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Jul 24, 2009 02:09 PM

Who are your SD culinary specialist heroes?

Who are your SD culinary heroes? There's a similar thread focusing on SD favorite chefs, but I wanted to tweak the focus a bit more broadly in one sense, and a bit more narrowly in another.

The kitchen chef is often given most all of the credit for a successful restaurant, but there are many unsung heroes who may not carry the moniker of chef to his/her title but nevertheless are often critically important in the preparation of some specialty item.

These are the true specialists who may be "culinary rock stars" amongst a small subculture of dedicated followers, creating magic that is seldom recognized by the larger industry around them. Or perhaps they are "rock stars" only in your mind and unnoticed by everyone else, but their presence makes your day a little bit better. Though they may or may not work in a kitchen, they are responsible in some direct way in the creation of a specialty food product somewhere along the line.

Perhaps they're a specialty grower, a bread baker, a poultryman, a mixologist, a barista, a winemaker, a confectionist, a chocolatier, a tea grower, an aquaculturist, or perhaps even one who cultures yeasts.

And it's not meant to be a top 5 list either, so this is the time to recognize, say, that barista who always gets the milk texture just right for your morning Latte.

So let's hear the name of up to 5 of your culinary specialist heroes that you'd like to recognize, their specialty, and the name of their company, restaurant, or operation.

Name * their culinary specialty * name of company / restaurant / operation * notes

example: (with tongue firmly planted in cheek)

* Orville Redenbacher * popcorn specialist * ConAgra Foods, Inc. * because he's a local boy from Coronado!

* Paulie Cicero * "Good Fellas thin" garlic preparation * Lucchese crime family * garlic "so thin it would liquefy in the pan"

* Apu Nahasapeemapetilon * The All Syrup Super Squishy * Kwik-E-Mart * because before Apu, "such a thing has never been done"

* Moe * bartender, creator of the "Flaming Moe" * Moe's Tavern * first documented use of cough syrup in an alcoholic beverage

* Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski (aka Krusty the Clown) * Jagged Metal Krusty O's cereal * Krusty Korporation * because what kid can't resist a nutrition-free food with one Jagged Metal Krusty O inside

So who gets your vote for the 5 S.D. culinary specialist "rock star" heroes that you'd like to recognize?

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  1. Don't you mean a Flaming Homer?

    1 Reply
    1. re: JRSD

      Well Homer did "invent" the drink, but Moe stole the recipe and named it after himself...

    2. Fun topic. I may have my personal favorites for food, but since you mentioned winemakers, I'd have to say that the "sleeper" rockstars of San Diego are definitely the nationally-renowned brewers we have all over the county. It seems that new breweries keeping quietly popping up and making names for themselves every year.

      Of which, my personal five favorites are:

      Tom Nickel - former gold-medal winning brewmaster of Oggi's and current owner of O'Brien's in Kearny Mesa. He's practically singlehandedly responsible for cultivating beer culture in this town. Specialty kegs, one-of-a-kind beers, brew festivals, brewery trips. Blair at Hamilton's definitely carries on the tradition. As did the Liar's club. But it's all about O'Brien's and Tom Nickel.

      Alpine Pat - Owner/brewmaster of Alpine Beer Co. His beers are liquid gold, and have won gold at numerous international brew competitions. Pure Hoppiness and Exponential Hoppiness are IPA and double IPA legends. Best of, he only makes them in small batches, so the quality stays high. And, for the most part, if you don't get them at O'Brien's, you won't get them anywhere on tap, expect if you drive up to Alpine and have him fill your growler personally.

      Tomme Arthur - owner/brewmaster Pizza Port/Port Brewing. Visit any of the Pizza Ports and be amazed at the insane selection and variety of beers that they make. I have yet to taste a sub-par Pizza Port brew. Wipeout IPA, Carlsbad Chronic, Poor Man's IPA, Hop Suey, and on and on and on.

      Greg Koch - Stone Brewing - Easily the most famous San Diego beer and most nationally recognized San Diego beer export, which gives San Diego a great name since Stone Pale Ale and Stone IPA are fantastic. The brewery is a great place to have a beer and some food as well.

      Jack White - Ballast Point - a smaller operation. But who doesn't like Yellowtail or Sculpin IPA? Not to mention, Ballast Point's Homebrew Mart is the resource for homebrewers in San Diego.

      2 Replies
        1. re: cookieshoes

          I think these are right on, but the list is incomplete (though I know they only wanted 5), and there are a couple of minor inaccuracies. While Tomme Arthur does some great work, he's but one of the Pizza Port brewers. The Carlsbad location's brewing efforts are headed up by Jeff Bagby, and Jeff has won numerous medals for Pizza Port beers. It's a common mistake for people to think Tomme is responsible for all their beers.

          Jim O'Brien - This is the man who founded O'Brien's Pub, and, along with Pizza Port, helped build the fanbase for craft beer in San Diego. Tom Nickel has expanded his work admirably, no doubt, but Jim definitely deserves recognition as an early pioneer.

          Scot Blair - I think Hamilton's has really come to the fore as one of the best beer bars in San Diego. The 2nd Saturday events highlight a lot of cool breweries that we don't always see a lot of here. I disagree that "it's all about O'Brien's". O'Brien's is an awesome place, and legendary, but to imply that places like Hamilton's, or Churchill's in San Marcos, are lesser doesn't really do them justice.

          Chuck Silva - Chuck's brewing prowess completely turned Green Flash's beers around, to the point where they're now one of the most highly regarded breweries in San Diego. People all over the country have really taken to his brews.

        2. Thanks cookieshoes... I was waiting on an inaugural reply before posting myself.

          Yes, this should be a lot of fun. I'm sure all Foodies have someone in their Foodie lives that they'd like to recognize for being involved in some specialty... So here are mine:

          * Kazuo Morita * Sushi chef & expert in Edo-Mae Sushi * Kaito Sushi * he's single-handedly transformed San Diego Sushi in the only way he knows how, which is to follow the philosophy and traditional techniques laid out for him as the pedagogical son and grandson of his master and grandmaster at a Tokyo Sushiya

          * "Nabe-chan" * Yakitori grillmaster * Yakitori Yakyudori * taking the simplest ingredients of just chicken and salt, he will transform each piece into undeniably distinct treasures; taste the difference by comparing his Yakitori to that had at the same shop when he's off duty; he's a true master of his craft

          * Ray Knight * Salumi maker * Knight Salumi * though I still favor Fra Mani's product, Ray's operation is a huge development in the S.D. renaissance of locally prepared foods; his catalog of offerings is also broad, with the notable availability of nearly impossible to find regional specialties such as Speck and Lardo di Colonnata

          * Arnie Holt * owner and founder, Caffe Calabria * Caffe Calabria * though I have very mixed reviews about the execution at their bar, if ever there will be a true "powerhouse" 3rd wave coffee scene to develop in San Diego, it would likely be through his shop. Under his auspices they've opened up access and use of his premises, baristas and roasters to the local S.D. Home Coffee Roaster's Group, as well as hosting a very widely attended "Barista Jam". This event brought in other "rock stars baristas" and various specialists from around the country and through all parts of the industry, including other cafes and roasters in the collegial manner that seems to prevail in the 3rd wave coffee world. And extra points for having Anna Lynn on staff, who I'd easily add to this list for being San Diego's best barista. Though no longer behind the bar she has achieved what I have not yet found in any other current barista in San Diego, which is not just excellence of pour, but absolute consistency from pour to pour.

          * Yuka Nakai * hostess and sake expert * Yumeya * I would nominate her twice, once for her best of class hospitality at their family-run restaurant Yumeya, and once more for her near sommelier-like knowledge of sake. Responsible for selecting and buying the sakes for their restaurant, she is the most knowledgeable and friendly guide one can have for this rice-based beverage.

          6 Replies
          1. re: cgfan

            Never knew that Nabe misses a shift...never had him not be there...and I eat there, like, sixty times a month. I must be lucky...I even have a "One More Drink" shirt...

            1. re: SaltyRaisins

              Well honestly I've only been there when he was not on grill perhaps only 2-3 times in all of my many visits. However I certainly don't go as often as you... How often do you go? Do you go on random days or on a set schedule?

              In the past when he has not been on grill it was just due to a vacation that he was able to score. But it's been difficult for him to find a suitable replacement such that he can keep a regular schedule of days off. He's never missed a day for so long after he first opened that I'm sure it's been draining on him. He's been looking for a regular replacement for quite some time, but it never seemed to work out saying, it's a difficult skill to acquire...

              The last time I was there and he was not at bar, I asked the crew and they said that now Nabe-chan's on a regular schedule of days off. So I thought this time things are different. Good for him, though for us dedicated YY fans it means checking ahead to see if he's on grill (or finding out his exact schedule, which I didn't write down...).

              Still trying to reconcile your frequent visits with always seeing him on grill. Perhaps he's had a change of heart and is back to his always on schedule? (That is, unless, we really do look THAT MUCH alike! :-) )

              1. re: cgfan

                Ha! Yeah, hard to tell us Jews apart as well...what with our horns and stripes.

                Just exaggerating a bit about my attendance- random days, and usually very late. I do hope he gets help rather than burning out...for his sake and the rest of us. We're very lucky to have him here. Make sure to order a cup 'o broth next time you go as a starter. Also used in the base of his amazing okayu. Hara heta...

                1. re: SaltyRaisins

                  I do get their Okayu often to close my meals...

                  Yeah, he's got the whole operation riding on him so yes, I do wish for his sake that he does find someone good, but based on my last visit when he wasn't on grill I'd say that he still needs to continue looking! (But already that must have been about a month ago, so perhaps we're OK now...)

                  1. re: cgfan

                    Finally hit a non-Nabe night...an obvious difference in the quality of the cooking. Same great ingredients, but cooked more carelessly. In fact, this was the first time I can recall noticing mistakes of any kind...geso were seriously carbonized, and they had no chicken stock (horror of horrors) which made some of my favorite menu items a no-go. Also, the maestro tends not to burn the finger-twirling end of the skewer- a seemingly unimportant trifle that actually makes a difference overall when it ain't so.

                    Here's the deal for now- Nabe-san off Friday, Saturday and Monday. Takeshi (I think that's his name), his #2, mans the charcoal on those nights.

                    I took a look at your profile and noticed "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art." On my shelf as well- still waiting for my chance to degut a fish with hashi and a deft turn of the wrist...

                    1. re: SaltyRaisins

                      SaltyRaisins: Thanks for the info! I had asked before about Nabe-chan's schedule but never wrote it down.

                      All great observations and a good match with my own experience. I also see that the quality of the prep suffers greatly when he's not on the grill, most noticeable in the Teba.

                      As to the degutting of the fish as described in Tsuji, you ought to see if you can locate a copy of the Autumn 2006 issue of KIE, or Kategaiho International Edition magazine. There on pages 50-53 is a wonderful article on the practice and art of Shiki-bocho, which is the ceremonial preparation of a whole fish without ever laying hands directly on the fish. All contact is done through the practitioner's traditional knives and implements.

                      I'll see if I can scan a few photos from the article to post, but for now it'll have to wait until I return from my vacation.

          2. * Andrew & Robin Schiff * Owners/Chefs * Spread Restaurant and nut spread products * one of the first (and best) SD restaurants to serve all locally grown organic ingredients, and vegetarian-friendly comfort food; in addition to the restaurant, they package and sell their own line of peanut and almond spreads in a variety of outrageously delicious flavors.

            2 Replies
            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              I like Spread, but they definitely don't use solely local ingredients.

              1. re: Josh

                really? they did when they first opened. guess things have changed since i left - that's too bad.

                their spreads still rock though ;)

            2. Orville Redenbacher is a "local boy?" Wow - that is a stretch. :)