On April 14, chefs, farmers, and vintners from around the San Diego area convened on the grounds of The Lodge at Torrey Pines for the 21st Annual Celebrate the Craft food festival. The event is a chance for those who feed us to collaborate with other like-minded producers and exhibit their creativity with local ingredients in the craft of food and drink. 

“It is an honor to participate. It is my third year here,” says chef Roberto Alcocer of Malva Cocina in Baja, and now, the Michelin-starred Valle is in Oceanside. Malva is known for its thoughtful integration of garden produce, farm-fresh cheeses, and seafood from the local waters. “This is what we do— ” he explains, gesturing to the bright tents and cooking stations set up for the day. A small village had popped up on the Arroyo Terrance lawn, which overlooks Torrey Pines Golf Course and the Pacific Sea. Dozens of culinary professionals, farmers, bakers, mixologists, winemakers, distillers, and their crews collaborated to showcase San Diego and Baja’s regional bounty. 

“We use the freshest ingredients from local farms,” Alcocer reiterated. “Brandt beef and meats from Jack Ford’s TAJ Farms.” His station featured a well-used caja china barbecue front and center. Coals go on the top of the box, and barbacoa slowly roasts inside, its concentrated jus collecting in pans at the bottom. It’s all part of the process of creating birria tacos served with cebollas encurtidas, salsa ranchera, and paired with wines from Daou Vineyards.

Chef Andrew Spurgin of Andrew Spurgin Bespoke Event Styling & Menu Design has worked in the hospitality industry since coming to San Diego in the 1970s. His first stint was as a teenager at Taco Bell, years before working at the Bahia and Piret’s. Since Amiko Gubbins of Parallel 33 first invited him, Spurgin has participated in all 21 Celebrate the Craft events. (The event took a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.) “Yes, still doing this party which we love,” he says. “The camaraderie between the chef, the farmer, and the vintner always brings me back.” It’s a chance to team up with friends old and new. This year, he partnered with Shihomi Borillo of Azuki Sushi and Kinme Omakase. Chef Maylin Chávez of Nácar Oysters in Portland, Oregon, joined the team. She was glad to help—the Tijuana native started working the event with Spurgin as a young cook. Their impressive Burakkufisshu—miso-glazed black cod with kimchi furikake, pickled chioggias beets, smoked trout roe, and ivory oca from Girl & Dug Farm—was paired with Hottodoggu, a zero-proof cocktail of passion fruit, smoked peach, ginger, mandarin peel bitters, capsicum, basil seeds, and soda by veteran San Diego mixologist Mike Yen (Nine-Ten, Evolve Cuisine Supper Club).

Happily-fed crowds thinned out as food disappeared. The afternoon sun waned. But there was still much work to be done. Teams broke down their stations before a well-deserved family dinner was to be held for all the participants. I wandered over to chef Alcocer’s station as his crew cleaned up. He was popping a bottle of champagne, happy the event was on a Sunday. I asked why. He replies, “This is the first year I don’t have to rush to the kitchen to close...”

Proceeds from this year’s festival benefit The Ecology Center, a regenerative organic certified farm and education center in San Juan Capistrano.

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About the Contributor
Martin Lindsay
Martin S. Lindsay is the board chair for the Culinary Historians of San Diego, a nonprofit providing free public lectures on food and culture. Find events and info on chsandiego.org. He also curates the historical blog Classic San Diego at classicsandiego.com.