on Leo Carrillo / Duncan Reynaldo got to you. Steve

        On Sun, Sep 16, 2012 at 9:39 PM, Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure wrote:

        > ** > Jack Elliott commented: “No way. Wow. Thanks again for the added value > to my post!”

  3. Julie C. Richards says:

    Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing was so popular, that the owners put a stand up on San Marcos Pass. The road to the ranch was fairly narrow, and they wanted it for guests. My sisters prom was there. (Bishop Diego) What I find kind of amusing is that the “ranch” was a stucco building with a white quartz roof that shimmered in the sun.

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