The most exclusive restaurant in La Jolla isn't a restaurant. It's the back room of the headquarters of Giuseppe Restaurants & Fine Catering, where a maximum of 36 privileged diners can enjoy private and pop-up dinners cooked by renowned chef Giuseppe Ciuffa.
"In La Jolla, you have to either rent a humongous venue or do a partial buyout of a restaurant, which they charge a fortune for," Ciuffa says. "There was nothing in-between until this."
Ciuffa ran the Museum Cafe at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego for 17 years, during which he simultaneously developed a reputation as one of La Jolla's premiere event caterers. His company currently caters 300 weddings, high-profile charity galas and social gatherings, and races and sports events every year — using a 6,000-square-foot commercial kitchen on Morena Boulevard.
Last November, a month after the museum closed for a lengthy remodeling, Ciuffa opened a 2,800-square-foot storefront at 7853 Herschel Ave. as his brand headquarters.
"I was looking at locations for our headquarters, sales office and showroom," Ciuffa says. "So I realized, may as well add something extra. And when I found this space, it had this beautiful room in the back with a staging area for us to cook. It was a win-win, so we signed a long lease and dressed it up."
In the front, Ciuffa offers tastings to catering clients and hosts corporate and charity mixers for up to 75 people. But the back is where the magic happens. To Ciuffa, cooking private and pop-up dinners is more creatively fulfilling anyway.
"Restaurants need to offer a lot of different options," he says. "When I'm doing a private dinner, I say, 'This is the menu for the evening.' Typically, it's five or six courses, often served family-style. And I like to keep it all within one region, so then I can use the method of cooking, ingredients, flavors, traditions and everything else that has to do with a specific region."
Ciuffa's favorite region is Lazio, the hilly coastal suburb of Rome where he was taught to cook by his mother on the family farm in Cori, and he spent weekends with his family visiting other farmers, winemakers and cheese makers.
"The best part of Cori is that you can access the best of both worlds all within a 20-mile span, from the hilly farms down to the valley's vineyards and, only a few minutes away, the water for the best seafood," says Ciuffa, who gets back there once or twice year and only recently realized that he has now spent the same number of years in San Diego as in Italy.
"I am now officially half American and half Italian," says Ciuffa, who arrived here in 1994 for what he originally thought was a short vacation. "But even though today, in some ways, I feel more American than Italian, I feel like my life is like a three-story house. Italy was the foundation and first floor, and over here, I got the second and third floor. But my rooftop is still missing."
Ciuffa says that rooftop will be a flagship Italian restaurant that he's scouting locations for in The Village.
"I've been wanting to do this for quite a long time, to give 100 percent of my effort to La Jolla and put my roots here forever," he says.
For the immediate future, Ciuffa plans a series of either monthly or quarterly pop-up dinners, kicking off July 26 at Caroline's Seaside Cafe, a highly regarded casual-dining spot — steps away from the beach at the Scripps Seaside Forum — that Ciuffa also owns and operates. It will boast Cori-focused food, and wine-tasting and -pairing for the first 40 who register online. (A link to the registration page should be available soon at grnfc.com.)
"It's going to be very cool," Ciuffa says, "definitely a very unique summer setting."
— Chef Giuseppe Ciuffa operates Giuseppe Restaurants & Fine Catering out of its headquarters and event space at 7853 Herschel Ave. in La Jolla. (858) 581-2205. Website: grnfc.com
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