Meet the Chefs

The San Diego Food Bank’s 8th 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 Jonathan Bautista – Common Theory

Jonathan graduated from The Art Institute of California with an Associates of Science in Culinary Arts in 2005, and began his career at Roy’s in La Jolla as a line cook before becoming a corporate trainer and then sous chef in 2008. After five years, he moved to Kitchen 1540 at L’Auberge Del Mar where he worked as sous chef until leaving to join the opening team of Michael Voltaggio’s INK in Los Angeles. He returned to San Diego as chef de cuisine of Kitchen 1540 in late 2011, overseeing the upscale resort’s entire restaurant and banquet operation. In December 2013, Jonathan was hired as the head chef of Georges at the Cove in La Jolla, California under the wing of Executive Chef/Partner Trey Foshee. There he oversaw all Culinary operations of all three levels: Georges California Modern, level 2, and Ocean Terrace.




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 a proven leader 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 now as their Culinary Director. 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 Evan Cruz – Arterra 

Evan Cruz, an aspiring young chef, was born in the Philippines and raised in San Diego California. At a young age, he recalls learning how to cook in his grandmother’s kitchen cooking rice, rolling Lumpia (Filipino spring rolls), cutting fish, cleaning vegetables. He discovered his fascination with the culinary arts starting as a prep cook and dishwasher at the age of 15. Learning and working hard he worked his way up to sous chef by the age of 19. From there, he found himself in the midst of glamorous city lights of Las Vegas.

Not feeling satisfied and wanting to educate himself further, in 2000, he enrolled and graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. In 2001, missing home, he found himself back in San Diego and becoming the executive chef/partner at Roy’s La Jolla. With that “seven year itch” in 2007, Evan left Roy’s to start his own catering company “Exclusive Chef Catering/Consulting”.

Still wanting more of a challenge and missing cooking for guests in 2010 he found himself at finding that passion and love at “Pacifica Del Mar”. With Chris Idso moving into a new position as general manager, this created a perfect symbiotic relationship where both chefs have the love and passion for using fresh local ingredients, sustainable seafood with focus, love and passion for California coastal cuisine.

At the end of 2011, Looking to further his experience and knowledge Evan took on the position as Executive Sous Chef for the prestigious L’auberge Del mar Hotel and Resort. In the beginning of 2013, He found a great opportunity to work with another James Beard Award winning chef with Chef Bernard Guillas at the majestic La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. With a phenomenal opportunity from Arterra and The San Diego Marriott Del Mar, Evan found himself taking the helm of Executive Chef at landmark Carmel Valley hotel.

When discussing his food, Chef Cruz remarks “I believe that food is inspired by understanding the bounty of San Diego. From the seafood rich oceans of Baja California to the fertile farms of the Imperial Valley, my cuisine has developed with a local-centric view and global influences. To me a chef is just like any artist, you want them to leave you with an impression of their soul.”


Chef Amy DiBiase – Vistal

Known for taking Californian style to Italian and French cooking, Amy DiBiase is among San Diego’s most respected chefs. She’s spent more than 10 years in various local kitchens from Tidal to The Shores, and has accumulated many awards and accolades along the way.





Chef Max Farina – Zafferano Catering

At Alma, one of the top three culinary schools in the world, Chef Max Farina learned the subtleties and traditions of haute cuisine. He found a mentor in the Milanese two-star Michelin chef Claudio Sadler, considered a maestro of modern cooking techniques and artistic plating. With Chef Salder’s guidance, Farina honed his skills while refining his techniques.

Farina subsequently continued his quest in perfecting his talents by working aside two-star Michelin chef Andrea Aprea. Chef Aprea had previously trained under the tutelage of renowned Chef Heston Blumenthal of London. Chef Aprea focused on the finer techniques and emotional characteristics of haute cuisine, which added finesse to Chef Farina’s creations.

After relocating to San Diego in 2011, chef Max presented fine cuisine as a sous chef at BICE restaurant in the Gaslamp District. He quickly acclimated to what he considers the excellence of the San Diego lifestyle. His years of study under world-renowned chefs, coupled with his creative genius in the art of preparation and a desire to share his passion of serving on the finest of Italian cuisine culminated in Chef Farina launching Zafferano Catering.

Chef Tommy Fraioli – 10 Barrel Brewing 

Growing up, Tommy Fraioli was always in the kitchen helping his dad and grandparents cook. Coming from a Greek and Italian background, food is a major part of his culture. Eating and preparing delicious food was a daily activity. He’d often lend a hand at church functions when they needed a help in the kitchen. His first experience with restaurants came after graduating from high school, working at a local eatery called Café Deva. He loved everything about it. When Chef Fraioli moved to San Diego to attend college, he took a position with Boudin Bakery. He subsequently worked at various other restaurants, including Bing Crosby’s Restaurant and Piano Lounge, where he worked up to sous chef.

He joined the staff at Sea Rocket Bistro in 2011, where he had the opportunity to create incredible dishes with food from locally sourced ingredients. Chef Fraioli recognizes participating with fellow San Diego chefs in ChefDance at the Sundance Film Festival as a highlight in his career. Chef Fraioli loves experimenting with food, but also enjoys simplicity. Chef Fraioli is the current executive chef of the 10 Barrel Brewery East Village location.


Chef Gina Freize – Venissimo Cheese

After visiting her parents’ home in Austria while growing up, Gina often wondered why America didn’t have fabulous cheese shops. Hence, Venissimo Cheese was born. In 2004, Gina opened the first Venissimo Cheese in Mission Hills, intending to do for cheese what Starbucks did for coffee. Since then, she has opened neighborhood shops in Del Mar, North Park and Liberty Station. “Soon the camembert will be as well-known as the cappuccino!” says Gina.

Gina has created an app and library of more than 2,000 domestic and international cheese varieties! And yes, she has tasted all of them. She can tell you the type of milk, country of origin, production methods, plus perfect wine, beer and food pairings for each one.

Over the years while visiting both domestic and international cheesemakers in her quest for the title of “Cheese Wiz,” she has learned about the pure goodness and joy of artisinal foods.

Gina is a member of the American Cheese Society and established an Academy of Cheese (AoC), Southern California’s first official cheese school with upwards of five classes and events each month. She is the host of Noon on Tuesday, a weekly podcast all about cheese, all of the time

Next up is a cheese cookbook featuring delicious cheese recipes from nearly every country in the world. Plus watch for her new lifestyle video series Fear Less, Try More.