The Cooks Confab is cookin’ up camaraderie

It looks like a typical night at a bar, with a few people relaxing and talking over drinks, except these particular people could turn a few carrots and potatoes into a gourmet dish in an instant. It is, in fact, a meeting of the Cooks Confab, a group of San Diego’s most innovative chefs; chefs who have come together in order to bring attention to their craft and to put a spotlight on the city’s rapidly developing culinary scene.

Cooks in the Confab help one another out - it’s as simple as that. Created about three years ago, the Confab isn’t a typical band of chefs from competing restaurants, only claiming to support one another. In the case of the Cooks Confab, the support is real, because the chefs realize that they share a common interest (a passion for food) and an anything but common city that deserves critical acclaim.

It’s a pretty basic formula: Confab members take turns organizing dinners, which feature themes or central ingredients, at the restaurants they cook for. For a foodie, it would be a pretty spectacular sight to witness: insanely talented chefs taking in a seven- or eight-course dinner featuring foie gras and imported oils, discussing ingredients and strategizing dishes.

For Tim Kolanko, the chef de cuisine at A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, it was all about the ego. Or lack thereof.

“Chefs are known for having a tendency to be egomaniacs, and this group is simply not like that,” said Kolanko. “There is no competitive vibe or drama.”

Antonio Friscia, executive chef of Stingaree in the Gaslamp, co-created the group based on this sentiment.

“All of the chefs of the Confab were hanging out together anyway, and we wanted to host events using the ingredients and dishes from our own recipes,” Friscia said.

A little healthy competition only adds to the group’s dynamic. Although San Diego has certainly distinguished itself from Los Angeles in many ways, there’s still some work to be done on the food front.

“We have been in a culinary struggle here in San Diego,” said Confab member Andrew Spurgin, of Waters Fine Catering. “So many so wrongly think of us as that little ‘town’ south of L.A. We want to create events that our community can not only enjoy, but introduce ingredients they normally may not come across.”

Raising the culinary bar in San Diego means embracing the ingredients the city is known for, rather than trying to create an untenable image. For example, on Aug. 9, the Confab will host “Craft Beer: Grain to Glass, Farm to Table” at Stingaree. Call Stingaree for tickets at (619) 544-9500.

“Many people might not realize that San Diego is the internationally recognized craft beer authority,” Spurgin said. “We need to embrace that and experience what these gifted craftsmen are creating. L.A. doesn’t even hold a pint to what they do here in the 619 and 858.”

Although this sense of rivalry may motivate the chefs, the real inspiration comes, of course, from one another.

“I am a part of the Cooks Confab because I enjoy cooking with the chefs involved,” Friscia said. “I consider them not only my colleagues, but my friends.”

And in five or 10 years, will the Confab still be doing what they do best?

“In the years to come, I hope the Confab continues to build awareness and support among the local dining community,” Kolanko said.


AleSmith | The Lodge at Torrey Pines

Anvil Estra Special Bitter paired with

1) Coriandered Lamb Loin with charcoal-roasted eggplant, preserved lemon & poached garlic

2) Roasted Black Mission Fig with cracked pepper, 18-month Fiscalini, hazelnuts & pan forte

Ballast Point Brewing Co. | KITCHEN 1540 & Roseville

Navigator Brandy-Aged Dopplebook Blend paired with

1) Foie Gras Bratwurst, fingerling potato salad & mostrata

2) Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with “Navigator” ice cream, beer-macerated cherries & candied lemon

Green Flash Brewing Co. | NINE-TEN & Quarter Kitchen

Le Freak Belgian-Style IPA paired with:

1) Jerk Chicken with plantain puree & scotch-bonnet pepper jam

2) Duck Confit with corn and apple puree, orange & Le Freak sauce

XXX Coffee Porter paired with:

Smoked Chocolate & XXX Porter Float

Lightning Brewery | Cafe Chloe & Farm House Cafe

Ionizer Lager paired with:

1) Roasted Jidori Chicken with succotash & sage

2) Alaskin Salmon Confit with wheat four-corn pancake, fennel relish & harissa oil

The Lost Abbey | 1500 Ocean & Waters Fine Catering

Cuvee de Tomme paired with:

1) Berkshire Pork Belly with cherry-smoked celestial figs injected with old balsamic & pickled fennel

2) Duck Crepinette with augula, pickled cherry & golden raisin mustard

Stone Brewing Co. | Jsix & Stingaree

Sublimely Self-Righeous Ale paired with:

1) Mashima Ranch Black Wagyu Beef Tataki with smoked sesame ponzu & shunkyo radish salad

2) Smoked Prune Pork Sausage with watercress, wild rice, red wine vinegar gel & hoppy crouton


AleSmith Lil’ Devil

Ballast Point Wahoo Wheat

Green Flash West Coast IPA

Lightning Elemental Pilsner

The Lost Abbey Inferno Ale

Stone 13th Anniversary Ale