Wednesday, October 19, 2005 | The Center for Community Solutions was established in 1969 “to foster a safe and healthy environment for all individuals and families through education, therapeutic services, advocacy and cultural and community services.” Bottom line, CCS provides domestic violence prevention and intervention.

To help fund CCS’s goals, the First Annual Chef Showdown was held at the Casa del Prado’s courtyard in Balboa Park recently. Top San Diegan Chefs came together, cooking utensils in hand, for an “Iron Chef”-styled showdown. The Marine Room’s nationally decreed “Chef of the Year,” Executive Chef Bernard Guillas, played hosting emcee along with Fox 6’s Emmy Award winning “Sam the Cooking Guy” aka Sam Zien. Emeril Lagasse, take note, these two really spiced up the fun!

But first, it was social hour as guests mingled among food venues. The Cantina’s Latino fare was quite popular as was The Belgian Lion’s sublime squash soup by the demitasse. The Wine Warehouse poured libations … The Martini Ranch served (big surprise) their signature martinis. Guests got to keep the martini glasses.

Auction prizes were many as bidders kept an eye on their desired conquests. One heavily bid-on item was a jeroboam, or large bottle of Thornton Winery’s Merlot.

Among the fun, 300-plus people there supporting a good community cause were Yves Fournier, Kelly and Michael Coleman, Chuck Hansen of Viejas Casino, Jana Zunich-McDonald, Miriam Guzman, Richard Ghio with a slew of guests, Sue Hetzel, Roxanne Pronk, Eric Rypins, and Kelli Henderson.

The two event co-chairs, Isabel Cruz of the Cantina and The Mission Coffee Cup restaurants, and Lori Cartmill were busy, busy, busy. First-time events are notoriously challenging but whatever went on behind the scene, appeared – and was – flawless to guests.

More there enjoying great food and a starry night were Molly Hesse, “Big Red” aka Bruce Kleege, Beth and Michael Hoyt, Megan Lancendorfer, Peter Meade, Tricia Moore and guests, Connie Nott, Sharon Peterson, Rosene and Joe Pirrello, Julie and Ken Van Fleet, Jim Rock, Kristie and John Steel IV (he’s the founder and head of, a diabetic research firm), Kuniko and Rolf Toft, Kristine, Peter and Claudia Van Zutphen, Anne Vincent and Lauren Westlund.

CCS’s Executive Director Verna Griffin-Tabor was there with family as well as CCS’s Legal Director Steve Allen and his family. After all, this is about family and community … and food!

Social hour done, it was time for the big chef showdown. The two teams were Chef Gavin Kaysen of El Bizcocho (Gavin was team captain as well), Chef Jesse A. Paul of Star of the Sea, Chef Victor Jimenez of JRDN Restaurant and Chef Deborah Scott of Island Prime, versus, Chef Matthew Zappoli of Fresh Seafood Restaurant and Bar (Matthew was the other team captain), Chef Tony DiSalvo of Jack’s La Jolla, Chef Amy Dibiase of Laurel and Chef Luis Camacho of Cantina.

Chefs were given surprise ingredients and a limited time to create appetizers, entrees and desserts out of the just revealed foods including mushrooms, fish and chocolate. Some dishes that magically evolved included Thai fish and a mushroom milkshake. A panel of judges tasted, critiqued and proclaimed the team from Fresh, Jack’s, Cantina and Laurel’s to be the winners by a nano-sliver.

San Diego was the winner that night as $15,000 was raised to fund CCS’s city-wide domestic violence programs including counseling, legal clinics, 24-hour hotlines, rape crisis centers, prevention and education programs and safe-houses. Last year, more than 15,000 women, men and children were helped by CCS.

A quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead is noted on the CCS Web site: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Poignant words to contemplate.

To learn more about CCS, please visit

Margo Schwab, an alumna of the University of San Diego’s graduate business school, reports on social/charity events, celebrities, restaurants and from time to time breaking scoops.

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