Top chefs team up for San Diego’s culinary future

Top chefs team up for  San Diego’s culinary future
Hanis Cavin, owner of Carnitas Snack Shack in Del Mar Highlands Town Center, is one of more than two dozen chefs participating in Chef Celebration’s 20th annual spring dinner series, which kicks off at Pamplemousse Grill. Courtesy photo

REGION — If you’ve ever dreamed of enjoying a meal, with each course prepared by a different culinary master, then Chef Celebration’s annual spring dinner series is for you.

For five consecutive Tuesdays beginning March 31, well-known San Diego chefs will present five-course dinners at five different restaurants throughout the county.

The 20th annual event kicks off at Pamplemousse Grill in Solana Beach with the restaurant’s chef, Jeffery Strauss, preparing the second-course selections — a duo of toro and sashimi with shaved Périgord truffles or Texas quail with foie gras and sweet Italian sausage — and dessert.

First-course offerings will come from The Marine Room’s Bernard Guillas and include an almond-fennel-pollen-dusted Maine diver scallop with cauliflower purée or organic Hokto Farm mushrooms bisque.

Stephane Voitzwinkler from Bertrand at Mister A’s is preparing one of three entrees — a choucroute of seafood that includes roasted monkfish, petrale sole sausage, turned potatoes and seafood veloute.

In celebration of Passover, the April 7 dinner at Terra American Bistro in La Mesa will be a seder dinner. Chefs include Sam Zien, better known as Sam the Cooking Guy, and Hanis Cavin, owner of Carnitas Snack Shack.

Chef Celebration was founded in 1995 to enhance the knowledge and potential of young, aspiring culinarians.

The dinner series pairs teams of top chefs with ambitious young talent to raise funds for the organization’s scholarship program, which sends lower- and midlevel cooks to the Culinary Institute of America Greystone near Napa for a week of intensive training.

Since its inception the foundation has raised approximately $225,000 in scholarship funding and helped more than 80 local aspiring chefs further their professional careers.

A current member of the Chef Celebration board of directors, Cavin, who is quick to note the irony between his Jewish heritage and the name of his restaurants, was one of the first aspiring chefs to be awarded the trip.

“It was incredible,” Cavin said. “Unlike some other schools, it’s only about food.”

The program has changed a bit during the past two decades. Initially, selected cooks attended individually and chose a course of study for the week. Now they go as a group and Chef Celebration writes the curriculum, Cavin said.

“They’re surrounded by people who want to do the same thing,” he added. “When I went there were caterers and personal chefs, who aren’t the same as restaurant chefs.

“The restaurant chefs were drawn together, like magnets,” he said. “We realized what we do is special and we have to stay true to it. I still keep in touch with two of the chefs I met there.”

The application process is mainly an interview and surprisingly doesn’t include any cooking.

“I look for the sparkle in their eye when they talk about food,” Cavin said. “They have to be emotional because if they’re not, they don’t care. It’s a craft, not a hobby.”

Cavin said board members also look for people who plan to stay in San Diego.

“We don’t want to invest in someone who is going somewhere else,” he said. “We want to keep the people local to better our city.”

The dinner series gives chefs a unique opportunity to unite as philanthropic leaders while stepping out of their kitchens to give back to the communities that helped build their success.

With several renowned chefs sharing a kitchen — many of them often competing for customers at their respective restaurants — egos used to get in the way, but not so much anymore, Cavin said.

“The goal is to better the food of San Diego,” he said. “That’s why we all keep doing it.”

Each Chef Celebration dinner offers two seatings. The cost is $85 per person for the Pamplemousse dinner and $65 per person for the other four. Reservations are available.

Visit chefcelebration.org for complete menus and more information on the foundation, scholarships and other events, including a May 3 beer master pairing event that will feature 14 breweries and 14 chefs.

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