That’s what La Jolla resident Jodi Abel thought after her husband surprised her with a trip to Italy a while ago. Rolling golden hills and medieval castles would yield a fascination with one local woman’s group forays into home cooking. One thing led to another — and Abel exported the idea into an enterprise that’s made its mark in La Jolla and far beyond.
“We call ourselves a cooking events company,” Abel explained of her lajollacooks4u, now in its ninth year, “and we’re the only one in San Diego. The people who participate are about 70 percent corporate, and they’re looking for creativity outside their comfort zone.
“The companies at our team-building exercises are global. When they bring people, they bring them from all over the world. It’s much more than a cooking class. After all, who doesn’t like food?”
Well, nobody, including Abel’s clients from accounting giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Domino Foods sugar people, the Kellogg’s cereal folks, Audi of America, the Hewlett Packard computer giant and La Jolla genomics researcher Illumina. Wine merchants from Argentina and regional celebrities have made appearances alongside representatives from Europe to New Zealand as they gather at Abel’s Tuscany-style Mt. Soledad home about four times a month.
Abel also travels extensively in the interest of her craft. She’s in Vancouver this month, with a February trip to South Africa behind her. That kind of visibility nets awards from mavens like Trip Advisor, which has awarded the company its latest Certificate of Excellence and has cited Abel in more than 200 of its five-star reviews.
“The scientists are a little more low-key,” Abel said of her clientele, “but the executives have come right out of the boardroom. They’re ready to party, and they don’t want it competitive.” Teamwork is the cornerstone as Abel guides eight to 30 guests through the ups and downs of cuisine creation, complete with awards for the best dishes and team spirit.
Central to the fun is “lajollacooks4u: California Cuisine, Fresh, Simple and Delicious,” Abel’s self-published 2015 cookbook featuring 400 recipes. Eggplant Caponata, Edamame Shrimp Salad and Chocolate Salami are among the approximately 80 choices that hold sway — the recipes are traceable to Abel’s European studies as a self-taught chef, and her personal background took it from there.
“I grew up with foodies,” she explained. “My father is a foodie. He would travel for a living, and he would talk about what he ate, not what he saw. Also, what validates me is I’ve been a teacher all my life, and now I’m teaching my passion.”
Abel taught early childhood development and special ed following her education at Pasadena’s Pacific Oaks College.
Abel believes that San Diego acquits itself as a food center — but she said that one aspect of restaurant mastery seems to persistently elude it.
“I think there are some amazing chefs in San Diego,” she explained, “but the problem here is the service. Everybody has an off day, but in L.A., they’re all over you. They’re even all over you in Cleveland. I just came back from a trip back East, where there’s five-star service as well as food. If the service isn’t great, I’m not going back.”
For more information on lajollacooks4u, visit lajollacooks4u.com. The number is 858-752-4980.