Going to a restaurant or cooking at home by itself is always a pleasure and one of our favorite ways to spend time. Eating at a restaurant and doing something good at the same time makes the culinary experience even better. There are of course a number of fundraisers which include dinners for various political or cultural events but culinary occasions are very rare. One of the few exceptions in San Diego is the Chef Celebration dinner series.
Chef Celebration was founded about 15 years ago and is a non-profit organization dedicated “to enhance the knowledge and potential of promising young chefs and lay a foundation of excellence for San Diego’s culinary future.” As part of this mission it has provided numerous scholarships over the years to many aspiring news chefs at the beginning of their career as for example Victor Jimenez of Cowboy Star and Hanis Cavin of Kensington Grill.
One main opportunity to collect money for those scholarships is through the annual Chef Celebration dinner series. Over the last few years on five nights every fall several chefs joined forces at different restaurants to create 4- or 5-course dinners for $65 with $35 going towards the scholarship funds. We really enjoyed many of these dinners since it often allows the chefs to be more creative than in their regular restaurants and for example use ingredients or techniques you won’t find often in San Diego as abalone, escargots, uni or spherification. It is also a lot of fun since you get to experience food from several different chefs in one tasting menu by just visiting one restaurant. Starting this year the Chef Celebration dinners have moved to spring and the number of dinners has increased to seven.
As in previous years the Chef Celebration series kicked off at the Pamplemousse Grille in Del Mar with Jeffrey Strauss (Pamplemousse Grille), Bernard Guillas (Marine Room), Hanis Cavin (Kensington Grill), Jeff Thurston (Prado), Francisco Sedano (Pamplemousse Grille) and Ryan Harris (Pamplemousse Grille) as the particitpating chefs.
Pamplemousse Grille is located on Via De La Valle in a rather nondescript building which stands out by the goose based theme of the restaurant outside...
...which also continues inside
We always enjoy the bread basket at the beginning of the dinner which has a nice selection of delicious warm muffins
Amuse Bouche: Tian of ahi, hamachi & avocado, wasabi caviar & duo of sauces (Jeffrey Strauss). Good tasting fish which was a bit overpowered by the spicyness of the wasabi caviar and two different sauces.
Course 1a: Dukkah crusted Baja prawns, red quinoa timbale, chipotle aioli, cilantro sprouts, tangerine reduction (Bernard Guillas). A nice combination which worked well together only the prawns were rather cold. We were not sure if this was on purpose but thought the dish would have been better with freshly grilled, warm prawns. The red quinoa timbale was outstanding.
Course 1b: Basil escargot chantarelle casserole, pepitas, serrano ham, macademias, madras curry essence (Bernard Guillas).Very good s tarter which showed Chef Guillas French roots with his passion to combine culinary influences from all over the world (see also his recent cookbook). It’s nice to get very tender escargots in this case, they often tend to be rubbery at other places. Wine Pairing – Both first courses were paired with a 2006 Trione Chardonnay which was quite rich with balanced buttery oakiness and citrusy taste.
Course 2: Telecherry crusted scallops, fava, red bell pepper, sweet corn puree, petite herb salad, crisp bacon vinaigrette (Hanis Cavin). The scallops were nice even though very much on the small side. We liked the idea of having three different, very distinct sauces but also thought that the dish was out of balance and missing some kind of vegetables. It felt too protein heavy although again there was not much food on the plate – it might have been more appropriate as an Amuse Bouche. Wine Pairing – 2007 Barnett Pinot Noir, Tina Marie Vineyard, which was not too rich to overwhelm the scallops with some light tannins and raspberry fruit.
Course 3a: Trio of lamb – Colorado lamb rack, herb saddle of lamb, braised lamb shoulder, crepinette with ragout of morels, favas, parisian carrots, english peas, pencil asparagus and red pearl onions (Francisco Sedano). All three different preparations of lamb were nicely cooked but similar to the second course this dish felt too protein heavy. There were several types of vegetables on the plate but overall we felt that there was too much meat on the plate compared to the vegetables.
Course 3b: Pan seared yellow fin tuna, foie gras fried rice, sauteed pea tendrils and plum wine reduction (Jeff Thurston). This Asian inspired dish was the highlight of the night. The excellent fish was accompanied by the outstanding fried rice which had a very distinct and addictive foie gras taste. After that it will be hard to again eat fried rice without foie gras. Wine Pairing – Both third courses were paired with a 2005 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon which was strong enough to hold up against the lamb and fried rice with some dark fruits, oak and tannins.
Course 4: Trio of desserts – Rhubarb upside down cake, pineapple tartlette, Mexican chocolate panna cotta (Ryan Harris). Nice array of good tasting desserts. It was good to see that the chef tried to showcase very different styles of desserts instead of focusing just on one which often tends to be either too fruity or chocolate heavy and isn’t often the best way to end tasting menu.
The evening ended with some cute pig-shaped cookies and espresso
And the chefs eating dinner at the tables next to us at the end of the evening
Overall the dinner was a good start to this year’s Chef Celebration series even though the composition of some dishes could have been stronger. It was good to see that this dinner at Pamplemousse Grille was very well attended. (Over the last years the Pamplemousse Grille dinner always turned out to be the best visited of the whole series). The wine pairings for three courses were nice and the pours were very generous but we thought that having smaller pours but pairings for all courses (e.g. sparkling wine for amuse bouche and dessert wine for the last course) like we had at other dinners would have been more enjoyable. The service at Pamplemousse Grille was good this time and not rushing like we experienced in the last few years.
We are looking forward to visiting a few other Chef Celebration dinners this year.
514 Via De La Valle
Solana Beach, CA 92075