San Diego cooks conjure concoctions for Literacy Council event

Fine foodies mingled with devoted bibliophiles May 14 at NTC Promenade’s McMillin Center to celebrate the San Diego Council on Literacy’s fifth annual “Eat. Drink. Read.” event, amping up awareness of the shocking illiteracy figures in our community. It was a perfect marriage since books nourish the mind, spirit and soul, and food fuels the body and mind.

Literacy Council CEO Jose Cruz told attendees 20 percent of the adult population in this country — 444,000 in San Diego County — are illiterate and desperately need help with reading skills.

He explained that the Internet and social media, while easy to navigate, encourage the lazy use of acronyms and code words, which jettison all grammar and syntax rules. “Eat. Drink. Read.” is the foodie community’s way of saying reading is important and they can play a vital role in improving the literacy rates. Last year’s event raised enough cash so that 171,000 adults and children in San Diego received tutoring, books and instruction to hike their literary skills and improve their quality of life.

Celebrated chefs, bakers, chocolatiers, caterers, vendors, vintners and craft brewers gathered to plot a gustatory adventure using a food-related book for their inspiration.

Chef Donald Lockhart from Cusp Dining and Drinks created a whimsical tea party featuring Mad Hatter finger sandwiches of burrata, Serrano ham and basil crema, along with fruity teacakes paying homage to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

The Marine Room’s Executive Chef Bernard Guillas plated up an exquisite red quinoa and blue crab salad with basil sprouts and Egyptian Dukkah in honor of “The Adventures of Tintin — The Crab with the Golden Claws” by Georges Remi (Hergé).

Chef Matt Gordon from Urban Solace served smoky bacon-wrapped beets inspired by Tom Robbins’ “Jitterbug Perfume.”

Mistral’s Chef de Cuisine Adam Cho concocted a zippy yellowtail and white peach ceviche with Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach” as his motivation.

Solare Ristorante’s gnocchi sautéed with slow braised wild boar ragu with wild ramps (leeks) took a cue from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Chef Matt Sramek, Amaya at The Grand Del Mar, offered beef short rib bourguignon, smoked bacon soubsie and trofie pasta using Julia Child as his muse with her “My Life in France.”

Specialty Produce, a supplier of exotic and mainstream fruits and vegetables with a large selection of organics, chose “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” as its literary partner.

Finally, for those just desserts, The Cravory adopted “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” pleasing palates with Cookies and Cream Milkshake, Lemon Bar, Pancake and Bacon and Almond Joyous.

Eclipse Chocolate’s exotic truffle tasting played on “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.”

Vibrant, Verbose Alphabet Pasta


• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

• 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

• 1/2 sweet onion, chopped

• 2 cups dried alphabet pasta

• 3 cups vegetable broth

• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

• Zest from one lemon (I prefer Meyer)

• 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

or fresh basil leaves


In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil on low, and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the raw pasta and toast lightly. Add a cup of broth and stir constantly until the water is absorbed. Continue a cup at a time until all the liquid is absorbed. Toward the end, blend in lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Blend in Parmesan cheese and garnish with herbs.

— To volunteer as a reader or tutor with the San Diego Council on Literacy, call (888) 850-7323.

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