I’ll be the first to admit it – I’ve chased my share of San Diego dining events with the best of them – dropping anywhere from $35 – $200 for the “privilege” to rub shoulders with the cool people at the next big wine pairing, the next buzzword dinner (sustainable, farm-to-table, ocean-to-table, ad nauseum) or the next “rockstar” chef collaboration. Name a politically correct term these days and there’s probably a dining event dedicated to it in San Diego three or four times a week.
I’m not gonna stand up here on my soap box too long, because I’ve spent my money on these events willingly and even complicitly, understanding full well that, most of the time, they are just another marketing scheme to generate cash flow for the hosts, the restaurants and the “rockstar” chefs, all cleverly disguised in “feel good, save the planet and massage our guilty conscience” regalia.
As I’ve delved deeper into the food scene, gotten to know some of the “players” and spent tens of thousands of dollars on meals and entry into these events (I quit accepting free meals early into writing this blog, as I learned that a free meal came with more strings attached than a 10 man guitar band), it’s become apparent that I could spend my lifesavings and yours in about two months if I tried to attend every feel good event that comes along.
If you’re only looking for a party with sometimes good, usually overpriced, food and a lot of familiar faces, I know the feeling and I may even see you at some of them. At least we can be honest about the fact that no matter what the cause, what the event, what the inflated price we pay for the “privilege” – not much has really been accomplished and what we eat today comes out in a day or two as just another pile of… well, you get the picture. And, then, we have to start all over again.
But, if you’re really looking to affect some change in the food world and dining scene, maximize your spending power AND party with some familiar faces, here are a few events you might want to think about that are coming up in the near future:
Collaboration Kitchen – the Best San Diego Dining Popup
I love these events because I get to watch my money work twice. Collaboration Kitchen events are held in the processing area of a fish plant and are manned completely by volunteers. It’s also some of the best food you can get at any price, complete with comedy entertainment and access to the chefs. BYOB or drink the wine and beer provided. It’s a low key, yet, exciting vibe and all proceeds go to a charitable cause selected by the non-profit organization’s board of directors.
This is the real deal – the donation check is actually presented during the event. At the last three events, checks of $5,000 were presented, respectively, to Just Call Us Volunteers, a non-profit that helps feed homeless vets, a highly respected and beloved local chef in need of a kidney transplant and Chef Celebration, a non-profit helping up and coming new chefs (read more about them below). The next event is Sunday, April 24th. Check here for more information and tickets. Here’s a little bit about what the last one was like.
I Love Poke (POH-kay) – What San Diego Dining Is Really All About
Sometimes, you just wanna have some fun while doing some good. I Love Poke is the best ticket in town for that – a great evening overlooking the harbor, eating fresh as can be fish and learning more about a classic Hawaiian dish. Chill crowds, cool chefs, great competition – one dish. Poke is a tuna salad with some pretty basic ingredients, Tuna, sea salt, sesame oil, seaweed and some other secret “I’d tell you but I’d have to kill you” stuff that the chefs competing here like to toss in.
Nino “Neens” Camillo, founder of the OnoYum event, is a pretty cool cat himself. I asked him recently why he started the event. It doesn’t get any simpler than his answer – Poke is one of his favorite dishes and, back when he started the event, it was almost impossible to find a good one. Now, there are I Love Poke events in San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco and Seattle. The event has become so popular and well-known that this year’s San Diego I Love Poke Fest will have its first international competitor, Candy Wu and Poke Australia. Cheers, mate!
The event will also host Hawaiian families who are currently staying at San Diego’s Ronald McDonald House and have traveled to San Diego seeking much needed medical attention for their children. “Throughout the year there are 10-15 families from Hawaii who stay at the Ronald McDonald House while their child receives treatment at a local hospital. Some of these families will stay for a length of three months all the way up to one year,” says Neens. “Our heart is to show love and support to these families by giving them a night that feels like home.”
A quick conversation with Neens confirmed that OnoYum also plans long term support for the families that are here from Hawaii by providing some of the smaller comforts and conveniences that they don’t have ready access to while staying at the Ronald McDonald House with their families – things like rice cookers to help make their meals feel a bit more like home. It’s often the smallest things that matter the most.
The next San Diego event is May 24th. You can click here for more information and tickets and I will most definitely see you there along with a few hundred of my closest friends! Here’s a recap of last years event.
Chef Celebration – Guaranteeing Great San Diego Dining for the Future
This dinner series started 20 years ago when a group of local chefs decided to volunteer their time and restaurants toward raising money to send young, up and coming chefs to a special, intensive training program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, CA. Once again, get a bit more bang for your buck by eating gourmet, elevated platings prepared by some of the best chefs in the region while investing in the future of the San Diego dining scene. What used to last only through the month of April now extends into May due to the number of chefs and facilities that clamor to participate in this cause. Tickets are limited, but I will definitely see you at one of the last two events this year! Get more information and tickets here. Enjoy and Cheers, my friends!