Out of the Game

By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Photos by Brevin Blach

(Published in the September 2010 issue)

We’ve all seen them, those culinary iconoclasts who incite jealously and curiosity among regular tailgaters by preparing eye-popping fare that seems better suited for VIP bashes than stadium parking lots.

For some illustrious fans, hamburgers and hotdogs are for the birds, and pre-game team spirit is instead elevated with snazzier proteins and imaginative side dishes that heat up the pavement between rounds of beer pong. So, while the Chargers are beefing up for their first regular-season home-game on September 19, let’s peek into the ice coolers of a few of San Diego’s tailgating chefs to see what they’ll be cooking up before kickoff.

Where’s the Beef?

The executive chef at Proper Gastro Pub (a new, British-style bar and restaurant adjacent to Petco Park), Sean Magee is a sports enthusiast. His passion for cooking sometimes trumps the action on the diamond, however, so he’s been known to skip the game to keep grilling and hang out with friends. He sees nothing unusual about wowing fellow tailgaters with pan-seared foie gras and prime-grade steaks donning blue cheese crusts. To him, it’s all part of the fun.

“If you already have the heat source set up, then why not,” he asks.

Magee has prepared throw-chair fare like homemade, gourmet sausages (which he’ll often trade for beer) served with grilled asparagus and baked potatoes with all the trimmings. This season, he’s planning a Qualcomm tailgate debut of Proper’s new ancho chili veal skewers, perhaps using sugar cane sticks instead of bamboo to inject sweeter pith into the meat.

“Everything I cook at tailgates causes the cougar set to cringe because of all the fat,” Magee brags. “It’s liposuction waiting to happen.”

Chili-marinated veal skewers

(6 to 8 servings)
3 lbs. veal skirt steak
40 cherry tomatoes
40 crimini mushrooms
1 lbs. ancho chilies
3 shallots
6 garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. salt
16 10-inch bamboo skewers,
pre-soaked in water for 12 hours

Chop the chilies, shallots and garlic, then run them through a blender with the olive oil and salt until a rough paste is achieved. Cut the veal into one ounce pieces and mix with the marinade. Wash the tomatoes and mushrooms, then construct the skewers by alternating pieces of meat with the vegetables.

Place skewers in a sealable container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. On game-day, cook on a pre-heated grill to desired doneness.

The Green Queen

Known in local culinary circles as “the Salad Queen,” chef Maryjo Testa of Gossip Grill in Hillcrest lives up to her regal title in Qualcomm’s parking lot about three times a year. The former brains behind fave Downtown lunch spot, Salad Style, she always has a medley of fresh organics in tow.

“I never see other tailgaters eating salad,” she says. “They just don’t think of it.”

Testa transports her creations in large, disposable plastic bowls with snap lids that she buys at Smart & Final. Sprightly dressings, such as her famous sesame-ginger recipe, are made in advance. The gingery concoction, she notes, is a perfect come on to shredded red cabbage tossed with vermicelli noodles, shaved carrots, cucumbers, peanuts and grilled shrimp or chicken.

Her Highness has also stunned neighboring tailgaters by making grilled pizzas on-site, using thin flatbread from Trader Joe’s, which she crowns with feta, ‘shrooms and pre-cooked sausage.

Maryjo’s sesame-ginger dressing

(Yields one gallon)
1/8 cup of fresh ginger, peeled
1 lbs. cream cheese
1/2 cup of chili-garlic sauce
1 1/4 cup of low-sodium soy sauce
2 cups of water
2 cups of rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups of white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups of sesame oil5 cups of canola-olive oil blend
Salt to taste

Blend the ginger in a food processor. Add the cream cheese, chili-garlic sauce, soy sauce and water until well blended. Strain the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the rice and wine vinegars, then slowly whisk in the oils until smooth. Salt to taste.

Go Fish
Colin MacLaggan is a tailgate party veteran. His grandfather, Fidel Rubalcaba, was manager of Qualcomm back when it was Jack Murphy Stadium. When he was a kid, MacLaggan was in charge of rotating hotdogs. These days, he is the chef-owner of Avenue 5 in Bankers Hill; and when he’s tailgating, he grills lobsters, serving them with butter heated in small aluminum bowls. When burgers come into play, so does his makeshift condiment bar stocked with brie, jalapenos and pickled onions.

These days, MacLaggan’s favorite meat to grill at The Q is salmon. He sometimes carts along four-pound slabs of the fish marinated in lemon, dill and garlic. His rule of thumb is to slap the meat onto a hot grill, flesh-side down, wait until it turns slightly pink, and then flip it onto its skin for a few minutes. The reward: no stick, no fuss and “everyone gets to pick at it, caveman style.”
Side of salmon

(5 to 8 servings)
Rub an entire three- to four-pound side of salmon with chopped garlic and several tablespoons of olive oil. Coat both sides of the fish with chopped fresh dill, and then line the flesh side with thinly sliced lemons. Seal tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight before grilling.