For Jeff Jackson, a family is at its best when gathered around a table of great food - and great food comes from fresh, locally-grown ingredients.
Jackson, the executive chef at AR Valentien restaurant at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, will bring together his own “family” of top San Diego chefs and local growers, vintners and culinary artisans for the fifth annual Celebrate the Craft event, to be held Sept. 20 to 23 at The Lodge.
The annual celebration of the flavor and nutrition of fresh food is back, and much of the same chefs and food producers from the event’s previous four years are back for more.
“There is a bond,” Jackson said. “It’s become like a family type of thing that even reaches through to a lot of the people who attend year after year after year. It’s become a kind of family block party in a sense.”
The role of food in a strong family is part of what drives Celebrate the Craft, which donates part of its proceeds to Slow Food, an international educational organization dedicated to, among other things, bringing our hectic culture back to the dinner table. The movement was started by Carlo Petrini, an Italian who was shocked to see a McDonald’s being constructed across the street from the Colosseum in Rome.
“If you travel in Spain, France or Italy, they are passionate about the idea of the family table,” Jackson said. “They go into the markets every day, and it’s stuff that’s grown locally, and that’s what the local recipes that go back hundreds of years are based upon. All of a sudden these traditions that parents and grandparents passed down were falling by the wayside because of chain restaurants and fast food.”
In addition to the influence, such restaurants, the quality of the food at home dinner tables has declined because ingredients are brought to supermarkets from farther and farther away. The food production industry is consolidating, and smaller local farmers, especially in areas with high-demand real estate such as San Diego, are struggling to survive. That struggle was also part of the motivation behind Celebrate the Craft.
“We had organic farms as well as conventional farms that were dropping like flies due to the value of the land they were on,” Jackson said. “A lot of them were leasing for years and got the land sold out from under them so it could be developed into million-dollar homes. So the idea (in starting Celebrate the Craft) was to get like-minded chefs in the area who would support local growers.”
That approach has seen results. Dave Barnes of Crow Pass Farm in Temecula, one of the longtime participants in the event, has organized a distribution system wherein he delivers goods from other participating farms to some of the chefs from Celebrate the Craft.
Celebrate the Craft attendees can see the fruits of this collaboration. The Sunday Evening Supper event will feature a family-style feast using local ingredients. At the Picnic on the Arroyo Terrace on the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 23, chefs and farmers pair up, with the chef preparing the grower’s best and freshest ingredients.
“People can see it in its raw form as well as its cooked or prepared form,” Jackson said. “They can talk to the grower about his methods, so it’s kind of an educational process as well.
The participating food producers at the event include Catalina Offshore Products of San Diego, Aniata Cheese Company of Del Mar, Wicked Wilds of Solana Beach and Bread & Cie of San Diego. The chefs include Jackson, Trey Foshee of George’s at the Cove and Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten.
New this year to Celebrate the Craft is an arts omponent, The Torrey Pines Plein Air Invitational. Some of the finest plein air (“open air”) painters in the world, including Brian Blood, Laurie Kersey and Jim Wodark, will set up their canvases on site to capture the landscape of the Torrey Pines State Reserve. Celebrate the Craft attendees will be able to watch the painters work during the Picnic in the Park, to be held Saturday, Sept. 22, with an artist’s reception and auction to be held later.
Part of the proceeds of Celebrate the Craft will benefit the H.M. Artist Foundation, which helps young artists travel and obtain further education.
For a full list of Celebrate the Craft events, chefs, vintners, food producers and artists, and to purchase tickets, please visit www.celebratethecraft.com.