SoCal Chef Open features top local chefs

This year’s competing chefs of the So-Cal Chef Open all come together for the media event, Aug. 9. So-Cal Chef Open will be held at Pechanga Resort & Casino, Sept. 11.  Meghan Taylor photo
This year’s competing chefs of the So-Cal Chef Open all come together for the media event, Aug. 9. So-Cal Chef Open will be held at Pechanga Resort & Casino, Sept. 11.  Meghan Taylor photo

Foodies mark your calendars now for the 2017 SoCal Chef Open Monday, Sept. 11. Now in its 10th year, event goers can expect perfect pairing of chefs, foodies and culinary delights.

Presented by Temecula Valley Winery Management, Leoness Cellars and Pechanga Resort & Casino, the funds raised at this year’s event will benefit the intramural, team and CIF sports, cheer, dance, martial arts, volleyball and recreation programs as well as at-risk and special needs children and youth at Oak Grove Center for the Arts and Education.

“This is the 15th year of the Golf Tournament and 10th year for the SoCal Chef Open,” Oak Grove Center for the Arts and Education CEO Tammy Wilson said. “The Chef Open was started originally for the golfers to come together after the golf event, and then we opened it up to the public. It has been a big hit and grows every year.”

As in years past, SoCal Chef Open will once again be held at Pechanga Resort & Casino.

“I want to thank our Presenting Sponsor for the Golf Tournament, Tom Rudnai and Temecula Valley Toyota. Our Presenting Sponsors for the SoCal Chef Open are Pechanga Resort & Casino and Leoness Cellars,” Wilson said. “Baron’s Markets will be providing many of the ingredients for the chefs.”

Chefs on the schedule to participate in the event, which raised more than $60,000 for Oak Grove in 2016, include Robert Renzoni Vineyards’ Mama Rosa Trattoria Chef Felix Aguilar, Chef Martin Venegas from Pechanga’s Great Oak Steakhouse, Chef Anthony Castillo from 1909 Temecula, Chef Christopher White of Vineyard Ranch at Temecula Assisted Living and Memory Care, Jennifer Sevilla from Crab Boil Catering, Chef Mandy Ramos from The Shamrock Irish Pub,  Chef Leone D’Arcangelo of Fresco Grill and Wine Bar, Chef Matt Green of Ceflavor and Chef Matthew Steffen of Temecula Creek Inn.

The competition promises to be fierce between these chefs at the SoCal Chef Open.

“It is all about how well you can execute,” said Venegas, who will be making a steak dish with USDA Prime and simple seasonings.

Aguilar, who will be in the competition for the second time, said he was really nervous the first time he competed in the event.

“It was really exciting and a good experience,” he said. “Last year I made a trofie Pasta with a pizziola sauce and received a lot of good positive feedback. It was a very successful event for us as a number of people came to visit the winery and even joined our wine club. This is a good thing: help Oak Grove, give back to the community and promote the winery.”

Aguilar plans to try a few different things this year, including “more gourmet, more fine dining and better presentation.

“I am also planning to work without electricity, just in case,” he said referring to last year’s grill issues. “Also, timing is very important; everything needs to be ready for plating for the judges.”

For Castillo and White, the chance to be included in the event is exciting and a unique opportunity.

“I’m excited about this local, fun, friendly competition,” Castillo said. “We are here to support each other and a great cause.”

Castillo said SoCal Chef organizers discovered him through a demonstration he had done at Disneyland on gastropub food.

“We do everything in-house including our unique vinaigrettes,” he said, referring to the foods served at 1909 Temecula. “I will be doing something unique and freaky that you can’t find online.”

White says it’s an honor to be included among the Valley’s best chefs and to represent who he is as a chef.

“I plan to stay true to what we prepare for our senior living residents: locally-sourced “superfoods” that slow the process of dementia,” he explained. “It will be unique and spice-driven.”

Sevilla, who will be making a Cajun boil with sausage, corn, potato, shrimp and possibly adding crawfish and blue crab to the dish, said she has been a huge supporter of Oak Grove and has attended the SoCal Chef Open for the past three years. This will be her first year competing.

“I am the only one here without chef in front of my name, and there is a ton of intimidation with all these professionally trained chefs. I am self-taught, but if you want to get better, compete against the best,” she explained. “I learned to cook on the streets of Louisiana – Biloxi near Freeport – right after Hurricane Katrina. People were taking care of each other like family, and they would cook and throw food on the table, all made with love.”

Chef Ronnel Capacio from Pechanga’s Kelsey’s was last year’s Pinnacle Award winner.

“My advice to this year’s competitors: have a lot of food ready and just have fun,” Capacio said.

For Leoness Cellars’ Executive Chef and SoCal Chef Competition Director Daragh Matheson, the bottom line is doing his best for a “wonderful cause,” the children and programs at Oak Grove Center.

“We have assembled a very distinguished group of judges and expanded our competing chefs to 15 of the top chefs in the area,” he said. “We will be using the model and criteria of the Culinary Art Institute for the competition.”

Oak Grove began its residential program in 1989 and added autism treatment in 2007, opening a ranch in Perris and recently starting the Thrive program to help students transition into adulthood with independent living skills.

“We have served over 9,500 students over the years, and fundraising is what makes all this possible,” Wilson explained. “The golf event funds our CIF sports and recreation programs. The SoCal Chef Open funds many of our enrichment programs and opportunities.

“We couldn’t do all this without your help, participation and support,” Wilson said. “Thank you all for helping us to empower success and transform lives.”

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