For 12 years local chefs have donated their expertise and time to the nonprofit organization to raise money for scholarships for promising San Diego culinary talent at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in Napa, Calif.
This year the Tuesday evenings will include festive five-course dinners at Thee Bungalow on Oct. 16, Azul La Jolla on Oct. 23 and Terra in Hillcrest on Oct. 30. Each dinner costs $75 per person, including a $40 tax-deductible contribution, with wine pairings available at additional charge.
The scholarship program was the inspiration of Ed Moore, then-owner of Thee Bungalow and current owner of The 3rd Corner and partner in Nick's at the Pier, all in Ocean Beach, and Nick's at the Beach in Pacific Beach, who felt it was important to mentor and provide additional training to aspiring young chefs. Lesley Cohn of the Cohn Restaurant Group, which now owns Thee Bungalow, has long been active in the Chef Celebration committee.
Among the now-prominent chefs who have benefited from these scholarships are Riko Bartolome of Asia Vous, Hanis Cavin of Kensington Grill, Denise Roa of Art Institute and Josh McGinnis of L.A. Specialty & Produce.
Chef Paul Niles of Thee Bungalow, located at 4996 W. Point Loma Blvd., Ocean Beach, where Chef Celebration originated, organized the chefs and menu for his restaurant.
"This year we did something different. We decided to keep it in the family of Cohn restaurants and support each other in this big event," Niles said.
Joining Niles will be chefs Todd Nash of Dakota Grill, Jonathan Hale of Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, Jeff Thurston of The Prado and Deborah Scott of Kemo Sabe, Indigo Grill and Island Prime.
At Thee Bungalow, Thurston will prepare an appetizer of Chesapeake Bay Jumbo Lump Crab and Heirloom Salad, followed by Hale's Lobster-Crusted Pacific Seabass and Scott's Blue Cheese SoufflÃ©. The meal will wrap up with Nash's Kobe Beef Short Rib and Niles' Pear Panna Cotta for dessert.
At Azul La Jolla, located at 1250 Prospect St., La Jolla, which is participating for the first time, Chef Orion Balliet developed the concept for the menu and challenged his fellow chefs to create an appropriate dish based on a balanced, seasonal approach to cuisine.
He emphasizes foods appropriate to the 12 micro-seasons of the year, as well as balance between contrasting but complementary preparations. Balliet bases his philosophy of cuisine upon the ancient Japanese Samurai principles of Kaiseki. This philosophy of living inspired the Japanese tea ceremony and haiku form of poetry. It also advocated fine seasonal cuisine both balanced and "in the moment," he explained.
"I hope people will appreciate how important it is to cook seasonal food. It's something that's lost in today's market," he said.
At Azul La Jolla three other chefs from The Brigantine Family of Restaurants will join Balliet in the kitchen, along with Chef Rich Schmitt of Pacific Coast Grill.
For the first course Chef Steve Floyd of ZÃ³calo Grille will prepare Oyster Ceviche balanced with Oyster Stew, followed by Schmitt's Kabocha Squash Panna Cotta balanced with Coconut Sauce & Spicy Asian Curry Sauce. Chef Michael Mitchem of The Brigantine will prepare Lobster Autumn Rolls balanced with Grilled Lobster Bisque, followed by Miguel's Cocina's Chef Ish Espinoza's Grilled Swordfish Medallion over Pomegranate Salad balanced with Blackened Swordfish & Creamy Polenta. Balliet will conclude the meal with an intermezzo of Frozen Cranberry Mint Granite, a fifth course of Queensland Lamb Chop Baked in Thousand Layer Pastry balanced with Fennel-Crusted Queensland Lamb "New York Strip" and a dessert of Warm Golden Apple Tarte Tatin balanced with Chilled Golden Apple Soup.
The final Chef Celebration dinner will be at Terra, located at 3900 Vermont St., Hillcrest, where Chefs Brian Malarkey of The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Benjamin Moore of Parallel 33, Gavin Kaysen of El Bizcocho and Nicola Calamari of Vigilucci's restaurant will join Terra's Jeff Rossman. No menu was available at press time.
"It's not very often that you get five top chefs preparing their specialties in one restaurant. It's a great wine and food event and it's for a good cause," Thee Bungalow's Niles commented.
Reservations are required and should be made directly with each restaurant. Telephone Thee Bungalow at (619) 224-2884, Azul La Jolla at (858) 454-9616, and Terra at (619) 985-8202.