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

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.


Chef Jonathan Hale – The Prado

Executive Chef Jonathan Hale knew at an early age that he would one day become a chef. He had always enjoyed tasting different types and textures from all over the globe, which is most likely the result of Jonathan’s varying regional background. He was born in India, raised in London and finished high school in New York. Jonathan’s first job in the restaurant industry began at the age of 17 as a waiter in Cape Cod, Mass.
Jonathan’s ambition led him to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he graduated in 1991. He then began moving further westward and landed a position as Chef Tournant at the Renaissance Restaurant in Aspen, Col. He remained there for over two years, and then decided to relocate to Hawaii where he could work with the freshest seafood possible. He started as a line cook at the famed Pacific Café with Jean-Marie Josselin in Maui and Kauai and was soon promoted to Executive Chef.

After seven years in Hawaii, Chef Hale moved to San Diego in 2001, and took over the helm as Executive Chef at the first seafood restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter – Blue Point Coastal Cuisine. Hale and his team created a first class menu, earning awards from the Gaslamp Quarter Association, such as “Favorite Place to Dine,” “Best Seafood,” “Favorite Wine List,” “Best Customer Service” and “Best Downtown Restaurant” from San Diego Home & Garden Magazine.

In early 2010, Cohn Restaurant Group was very pleased to announce that Chef Jonathan Hale was appointed as the new Executive Chef of CRG’s award-winning restaurant, The Prado at Balboa Park. Chef Hale’s favorite thing about his job, besides working with his culinary team, is “being able to create a dish, market it, execute it, and do it all over again the next day. It just doesn’t get old.” Jonathan’s experience and unique style have quickly distinguished him as a leader and an innovator for the Cohn Restaurant Group.


Chef Victor Jimenez – Cowboy Star

Executive Chef Victor Jimenez, originating from Manzanillo, Mexico, is a graduate of San Diego State University and the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire in Paris, France. In 2008, Jimenez was invited to become a cofounder of Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop. Located in the thriving urban community of East Village in Downtown San Diego, Cowboy Star provides a unique neighborhood fine dining experience with a spotlight on American contemporary cuisine with a Western flare.

Executive Chef Victor Jimenez uses his imaginative palate to compose a menu with an emphasis on sustainably sourced local produce and top quality meats, stating “We always made a commitment to working with quality ranchers and farmers across the country and we will never compromise that.” Restoring the neighborhood butcher shop, Cowboy Star has become a destination for specialty protein and game, and ensures quality and consistency by hand cutting all steaks served in house.

Jimenez’s influence on the culinary landscape in San Diego recaptures simple and pure tastes found in locally grown, natural ingredients, and updates American heirloom recipes. Chef Victor Jimenez’s focus on a sustainable food future, remarkable dining and genuine high caliber service are all elements showcased in the memorable Cowboy Star experience!


Chef Jason Knibb – Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar

Jamaican-born, Jason is a self-trained chef who has had the opportunity to train under some of the country’s most celebrated chefs including Wolfgang Puck, Roy Yamaguchi, Hans Rockenwagner and San Diego’s own, Trey Foshee.

Each of his mentors has a simple common philosophy about cooking, which translates into his style today:  Creating regional cuisine using the freshest, local products available.  Jason finds the most culinary pleasure in blending an eclectic mix of classic techniques with modern styles inspired by the ethnic diversities of San Diego and the surrounding region.  He couples that with his own vision of new American cuisine by taking traditional dishes and giving them a simple, elegant twist.

Throughout his career, Jason has garnered many accolades, but his proudest moments include receiving ZAGAT’s “extraordinary to perfection” rating and StarChef’s Rising Star Chef (one of only two local chefs to be recognized).  He was also a contender on Iron Chef, battling Bobby Flay to a seafood showdown.

Jason is committed to finding the time to preserve and enhance the fabric of my community, continually supporting local organizations like the San Diego Food Bank.


Chef Dave McHugh – Sea World San Diego

As executive chef for SeaWorld San Diego and Aquatica SeaWorld’s Waterpark in San Diego, Chef Dave McHugh oversees all of the culinary operations for both the marine park and the waterpark, which combined are host to millions of visitors each year. Assuming the position in 2018, McHugh leads a team that provides fresh and wholesome meals, snacks and desserts to both guests and team members.  He also oversees catering for special events and SeaWorld’s bakery, which is one of the largest private bakeries in Southern California.

Having grown up in a large family (he is the seventh of eight children), Chef McHugh is used to feeding a big crowd. Inspired by his mother in the family’s busy kitchen in upstate New York, McHugh gained a fascination with cuisine that led him to industrial kitchen settings at a very young age: as a high schooler, he was already working his way up at country clubs and hotel kitchens!

Chef McHugh relocated to San Diego in the 1980s and spent the next few decades seeking out exciting culinary opportunities and earning his formal training (an associate’s degree from Mesa College).  He held positions in restaurants in the then-burgeoning downtown area in the mid-1980s and oversaw thousands of events on yachts in the bays of San Diego, Marina Del Rey and Newport Beach in the late ’80s and early ’90s. McHugh started with Hornblower Cruises in 1986 and quickly moved his way up to executive chef, spending a total of 20 years at the popular attraction on San Diego Bay. In the early ’90s, he spent two summers abroad, under the tutelage of classically-trained French chefs.

In 2007, Chef McHugh entered the college and university arena and practiced high-volume, multi-unit management with catering and restaurants in a 30,000-student setting.

Chef McHugh also has a secondary profession as a culinary arts adjunct instructor.  “I was fortunate enough to have many great mentors in my life, and it brings me tremendous satisfaction to be able to give back to the industry, and to young, developing culinarians,” said McHugh.

Throughout his four-decade culinary career, McHugh has honed skills pertaining to organic gardening, farm to fork cooking, and allergen and nutritional styles of cookery. An avid gardener, Chef McHugh lives with his wife and kids in a ranch-style home in Del Cerro, California where he loves growing his own herbs and produce. Plus he keeps chickens for daily fresh eggs!


Chef James Montejano – The Huntress









Chef Aaron Obregon – Albaca

“Every fish needs to swim three times: in water, wine, and butter” is the philosophy of Chef Aaron Obregon, a young and talented chef with a passion for Mexican cuisine. Before beginning his culinary career, he traveled the world, experiencing the cuisines and cultures of many countries.

Upon graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena California, he decided to go back to his roots in Mexico City to begin his career as a professional chef. He worked at restaurants such as Biko, recognized as one of Latin America’s best restaurants, and with renown chefs Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza. Eventually he opened his own seafood  restaurant with fellow chefs in Mexico City. After he was comfortable with his experience as a chef and restaurant manager, Chef Obregon decided to enter the restaurant world in his hometown, San Diego.


Chef Ryan Orlando – Campfire

Born and raised in San Diego, Chef Ryan Orlando has a career that has led him all around the United States. Starting his career at Chart House in Cardiff, California at the age of 16, he worked his way up over the years from dish and prep to manning the grill. He then left for New York City in 2003 and worked at Chef Charlie Palmer’s Aureole under Chef Dante Boccuzzi and Sous Chef Amar Santana. He came back to San Diego and started working at the Pamplemousse, known for it’s French-inspired cuisine. He cooked there for a year and a half before deciding to go to Portland, Oregon for a year and work at Filbert’s Cafe under Bill Sutherland.

Not long after, Chef Orlando was offered the Sous Chef position back at Pamplemousse, where he worked for another year and a half. Interested in exploring other cuisines, Chef Orlando took a position at Q’ero in Encinitas to branch out into Peruvian. He then got navigated his way to golf clubs, working for four years at Maderas Golf Club in Poway, and for two and a half years at Del Mar Country Club under his mentor Tommy DiMella, and then became chef at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club. Seeing an opportunity to get involved at Campfire, Chef Orlando took it and has been cooking there ever since.


Chef Israel Ortiz – Harrah’s Resort Southern California

At Harrah’s Resort SoCal, you can find the hard work of Executive Chef Israel Ortiz in every outlet from the variety in the Buffet to the decadence of the Fiore steakhouse. Five-year veteran of the culinary team in Funner, CA Ortiz has worked closely with our entire food and beverage team to ensure every meal served is authentic and delicious.

A graduate of the prestigious Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, Chef Ortiz came to Harrah’s Resort SoCal eight years ago after working in a casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In addition to taking time and care in the kitchen, Chef also takes time to get out from behind the flame to meet and greet guests. He enjoys receiving direct feedback on their meals, something he feels really sets the experience at Harrah’s Resort SoCal apart.

Being an Executive Chef in Funner, CA means more than just cooking up the old stand byes. It means pushing your culinary boundaries and concocting creations that make guests at Harrah’s Resort SoCal smack their lips and say, “Wow, that’s Funner!”

Some of these favorites only found in Funner include things like Flamin’ Hot Cheeto® Sushi or Funner Donuts covered in Lucky Charms® or  Mac ‘N’ Cheese stations that offer unique varieties of the classic comfort food. In addition to drumming up some of these ideas on his own, he is always encouraging his teammates to find inventive ways to make meals more fun.

But where Chef Ortiz really shines is cooking his favorite foods: authentic Korean specialties. Even when he’s at home making a meal just for himself, he’ll spend time slow roasting, braising, simmering and perfecting recipes he has learned and expanded in his favorite food category.

In addition to the happiness they cook up in the kitchen, Chef Ortiz and the entire culinary team at Harrah’s Resort SoCal also serve up smiles in the community. Each year these teammates volunteer their time and expertise in nearly a dozen charitable events benefiting a variety of causes they care about throughout Southern California.


Chef Josh Peavy – Continental Catering

A Native of Phoenix , Arizona Joshua began his culinary journey working summers in  Sitka, Alaska, working  first for a large hotel and then at several local restaurants. He decided to make cooking his career and enrolled in culinary school in Scottsdale the next winter. Over the years he worked between Arizona and Alaska gaining experience from both environments.

In 2004 Joshua  became head chef of Talon Lodge, a high-end fishing lodge with a passion for gourmet cuisine and a regular stop for chefs and cookbook authors from all over the country. Here he met Chef Michael di Maria and made the move back to Phoenix to work under Michael at his namesake restaurant at the Michaels at Citadel, a AAA four  diamond restaurant as well as spending several years at Michael’s catering company.

Joshua has traveled and worked in multiple venues in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Baja Mexico. He also spent several months working and travelling in Tuscany, Italy.

Joshua is currently executive chef of San Diego’s Continental Catering as well as the culinary director at San Diego Wine and Culinary Center in the Gaslamp district.


Chef Filippo Piccini – Solare Ristorante

Filippo was born and raised in Italy – in Saturnia, a small seaside village in Tuscany which is home to one of the most well-known food and wine regions in the world. Since his youngest years, Filippo fell in love with the gastronomic world, encouraged by his Mother’s homemade cooking.

Filippo successfully graduated from culinary school in Florence, Italy, and then immediately began working for some of the best restaurants all over Italy. Filippo then owned and managed his successful restaurant, Ristorante “Bacco e Cerere”, in Tuscany until he began traveling around the world. His first international position was at the JW Marriott in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he was Chef for three years. He then moved to San Diego to join Acquavite in La Jolla, and was there for two years before joining Solare Ristorante as Executive Chef in December 2018.


Chef Denise Roa – Rancho La Puerta

Executive Chef Denise Roa’s cuisine celebrates taste, vibrant colors, and the aliveness of the freshest seasonal ingredients possible. Her farm-to-table meals, usually inspired by a morning walk through the 5-acre organic farm just outside her door, are carefully prepared aesthetic triumphs—simultaneously rustic yet complex in their flavors, as well as being eminently healthy and satisfying for the body as well as the mind and spirit.

Her approach to cooking fuses the culinary and cultural heritages of her own life with the nutritious “spa cuisine” precepts pioneered by Rancho La Puerta co-founder Deborah Szekely, who also founded the Golden Door.

At The Ranch’s La Cocina Que Canta (“The Kitchen That Sings”), Chef Denise teaches cooking classes that start with a visit to the garden. Later, gathering the group around an immense center island, she inspires everyone with her focused passion and skills, and her enthusiasm for making cooking a fun, communal experience.

In the main dining room at Rancho La Puerta, her artful menus delight and surprise guests. Her approach has been described as “real meals that’ll reboot, recharge and make us rethink how we see (and eat) food” (Naturally Magazine, 2015).

Chef Denise’s culinary career includes studying Culinary Arts at the world-renowned Johnson & Wales University in Miami, and holding positions at some of San Diego’s best known and respected restaurants, including Pacifica Del Mar, Crescent Shores Grille, Del Mar Racetrack Turf Club, and her own restaurant, La Trattoria.  Her recipes have been featured in People Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens Magazine, San Diego TV stations, and other media outlets. Additionally, Chef Denise is an instructor at the Culinary Art School of Tijuana, Mexico.


Chef Jeff Roberto – Sushi on a Roll

I first started Sushi on a Roll when there was only a handful of Japanese Restaurants in San Diego. I was traditionally trained as a chef and had 8 years experience when Sushi on a Roll began. I am happy to be in San Diego and I support local business when it comes to preferred vendors, even if I had to pay a little more occasionally. We have been fortunate enough to provide Sushi for hotels, caterers, country clubs, brunches, concerts, conventions, stadiums and other major events. We’ve supplied orders from two rolls to tens of thousands of pieces of Sushi during Super Bowl. Along with the assistance of a great crew and awesome friends, we bring the “Aloha” spirit as well as Sushi quality when invited to work at events.


Chef Amy Russert – Amy’s Cakery

Amy’s Cakery is a home based Cottage Food Operator. She is a self-taught baker who has been making creative cakes, cupcakes and sugar cookies for 8 years. She is married to Heath who serves in the US Navy and has 3 teenage boys: Nathan, Nick & Connor.




Stehly Farms

We are honored to have Chef Jack Ford representing Stehly Farms cook for our annual Chefs Cork and Craft Gala this year. Stehly Farms is known for it’s natural approach to agricultural practices.


Chef Danilo “DJ” Tangalin – Maya

Born in the Philippines, Tangalin moved to Hawaii as a teenager, and then to New Jersey for culinary school. He subsequently began staging in acclaimed kitchens from Le Bernardin and Volt on the East Coast, to Coi and Cyrus in the Bay Area. Chef Tangalin finally landed in San Diego where he cooked at Whisknladle and JRDN Restaurant. In 2016, Chef Tangalin took on the executive chef position at Tidal at Paradise Point, where he began to infuse Filipino flavors and ingredients into his dishes. This fusion amassed a following within the local Filipino community. He continued to develop this style of cuisine at Bivouac Ciderworks, which was Editor’s Choice for Bar and Food Combo of the Year in the 2018 Eater Awards and was a Readers’ Choice winner for Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year. Chef Tangalin is now set to open Maya Eatery, a Filipino-inspired modern bistro, in 2019.


Chef Marcus Twilegar – Bivouac Ciderworks

Marcus Twilegar, native San Diegan, specializes in “Southern California cuisine,” focused on sourcing from local farms, sustainability, and reducing food waste. Chef Marcus joined Bivouac in March 2019, previously worked as Executive Chef of Parq Nightclub. Before that, Tender Greens and the Lodge at Torrey Pines.



Chef Vaughn Vargas – University of California San Diego

Chef Vargus is an American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and Certified Culinary Administrator (C.C.A.). His background includes all phases of onsite food service operations. He has an extensive background in running multiple unit and off-site locations and catering venues. Some career highlights include attendances at both CIA Campuses and opportunities to represent American Cuisine in Southeast Asia and Europe.

Chef Vaughn Vargus is executive chef at UC San Diego’s Housing, Dining and Hospitality and leads a team of more than 800 dining employees, including 16 talented chefs and sous chefs. He also mentors student workers, which comprise 70 percent of the dining staff, and helps develop tasteful up to date, nutritious and balanced food options for the 18 eateries on campus including dining restaurants, specialty restaurants, markets in each of the 6 colleges and catering for campus-wide catering events.

An avid surfer and ocean goer, Chef Vargus spent evenings cooking in local restaurants and days in the water. He began working in restaurants at age 14, and has been passionate about food ever since. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, but is largely self-taught. “I have vivid memories as a young child of being in the kitchen when my grandmother was cooking. She was a phenomenal cook; she grew up in the Dust Bowl era. For some reason, I was the only one she would let in the kitchen when she was cooking. It probably had some influence on my career choice.”

Chef Vargus is a current member of the ACF and NACUFS and has been largely involved with culinary competitions as a competitor and administrating competitions nationwide.