In the dark, dank cavern of a fresh seafood purveyor’s warehouse on a random Sunday evening can be had one of the most unique and ever changing pop-up dinner experiences in the San Diego food scene. Okay, Catalina Offshore Products warehouse is well-lit and spacious, with more than ample room for a small army of volunteer chefs and 60-80 guests, family, friends and supporters of Collaboration Kitchen, a non-profit organization that hosts pop up dinners featuring local chefs and food personalities and supporting local charitable causes. It sounded better the other way, though.
The gathered chefs and professionals prepare somewhere between 400-600 meals at any given event…not many more than the average Sunday family after-church get together. All the produce for the Collaboration Kitchen events is supplied by sponsor Specialty Produce, seafood by Catalina Offshore Products and everything is cooked on Camp Chef stoves that are more like controllable blast furnaces and pretty much perfect for cooking in this type of environment.
Here, the crew is gathered at the end of the meal to receive a much deserved ovation…
..because, earlier in the evening, there wasn’t a lot of cheering going on…
…but there was a ton of cooking, plating, camaraderie and, oh…Collaboration!
This evening’s event was billed as “Ladies Night”, showcasing three well loved, known and respected San Diego chefs. From left to right they are Quinn Wilson of Balanced and Bright Bone Broth, Christina Ng, of Chinitas Pies and a private caterer, and Logan Mitchell, of The Cellar Door, a private dinner club in San Diego.
Wine and Cider pairings for the evening were provided by Dr. Gisela Claassen of Curds and Wine in San Diego. Side note: Curds and Wine may one of the coolest places you’ve never been to in San Diego, but if you’re into the how’s and why’s of the finer things in food, you should probably check them out. They have the facilities and the knowledge to allow you to make your own cheese and wine…and a PhD scientist to stand side by side with you for the entire journey.
The first dish, by Chef Christina was an Asian inspired Nicoise salad with Thai Basil Ponzu Vinaigrette. It was daring and threatened to take top honors of the evening right out of the gate. Big, bold Asian flavors with hearty Togarashi and salt seasoning in the vinaigrette and on the crust of the Big Eye Tuna defined the dish. And on the side was a treat of sliced Tamari marinated hardboiled egg, because, of course, what salad would be complete without an element that took 24 hours or so to prepare?
It’s a shocker the eggs survived to make it on the plates. Those chefs in the back looked hawngry…
Not going to talk about all of the health benefits of Bone Broth. But, you can read about it here. Chef Quinn’s Bone Broth and Cider steamed clams had a deep, rich flavor full of herbs with a bit of spice and zestiness provided by the grated jalapeno and beautiful, well rounded, not too sweet and not too tart Cider House Hard Apple Cider from Gisela’s cellar.
There are so many competitive cooking events these days, it gets tough to distinguish when a multi-course event is done for pleasure or for competition. This, for sure, was not a competition…but, then again…we’re talking about three of the top Lady Chefs in San Diego here, so who knows.
Anyway, competition or not, it became a case of one-upmanship when Chef Logan’s Opah taco made an appearance. Because, Mole (MOH-lay), a Latin, spicy, chocolat-y chile sauce doesn’t happen on accident and rarely happens well, IMHO. Chef Logan’s version was simple, chile forward and not overly sweet, which condition generally ruins a mole. It married nicely with the flaky, yet firm texture of the Opah without over powering it, while the scallion crema nicely neutralized the spice from the jalapeno right before it bared its teeth.
One of the traditions of CK is the intermezzo skinning, filleting and serving of a big fish by founder Tommy Gomes and Ken “Man with a Pan” Gardon. The knife and tweezer skills of these guys…worth the price of admission.
The salmon they carved up was served sashimi style with some magical, citrusy, acidic, finely balanced with the right amount of sweetness sauce from a bottle. No clue what it was, but if you go in and ask, they’ll sell you a gallon or two. It might be called “World Peace”.
Then we had to drag ourselves back to the food…and the Ladies. Seriously, by this time, who knew who was making what? The wine was flowing and the food…oh, the food. How was it that every course seemed to build on the previous one, exponentially multiplying in complexity and flavor while still marrying perfectly with each wine? Then again, who cared?
This Grilled Baja Shrimp showcased exactly what it should have — the Shrimp. Huge, succulent and firm. Each bite of the accompanying white bean succotash and chimichurri — let’s not get started on the chimichurri — this stuff was like a little green spread of citrusy, bombastic flavor — anyway, they did what they were supposed to do, too…accent the shrimp, but with in your face, shake your booty sassiness that said, “You want shrimp? Here’s your damn shrimp…and a little something extra, my friend!”
Done? Are you kidding? Not even close. These seared and chilled scallops were beautifully accented by the Pacific fruitiness of mango and pickled ginger, cleansing the palate with a definitive light seafood accent and melt in the mouth texture. Why cleanse the palate you might ask…?
Because, for God’s sake, Man (Woman, Child, pick your poison), it ain’t over ‘til it’s over! Salted caramel anything has pretty much taken the food world by storm when it comes to desserts. Pour it over an Uni Profiterole – yeah, let’s say that again and say it slowly…Uuunnnii Profiterole – and it is every bit as rich, light, fluffy, creamy, dissolute, and unifying as you hope it would be, pray that it could be and then swoon when it actually it is. There was a Moscato pairing with this, but, all due respect to Dr. G, sometimes, when faced with a dish this good, the best you can go for is to wash down the remnants without washing away the memory.
The night’s proceeds – oh, yeah, you forgot, huh? This was for charity, Silly. $3,000 from the evening’s proceeds were donated to Just Call Us Volunteers, run by Julie Darling. Just Call Us Volunteers is a San Diego non-profit, all volunteer, meal program, conceived of by Julie 9 years ago during the Christmas holiday season. They now serve fresh, healthy meals year round at a multitude of shelters that include the Veteran’s Village of San Diego, The San Diego Center for Children, Rachel’s Women’s Center in San Diego and The Veteran’s Winter Shelter.
Julie somehow managed to suppress her excitement at the surprise announcement of the award and somewhat stoically accepted the $3k check with a quiet, dignified air of communal nobility reeking of service, purpose and determination…
And, just for fun, there were the trio of cupcakes provided by Cupcakes Squared. Most of these may have been stuffed in purses, backpacks and back pockets for the ride home.
The evening was full of food, fun, wine, laughter and fellowship. For all of the headaches, heartaches and backaches that can often be associated with the grind of working and interacting with others, they are far surpassed by the lifting of the spirits, the sense of warmth and belonging, the reward of knowing that, even if only by your presence, you shared the spirit of collaboration to accomplish something, anything, bigger than yourself. Mission Accomplished. Cheers, My Friends!
For future events: Collaboration Kitchen
To Help out: Just Call Us Volunteers