As the lead designer and founder of Mi Cocina, Ulrich Conrad Simpson, known to most as Ubi, has re-imagined denim with a functional and stylish take for the modern home.
Ubi spent years working for iconic brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren before the inspiration for Mi Cocina struck him while making breakfast for his young family. “I soon realized cooking wasn’t a delicate task, and of course, being sleep deprived, I kept burning myself. I thought, “This doesn’t make any sense. Why hasn’t anyone figured this out? Isn’t this a big enough industry?” Everyone’s cooking and none of the products in the market are functional unless you purchase a BBQ glove, which always seems to be a bit awkward looking. That was my aha moment…I wanted a functional product that looked great in the home while entertaining guests, but that could also withstand a weekend of camping up the California coast."
"The beauty of denim is the more you wash it, the softer it gets. The dirtier things get, the better the product looks. What other fabric do you know of that can withstand constant abuse and still look so good?”
Ubi always knew he wanted Mi Cocina to stand apart in the world of denim. “First and foremost, all of our product is made in the USA, but that is just a jumping off point. When it comes to the key pieces in our collection our approach is relatively simple: create items that are high quality, highly functional and have an aesthetically beautiful sensibility. I think of what I need and how and when I would use it.”
When designing a new product, versatility and usability are always equally paramount. That was forefront on his mind when he developed his Classic Apron, "It’s just as great in the kitchen or behind the grill as it is in the garden or behind your DIY workbench. Our napkins look beautiful entertaining a dinner party, or along for your picnic at the beach. It's definitely a modern sensibility built on the idea of fewer, better things. We make it a point to have breakfast and dinner at the table together every day so our placemats and napkins are in constant rotation. Breakfast usually features some kind of egg dish so our pan handle holder sees pretty consistent use as well.”
One thing Ubi knew was that Mi Cocina would emphasize function but not sacrifice on style. His beautiful, handcrafted products are inspired by the things people grapple with in day-to-day life. “We’ve recently purchased a home at The Sea Ranch and it has this amazing, black, modern, wood burning stove.” But as anyone who’s ever hauled logs into their home one by one, especially on cold, snowy days, the drudgery can really put a chill on that warm cozy fire. That’s how Ubi was inspired to create his Log Bag. “Its heavy weight denim and thick leather straps really make the task of carrying wood in from the log pile much easier, and it looks great too. My daughter also just showed me how it can double as a puppy carrier in a pinch - multifunctional indeed!”
His daughter isn't the only one who loves the Log Bag. As Oprah says in the December 2020 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, "
While he originally started designing items for himself, Mi Cocina has definitely established itself as a unisex brand. Ubi credits that with being part inspiration, part happy accident. “It was a little of both. I’m 6’3 280 lbs (on a good day) so I was originally most concerned with finding something that fit me and my aesthetic...especially for the oven mitts and aprons. At the same time, we live in a San Francisco apartment and space is a premium. Anything that worked for me needed to work for my wife so we wouldn’t sacrifice valuable storage space."
"The other aspect that plays so well into the unisex design is the denim - it’s a universally loved fabric regardless of your gender association and it just gets more beautiful as it ages. Anything new I’m working on today I test at home with my family and share with friends to ensure we stay true to the unisex ideal."
As the name suggests, Mi Cocina, which translates to my kitchen, started with products whose inspiration came while cooking for friends and family, which is something Ubi has always had a passion for. And he’s got one dish that never fails to impress, “I have a great easy recipe I learned from Beatrice of Illbagato in NYC in my bachelor days which I’ve perfected as a husband and dad. It takes 15 minutes to make start to finish and is always a hit. Bucatini with ripe cherry tomatoes sautéed in olive oil, a 1/2 bulb of garlic, Himalayan salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Finish with a touch of shaved Parmesan cheese and some good red wine. Beatrice would roll her eyes if she found out I put cheese on it but it’s so good!
In the day and age of Covid, dinner parties are of course more intimate than in years past. But that doesn’t mean smaller tablescapes can’t still impress! “Our Covid dinner parties have taken the shape of small, socially distant outdoor lunches at my studio in San Francisco. We have never had more than 6 people. (including us!) Our napkins have been a fixture for this...along with good wine, amazing cheeses and great bread that can easily be divided up into separate portions for each family to maintain that distance - safety first!
While Mi Cocina has come along way since it San Francisco start, but there is plenty more on the horizon. “We are currently working on an exciting new endeavor to outfit three restaurants and one hotel, as well as an amazing collaboration with a well known artist’s estate. We also have a capsule inspired by The Sea Ranch coming in the spring. I try to keep moving forward so stay tuned!”