Women chefs at ‘Festa’ in a league of their own

If sisterhood is powerful, then Cucina Enoteca’s annual celebration of women is going to be a veritable culinary and philanthropic knockout.

Tracy Borkum, owner of the Del Mar restaurant, has lined up eight of San Diego’s most notable female chefs and eight top female winemakers, brewers and distillers for the third - and biggest yet - Festa Della Donna.

All of the proceeds of the March 12 event will benefit two local charities that support women, the Center for Community Solutions and the Lawyers Club of San Diego Fund for Justice.

The Festa Della Donna lineup reads like a gastronomic Who’s Who - if each side had another player, they could field a food and beverage All-Star team.

The roster includes the creator of San Diego’s gourmet cheese empire, the area’s reigning dessert queen, a star of TV’s “Top Chef,” the chef de cuisine at one of the most lauded restaurants in the country, a craft beer maven, a local spirits-maker and the owner/winemakers of several California prestige wineries.

“We started small the first year, with a small dinner, then last year we brought in five chefs,” said Borkum, whose Urban Kitchen Group now has five popular eateries in San Diego and Orange County.

“For me, obviously being a female entrepreneur and restaurant owner, I said, let’s make something bigger, let’s make a statement here.”

That statement isn’t political, Borkum noted.

“For me, it’s really, truly an opportunity to celebrate women in our industry, as well as in our community and very much from a philanthropic side, to be able to give back.”

Festa Della Donna

Entertainment: Festa Della Donna will feature live music by the Steph Johnson Band and the Sounds of Our City Choir and an interactive fiber art installation by Sohani Holland, an artist Borkum met while catering at the KAABOO Del Mar festival.

When: 4-7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Cucina Enoteca, 2370 Via De La Valle, Del Mar

Tickets: $68

Phone: (858) 704-4500


Named after the Italian holiday that marks International Women’s Day (March 8), Festa Della Donna will be a walk-around event, rather than a sit-down dinner, to allow attendees to mingle and connect, as well as interact directly with the pros.

Eight stations will be set up around the restaurant - which will be closed for all other service - with each station featuring one chef and one beverage-maker who’ll collaborate on a pairing.

“I think it’s a really good lineup,” Borkum said, with characteristic understatement.

One of the participating chefs had a more exuberant take on it.

“For me, even looking at the names on this list, these are exceptional chefs. I’ve been to all of their restaurants and they’re all pretty insane at what they do,” said Kelli Crosson, the chef de cuisine at A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines.

“There’s a lot of spirit, a lot of drive and a lot of passion between those women, which is really exciting.”

Here are the participating chefs of the 2017 Festa Della Donna and a sampling of what they’ll be serving:

Kelli Crosson

Chef de cuisine, A.R. Valentein

Crosson, who is second-in-command to the dean of San Diego’s farm-to-table movement, Jeff Jackson, grew up on a citrus farm at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. She’s preparing a green garlic flan with pangrattato (breadcrumbs) and spring vegetable salad.

Jenny Goycochea

Chef de cuisine, Tasting Room Del Mar

A native San Diegan, Goycochea began her career at Urban Solace, the iconic comfort food haven in North Park. Her stints include Quality Social, Flavor Del Mar and Jsix. Her dish is a beef belly taco with poblano tortilla, fermented habanero-carrot mole, avocado mousse and pineapple-cabbage escabeche.

Stefani De Palma

Chef de cuisine, Addison

When she was just a teenager and fresh from culinary school, De Palma joined what’s arguably San Diego’s best restaurant. She has worked her way up on both the pastry and savory sides, and last year, at 27, she was named Addison’s chef de cuisine. She’ll serve petit fours (macarons, bonbons, tarts, Italian inspired cookies).

Gina Freize

Founder, Venissimo Cheese

Known as the “Cheese Wiz,” Freize started the successful artisan cheese empire in 2004 with her Mission Hills store. Venissimo has since expanded to Del Mar, North Park, downtown San Diego and at Liberty Public Market at Liberty Station. She’s developing San Diego’s first urban cheese-making facility. She’ll serve - what else? - a trio of cheeses.

Isabel Cruz

Chef and owner of Isabel’s Cantina and the Coffee Cup Cafe

An L.A. native, Cruz has long been a respected fixture on the San Diego culinary scene. Known for her Latin and Asian-influences cuisine and bold flavors, Cruz will prepare shrimp salpicon with blue corn tostada, chipotle mayo and cilantro chile oil.

Karen Krasne

Executive pastry chef and owner, Extraordinary Desserts

The first name in sweets in San Diego, Krasne’s creations are known for their magazine cover-worthy perfection. She’ll serve truffle Framboise bittersweet Valrhona chocolate raspberry cake.

Amy DiBiase

Executive chef, Grand Restaurant Group (Bellamy’s, Ponsaty’s, The Ranch at Bandy Canyon)

Through her decade of experience at some of San Diego’s most notable restaurants - including Borkum’s Laurel in Bankers Hill, which later became Cucina Urbana - DiBiase’s culinary calling card has been putting a California twist on Italian and French Cuisine.

Giselle Wellman

Executive chef, Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen

Wellman’s diverse culinary background - the San Diego native is of Jewish-Mexican descent - has taken her from Mexico City’s Le Cordon Bleu to L.A.'s Petrossian, the caviar-chic cafe where she was named executive chef at the age of just 26. Wellman competed on “Top Chef: California,” the season in which her hometown was featured. Read the recent PACIFIC interview with Wellman here.

Participating beverage makers

Kerith Overstreet, co-owner and winemaker, Bruliam Wines, Sonoma

Megan Glaab, co-owner and winemaker, Ryme Cellars, Sonoma

Kathy Joseph, owner and winemaker, Fiddlehead Cellars, Lompoc

Pam Starr, co-owner and winemaker, Crocker & Starr, Napa

Emily Haines, winemaker, Milbrandt Vineyards, Prosser, Wash.

Kristina Werner, winemaker, Arrowood Winery, Sonoma

Laura Ulrich, Small Batch Brewer, Stone Brewing Co., Escondido

Laura Johnson, owner and distiller, You & Yours Distilling Co., East Village (officially opening March 9)
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