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 Importsa 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 Andrew Bachelier – Campfire 

Previously Chef de Partie at William Bradley’s distinguished Addison, and most recently the Chef de Cuisine behind the launch of Del Mar’s highly-lauded Cucina Enoteca, Andrew Bachelier’s first food memories are from his early years in Guadalajara, Mexico. The full-sensory experience of that impactful environment – the colors of the markets, the wafting scents and bold flavors of the street food, and the passion of the people he encountered – made a lasting impression on Bachelier that has been front of mind throughout his professional career.

Later in Arizona, he worked alongside his family as they split wood, built and tended the fire, and used nothing but cast iron to produce meals that mesmerized him with their fresh, bright and spicy flavors. These experiences would prove formative as Bachelier launched his culinary path in San Diego years later.

At Campfire, Bachelier’s market-driven menu is centered around the fundamental idea of a shared guest dining experience, and embraces the influences of the melting pot of American cuisine while placing a strong emphasis on locally sourced and sustainable meats, seafood and seasonal vegetables. Harnessing the potential of the custom Grillworks grill in the heart of the restaurant, Bachelier utilizes wood, charcoal, embers, and ash to create technique-driven and deceptively simple dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves.

In the time since Campfire’s inception, Bachelier’s culinary prowess has earned him respect on a local level where he was recognized as one of Locale Magazine’s Eat Experts while also thrusting him onto the national spotlight as one of Plate Magazine’s Chefs to Watch in 2017.


Chef Jonathan Bautista – George’s at the Cove

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 under Chef Paul McCabe at Kitchen 1540 in 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. Jonathan currently run’s the day to day operation at George’s California Modern under Executive Chef/Partner Trey Foshee.


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 10 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 – Frescos  & Moto Deli

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 – Carnitas’ Snack Shack

Born and raised in San Diego, Hanis Cavin is known nationally for his culinary talents. Early on, Hanis’ home economics teacher told him that he had a talent that should not be wasted. Inspired by his teacher’s advice, Hanis attended the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. After school, Hanis began to polish his skills at the American Seasons Restaurant in Nantucket. But his love for San Diego — and warm weather — brought him back to the West Coast, where he worked at a number of notable restaurants throughout San Diego as an Executive Chef and Chef de Cuisine.

In 2009, Chef Hanis earned the honorable award of “Chef of the Year” from the California Restaurant Association. Shortly after that he was inducted into the San Diego Home/Garden’s “Chef’s Hall of Fame”. In 2011, Hanis and his partner, now wife, Sara Stroud, opened Carnitas’ Snack Shack – their first joint venture in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. Other accomplishments include being featured on the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” and being responsible for the pilot of “Taco Trip” with Aaron Sanchez.

Chef Denise Covert – PB Alehouse 

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 Michael Rotondo) 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 Sous Chef position at Pacific Beach Ale House – her first exposure to the OMG Hospitality Group brand.

Throughout her time with the Ale House Denise demonstrated significant leadership potential, a thorough pursuit of excellence, and passion for her craft – all of which contributed to the procurement of her first Executive Chef position at Pacific Beach Ale House.

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 costal 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.

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 Tommy Fraioli – 10 Barrel Brewing Company

Growing up, I was always in the kitchen helping my dad and grandparents cook. Coming from a Greek and Italian background, food was a major part of our culture, and eating and preparing delicious food was something we did every day. Often, I’d also help out at church functions when they needed a hand in the kitchen. My first experience with restaurants came after graduating from high school, when I started working at a local eatery called Café Deva. I loved everything about it.

When I moved to San Diego to go to college, I took a position with Boudin Bakery and subsequently worked at various other restaurants, including Bing Crosby’s, where I worked my way up to sous chef. I joined the staff at Sea Rocket Bistro in 2011, where I had the opportunity to create amazing dishes with food from local farmers and growers.  I participated in ChefDance at the Sundance Film Festival with Chad White [partner and former executive chef at Sea Rocket Bistro] and other San Diego chefs. I love experimenting with food, but I’m also a really simple guy. I cook for my friends and, a lot of the time, I barbecue. Currently I am 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 Christopher Gardner – Volunteers of America

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, learned to use fresh produce in season, a variety of wild game, freshwater and ocean foods.

I have worked for W Hotels, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Eddie V’s Seafood, and now I partner with Volunteers of America Southwest and VOA Meals.  We provide meals to various sites, VOA operated sites, Charter Schools under the National School Lunch Program, Senior Care facilities under the CACFP, as well as private off site catering events.

I garden and grow a variety of roses, hot peppers, cactus, and flowers.

I take pride in my efforts to always provide a culinary experience that exceeds expectations.


Chef Jonathan Hale – The Prado at Balboa Park


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 used 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 Accursio Lota – Solare Ristorante

I am originally from Menfi, a small agricultural town in Sicily, Italy.   I grew up with centuries-old Mediterranean dishes made by my mother and grandmother using locally caught fish, local farm-raised meat, and fruit and vegetables from our own gardens.  I am very attached to the land where I was born, and to the culture and the food.

Growing up in an agricultural town on the Mediterranean, I was educated in the natural bounty of the place. Every November we harvest olives from our tree grove and take them to the local cooperative press, leaving with our own bucket of green, spicy oil that we pour on toasted bread and sprinkle with home-dried oregano. In the winter, we cut purple artichokes from the fields and bury them in hot ashes to cook. In the summer, we harvest eggplant, tomatoes and, of course, grapes for wine. I still remember when I was six and seven years old, helping my father pick grapes in the fields to take to the big winery in Menfi. As I got older, I would go down to our local port and find fresh-caught tuna, swordfish, octopus, calamari, red shrimp. In the evenings, we would line up with the neighbors at the small sheep and goat farms near my house, waiting with our own bowls or pots to fill up with fresh sheep’s milk ricotta – still warm from the making.

I’ve always known I wanted to be a chef.  When I was just a baby, my mom would put a pile of flour and water in front of me to play with on our tiled kitchen floor.  It was the only thing that kept me from crying. From then on I loved to be in the kitchen. When I was a five, I would come home from school and pull out the flour, sugar and milk and make crepes.  When I graduated from middle school, and it came time to decide what I was going to study, I didn’t have a question: I went to culinary school.

In November 2012, I became Executive Chef at Solare Restaurant and Lounge in Point Loma.  I look forward to the new joys challenges presented by coming back to Italian cuisine with a new appreciation for global and local San Diego audiences.

Chef Mario Medina – The Main Course 

Spending many childhood days in the kitchen with his mother in Mexico City, Mario Medina developed a deep passion for food that inspired his journey of becoming  an executive chef. After finishing  culinary school in his hometown, Mario came to the United States to follow his dream. Working  and learning in some of the finer kitchens on the west coast, Mario quickly established a reputation  for great food and hospitality, driven by his desire to please every guest. His dream was soon realized when, in less than a year as Sous Chef at Chateau La Jolla Inn, he was offered the position of Executive Chef. Mario next took the helm at Paradise Grill in Del Mar, then Finch’s bistro for five years and is now leading the kitchen at Bernini’s Bistro in La Jolla.

Although  still young and early in his career, Mario is becoming  noteworthy  for his culinary  achievements,  having  been  featured  in  magazines “San Diego Home and Garden”, “Dining Out”,  “About Town”,  “Where”,  “Riviera”,  “Fine”, “Ranch &  Coast”  and  “Mexico  Aquí”,  and  on  many  local  television  news channels. Mario has been a participating chef for numerous  fundraisers and events like  Cooking  for  Cancer, Make-A-Wish  Foundation,  Mama’s Kitchen, Taste of  the  Cove, the  La Jolla  Art  and  Wine  Festival, and  the  Latin Food Festival, San Diego Food and Bank Chefs Gala, to name but a few.

He is featured in a cookbook  showcasing San Diego’s top chefs – San Diego Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from America’s Finest City – and is a weekly recipe contributor to 860AM Radio and Mexico Aqui Magazine.

Mario’s ongoing  commitment  to excellence and true hospitality, paired with his passion and love of food, always ensure his guests leave happy.

Chef Lance Repp – The University Club

Lance Repp has been bringing his creativity and expertise to the members of the University Club atop Symphony Towers since July of 2015. As the Executive Chef, Lance favors the finer things in sustainable, local ingredients, boasting bold flavors from both land and sea. Prior to his time at the University Club, Lance led the culinary teams at La Valencia Hotel and Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa for nearly ten years, and served as the Executive Chef at the newly renovated Tom Ham’s Lighthouse.

Chef Jeff Roberto – Sushi on a Roll


Our tremendous success in Sushi catering in San Diego makes having a restaurant of our own the logical next step for Sushi On A Roll.  The restaurant will open up our clientele base to the general public & those outside the Food & Hotel Industry who already know us but are unable to enjoy our product. The restaurant will complement our already successful catering business by allowing us to offer a wider variety of Sushi and enable us to create the total Sushi experience for our loyal customers.