Meet the Chefs

The San Diego Food Bank’s annual Chefs, Cork & Craft Gala will feature the culinary talents of 30 chefs from around San Diego County.
Get to know each chef before the big night!

Chef Sara Polczynski (Chef Chair) – Seasoned Plates

Sara is the owner/Culinary Artisan for Seasoned Plates, a full service Catering company in San Diego specializing in bringing bold flavors, bright colors, local freshness and a custom culinary experience to each and every client. Sara has been a part of the San Diego culinary scene for almost 20 years.  Her story has many chapters.  In the mid 90’s, as a Chef graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Sara left to train at the renowned Manele Bay Hotel in Lanai, HI and The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO. Upon her return to her native San Diego, Sara was hired as the Corporate Pastry Chef for the Cohn Restaurant Group, running the pastry department for multiple restaurant concepts.

Sara Polczynski is also the owner of Sabor Imports,a small business specializing in sourcing the highest quality chef-driven food products from Mexico. All of our products are sourced from the best producers throughout Mexico.  Each product has been hand crafted or harvested with such passion and
attention to detail so that your culinary creations will tell a story.

Sara’s love for teaching on the job led to a part time career of teaching in the classroom. A culinary educator since 1999, Sara currently holds the position of Associate Professor for the Baking and Culinary Arts programs for San Diego Community College – Continuing Education. It is the largest vocational training program of its kind in the US.

Over the years, Sara’s love for cooking began to expand along with her love of travel. Inspired by the family food stories of her Mexican kitchen colleagues and the early teachings of Rick Bayless on his PBS television series, an opportunity arose that changed her career path and life forever and helped shape the style and flavor profile of her cuisine.  It was the beginning of an annual journey to travel and learn about regional Mexican cuisine, art and culture with influential chef mentors including Rick Bayless, Ricardo Munoz and Susana Trilling. Her most recent project utilized the knowledge, passion and techniques of authentic regional Mexican cuisine was as the Consultant Executive Chef for The Blind Burro in San Diego.  Bringing authentic Mexican cuisine with a modern California flair to the people of San Diego was a dream project.  Always trying to be connected to the rich culture and foods of Mexico has afforded her the opportunity to teach hands on cooking classes at the world renowned Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, MX, utilizing fresh produce grown on their on-site organic farm.

Chef Larry Banares –
Viejas Casino & Resort

Chef Larry, a Certified Executive Chef brings more than 40 years of experience as chef, culinary educator, media personality, consultant and restaurateur to “America’s Finest City”. A familiar face, he appeared on ABC / KGTV Channels 10 and 15 with his popular cooking segments and hosted / produced “The County Cooks with Chef Larry” and “Chef Larry’s Cuisine” cooking shows for CTN and Time Warner television. He has appeared nationally on VH1’s “The Fabulous Life of Michael Jackson”, The Food Network’s “Roker on The Road” and on “Barbecue America” for KPBS. Internationally he has appeared on ABS-CBN and GMA TV in the Philippines. A true culinary “ambassador”, Chef Larry was heard around the world on his popular radio program, “The Chef Larry Show” on World Talk Radio and hosted local radio shows on Clear Channel and Broadcast Companies of America networks. Chef Larry has also has written a weekly food column for the Asian Reader.

Internationally recognized for his culinary accomplishments, Chef Larry was a member of the 1988, 1992 and 1996 U.S.A. Culinary Teams, winning three gold medals and a special “cloverleaf” award at the world’s most prestigious cooking competition, the “Culinary Olympics”. Chef Larry has served as Executive Chef / Food and Beverage Director for many destination hotels including the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, The Disneyland Hotel, The Queen Mary, and recently served as chef for NFL team owner Dean Spanos. He was named “Chef of the Year” by the American Culinary Federation Orange Empire Chef Association. He has cooked for numerous celebrities and dignitaries including superstar Michael Jackson, The Sultan of Brunei, entertainers Brian McKnight and Lea Salonga and Philippine Presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Joseph Estrada. In demand as a speaker and consultant, Chef Larry has worked with many national restaurant chains and foodservice companies. His published work includes “New Currents in American Cuisine: Cooking with Team USA”, “Kochkunst in Bildern III & IV” and “The New American Barbecue” video / recipe book with Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay.

As guest chef of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Asia’s premier luxury resort chain, Banares has showcased his signature cuisine at flagship hotels in Manila, Hong Kong and through-out Asia. He is currently the executive chef of Viejas Casino and Resort.

Chef Nick Brune – Eco Caters

Chef Nicholas Brune was born and raised in the heart of “flavor country,” Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he began cooking and experimenting with food at a very young age. This hobby grew to be an obsession when he moved to New Orleans, and began working at Mr. B’s Bistro. After working for the Brennen Family for two years, Chef Brune became infatuated with the flavor and design of food.

Chef Brune then moved to Los Angeles and worked as head chef of some of the top catering companies in the city, where he had full responsibility for coordinating all aspects of the kitchen for some of the biggest events in LA. He quickly discovered his passion for catering private and corporate events of all sizes and budgets. Adding to his already burgeoning resume, Chef Brune introduced his personal chef skills and talents to a wide array of clientele, including celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. Chef Brune Co-Founded Eco Caters in 2007 alongside Adam Hiner to bring fresh, seasonal, organic food to the tables of events throughout Southern California.  In 2011, Brune and Hiner opened a new restaurant in San Diego called Local Habit,

Today, Chef Brune has dedicated his talents to creating artful, seasonal, organic dining experiences that are full of flavor and zest.

Chef Ryan Bullock – MIHO Catering Co.

As an emerging talent in the San Diego culinary scene, Chef Ryan Bullock first brought his diverse restaurant experience to the world of catering as the Executive Chef of MIHO Catering Co. in 2014.

Chef Ryan’s love for cooking and apt for creativity in the kitchen were inspired by his father and grandparents during his upbringing in Midland, Michigan. His knack for cooking began when he started working at his father’s restaurant at the age of 13. At age 19, Chef Ryan moved to San Diego to pursue his culinary passion, and nearly 15 years later, he has honed his skills in the city’s top kitchens.

Upon his move to San Diego, Chef Ryan joined Bertrand at Mister A’s where he perfected the finer points of French cuisine. In 2009, Chef Ryan joined Whisknladle, where he worked his way up the ranks and eventually opened the beloved PrepKitchen in Del Mar. There, he was named one of 2011’s Top Five Rising Chefs in the U.S. by Gayot.

Known most notably for his time with Brian Malarkey at Enlightened Hospitality, and Matt Gordon’s Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, Chef Ryan was the Chef de Cuisine for both of these popular eateries.  He further cemented his reputation as a rising star in the San Diego culinary scene as the Executive Chef of Encore Champagne Bar and Dining Room in San Diego’s Gaslamp.

Chef Ryan is leading MIHO Catering Co. in the mission of reinventing the catering experience with an unprecedented combination of hand crafted cuisine and exceptional service. He naturally embodies a passion for locally sourced ingredients, a foundation of French techniques, and a love of diverse worldly flavors.

Chef Joe Burns – Waters Fine Foods & Catering

Born in Buffalo, NY and raised in Hilton Head Is, SC. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Charleston Campus Class of 01 w/ an associates degree in Baking & Pastry Arts. Joe got his culinary start at the prestigious Peninsula Grill in Charleston, SC after graduating from Johnson & Wales. His first pastry chef position was at the historic Beaufort Inn in Beaufort, SC. Upon arrival to San Diego Joe had the pleasure of working at the award-winning restaurant Georges at the Cove under the guidance of Chef Trey Foshee. The original pastry chef of Whisknladle, Chef Joe worked closely with Chef Ryan Johnston to promote the concept of farm to table.

Using fresh local and sustainable ingredients and making everything from scratch. After Whisknladle, Chef Joe moved on the Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach. Known as one of the original fine dining restaurants in San Diego, Chef Joe had the privilege of working under the very talented Chef Jeffery Strauss. While there, Chef Joe helped create the chocolate company Le Petit Mousse Chocolates where he came up with recipes for their unique gourmet chocolate dipped caramel line. Chef Joe left the Pamplemousse Grille in 2013 to join the culinary team and head up the pastry department at the renowned catering company Waters Fine Foods & Catering. In 2015, Chef Joe co-founded WooBar – a concept/dream he has been working on since 2008, chocolate dipped frozen cheesecake bars. And yes, his name really is Joe Pastry!

Chef Alex Carballo

Nationally respected as of one of Restaurant Hospitality Magazine’s “12 to watch in 2012”, Alex Carballo has been noted in top industry publications such as Food & WineSunset Magazine and Draft Magazine. Alex has manned the helm in some of San Diego’s most prestigious kitchens (Crosby Country Club, Indigo Grill, Brigantine and The Fishery), but it was his five-year stint as General Manager/Executive Chef at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens that earned him national acclaim.

In 2014, Carballo went on to partner with URBN Coal Fired Pizza to launch a wildly successful local brewery, the former URBN Brewing. Alex is now the Executive Chef and partner of Moto Deli, a chef-driven sandwich shop opening in spring 2016. He is a practicing member of Slow Food San Diego, board member for Chef Celebration and also advises the California Department of Education’s “California Farm to School Task Force”.

A bona fide tastemaker at heart, the San Diego native is also an avid collector of fine and rare tequilas, bourbons, whiskies and wines.

Chef Hanis Cavin – The Pioneer

In 2018, Chef Hanis with Willie dePasquale and David Cohn opened The Pioneer BBQ in San Carlos.

The amazing design was done by Philipe Beltran of the CRG. Hanis brings a chef driven menu, full of low and slow prepared BBQ, burgers and appetizers. The Pioneer BBQ has a full bar, and a variety of craft beers and plenty of tv’s to keep everyone happy and entertained.





Chef Denise Covert – The Crossings at Carlsbad 

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Denise Covert discovered her love for crafting food at the young age of 13 while working as a baker at “Sweethearts”. Enticed by the freedom the restaurant industry offered (ideal for satisfying her nomadic spirit), Denise continued to hone and expand her skill set through a wide variety of jobs – from dishwasher to busser, bartender, waitress and cook.

In 2011, Denise seized the opportunity to attend culinary school at the San Diego Culinary Institute (SDCI), where she developed much of the skill, diligence, and attention to detail that have formed the foundation for her success. After culinary school Denise sought out gifted leaders and chefs in the industry (learning from the likes of Chef Jason McLeod and Chef Justin Braly) and jumped right into a career marked by her relentless passion to succeed.

Beginning with a position as line cook at La Valencia Sky Room in 2011, Denise then moved on to a Pastry Chef role at Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge, and from there to her first Sous Chef role at Firefly Grill & Wine Bar in 2013. Constantly looking to balance her love of pastry craft with an equal passion for creative comfort food, Denise found herself back in a Pastry Chef role with Azul until late 2014, and then working as Banquet Chef for Stone Brewery from late 2014 to 2016. From there Denise moved into an Executive Chef position at Pacific Beach Ale House till 2018.Denise is currently the Executive Chef of The Crossings of Carlsbad where she hopes to bring elevated comfort food to North County.

Well-known for her no-nonsense attitude, innovative palette, and commitment to well-executed dishes and a meticulously run kitchen, Denise has paved her way as a female chef in a predominantly masculine arena with the same precision she applies to her craft. She truly relishes the joy of feeding people and working in the kitchen every day, consistently seeks to learn new techniques, and encourages creative thinking with modern twists on classic comfort food.

Chef Evan Cruz – Arterra