Next Thursday's Chef Throwdown at the Hotel del Coronado is shaping up to be one of the year's biggest culinary events, with 30 participating chefs from across San Diego and Baja and a panel of 13 judges.
But Kristina Quesada, 31, of Coronado , has a very small reason to be interested, namely, her 5-year-old daughter, Ellis, who was born with cystic fibrosis . The annual cooking competition is a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which channels 90 cents of every dollar it raises toward research.
That's important because CF, as the disease is known, is a so-called "orphan disease," one that afflicts relatively few people - only 30,000 in the U.S. and 70,000 worldwide. Because it's so rare, it draws very little attention and funding for a cure.
Yet, it was money raised by the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation that went into the research and development of the drug Kalydeco, by the La Jolla company Vertex, that has helped Ellis live a more normal life.
"Ellis was part of the clinical trial of this drug, which was one in a million. ... It's a game-changer. She has put on a little weight, she can get over being sick in a day instead of a week. It's the closest thing we've had to a cure in a long time," said Quesada, who is expecting her second child, a son, this month.
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, June 9
Where: Hotel del Coronado's Windsor Lawn, 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado
Tickets: $150; $250 VIP package
Phone: (858) 452-2873
"An event like this is a huge fundraiser. Last year it raised $60,000, and it's a great way to educate people on the disease because it's such a small population. And it's so important to fund research. ... Our family has personally seen the benefits of that."
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes mucus to build up in the lungs, pancreas and elsewhere. People with CF can suffer from severe respiratory problems and potentially lethal infections and can't absorb the nutrients in food.
Quesada said Ellis' treatment includes 15 to 20 pills a day that she takes with anything she eats or drinks; two times a day, she has to wear a treatment vest that shakes her, in order to break up the thick mucus in her lungs.
"She's hanging in there," Quesada said of her daughter.
The Coronado Realtor doesn't know if she and her husband, Levi Quesada, 35, who works in the receiving department at the Del, will make the event because of her pregnancy. But she's going to try.
"So much food, so many great chefs," she said, "I hope so."
Among the dozens of chefs vying for the Throwdown title are Mario Cassineri of Bice; Isabel Cruz of Isabel Cruz Restaurant Group; Tim Kolanko of Mess Hall and Stake Chophouse; Jessica Scott and Luisteen Gonzalez of Puesto; Mary Sarain and Nikki Black of PURE Cupcakes; Colin MacLaggan of Ballast Point; Jaime Chavez of Sirena Cocina Latina; Katherine Johnson of Luce Bar & Kitchen; and Nicholas Villamil of Polanco Kitchen & Bar. Polanco won last year's Throwdown event, which was held at the Hard Rock Cafe and raised $60,000.
The judging panel also sports some big names: Brian Malarkey (Herb & Wood, Herringbone); Javier Plascencia (Bracero); "Master Chef" winner Claudia Sandoval; "Food Network" personality and local writer Troy Johnson; Sam "the Cooking Guy" Zien; and Tommy Gomes (Catalina Offshore Products.) Full disclosure: This writer is also one of the judges.
The judges will pick the top dishes among several categories until one chef is crowned. Eventgoers will choose the People's Choice winner.