Chef Celebration Dinner ~ La Valencia, La Jolla : By Sheen Fischer

Celebrating Chefs at the Indomitable La V

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In San Diego’s rapidly burgeoning food scene, there are a wealth of choices when it comes to collaborative chef dinner experiences.  In fact, the real dilemma these days is not finding a great culinary experience with multiple talented chefs participating, but which one to attend.

Every now and then, though, the cause being celebrated by the meal is worthy of special mention and the Chef’s Celebration Dinner hosted last night at La Valencia proves this point.  Chef Celebration is a collaborative effort by more than 50 award-winning local chefs who donate their talent, time and energy to raise money for a nonprofit culinary scholarship program.  Every year, Chef Celebration holds a series of dinners featuring teams of award-winning local chefs who donate their time and talents to raise funds for an annual scholarship program.

Last night’s event was the latest in this year’s series with some of the hottest and most talented chefs in San Diego participating.  So, without further ado…

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The menu consisted of 11 total offerings.  The only way to get through this was to enlist help…

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The Crew:  Foodie friends and adventurer’s Leo and Jess joined Dee and I to accomplish this mission.

The Mission:  Eat everything.

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The amuse bouche, prepared by Chef Davin Waite of the Wrench and The Rodent Seabasstropub in Oceanside, was a refreshing sashimi offering of Wahoo in Tosazu sauce garnished with microgreens and a delicate slice of heirloom carrot.  The inventive presentation included a black cocktail napkin placed under the glass dish to give the “sushi-like” appearance of having a sheet of Nori on the plate without the flavor of the Nori which might have overpowered the dish.

rolls

The Vietnamese style King Crab Roll presented by Chef Jerry Warner of long established and trend setting Café Japengo was packed with flavor and had the reminiscent and familiar asian punch of a sweet and savory chili sauce to help marry the ingredients.

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Chef Jerry’s second offering, “Stuffed Tomato”, was a dream.  The fresh yellowfin tuna was perfectly counterpointed by a complex, yet clean and refreshing slaw.

salmon

Chef David Abella of West Steakhouse simply knocked it out of the park with this Sizzled Salmon Belly sashimi creation.  If a pig ever wanted to be a fish, this is what it would have to be.  Closing our eyes and letting this salmon belly melt in our mouths had us savoring the unmistakable and somehow delicate flavor of the salmon, but enjoying the texture and smokiness associated with the tenderest pork belly imaginable.

pork shrimp

Chef David’s second offering of Crispy Pork Belly and Shrimp salad was first and foremost a salad.  It readied and cleansed the palate for the offerings still to come.  Add in the crouton like crispy pork belly and the shrimp and noodles, and it became an invigorating textural and decidedly asian experience as well.

sunset

So, at about the midway point of the celebration, attention and focus shifted slightly to the beautiful view the setting sun was giving us just beyond our table.  It felt like a good time for an intermezzo…

Ahi

Soldiering bravely on, we bit into the Togarashi Spice Ahi presented by Chef Bryan Brown of the Seaside Market.  The perfect bite of Ahi, puree and Lotus chip made the dish soooo San Diego with a flavor and texture that would have been every bit as comfortable wrapped in a corn tortilla as it was on a dish.

pork belly

Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be a way to improve Pork Belly, a dish like Chef Bryan’s Cardamom Spiced version comes along to make you re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about food.  The bed of corn relish and parsnip puree turned this dish into a mini complete meal on a small plate.

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La V’s own, Executive Chef James Montejano, offered up a perfectly balanced Monchong cutlet that stood on its own.  With a texture that brought to mind swordfish, but with a milder whitefish taste, the Monchong dish was beautifully accentuated by the accompanying blackened carrots and sake plum sauce.

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The dashi consommé and shrimp dumplings were the perfect amount of delicate and savory to accompany the Miso glazed Chilean seabass that Chef James masterfully created for his second dish.

desert 1

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If I had to go out on a limb and imagine a theme for the evening’s meal, I would have to say that light fare packed with flavor and presented with all the aplomb of a fully engorging meal would be it.  Yet, at the end of the evening, there was none of the bloating and stomach rubbing that is the usual post-cursor to three hours of gourmet imbibing.

The Art Institute of California’s Chef Tina Luu (and students) two desserts proved this rule.  Looking like they might be the back breaking straw of folksy camel lore, these desserts of chocolate soufflé and coconut tapioca pudding were light, airy and perfectly balanced.  They were a delightful end to the meal, being on just the proper side of sweet without any cloying residue, while leaving a substantial memory of flavor and texture.  The coconut tapioca pudding literally had our teeth still gnashing for more of its perfect chewiness long after the last morsel was consumed.

The evening was an absolute delight, and, judging from the “Sold Out” signs at the hostess stand, a raging success.  Energy and excitement abounded in the dining room full of industry heavy hitters, restaurateurs and foodies that were there to share in both the collaborative dining experience and the opportunity to contribute to the next generation of culinary geniuses.  I offer a tilt of the head and a raised glass to all who participated – Cheers, my friends!

All Content and Photos ~ Sheen Fischer

La Valencia hotel

1132 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037

lavalencia.com

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