By Claire Harlin
The office of Solana Beach’s Pamplemousse Grille is stacked floor to ceiling with hundreds of cases of wine to fill the restaurant’s extensive list of more than 2,100 bottles — likely the biggest wine selection in the city.
“We buy a lot of wine,” said Jeffrey Strauss, the restaurant’s owner and chef of more than 16 years. “There’s only one thing I ask in return from my distributors.”
That favor is that each of his dozens of wine vendors donate a large format bottle — that’s a “magnum sized” 1,500 mL or greater — to be auctioned off in the annual Meet the Chefs of Del Mar event, scheduled this year for April 22. The wine auction, which raises at least $15,000 in itself each year, is only one aspect of the charity event, which brings together the top chefs of Del Mar to share their specialties and raise money for Casa de Amparo, a North County facility that has been working with abused and neglected children for more than 30 years. One year, a bottle containing the equivalent of three cases of wine was auctioned off for $10,000.
Strauss has been an instrumental organizer of the event for more than 15 years, and he’s seen both the event and the Del Mar restaurant scene grow tremendously.
He said the local food scene was once concentrated in the downtown San Diego and La Jolla areas, but it has migrated to North County over the past five years, and the growing number of volunteer chefs participating in Meet the Chefs is proof in the pudding. The event started with 11 chefs and this year 17 are participating.
“It’s a chance for people from surrounding areas to come see what we have to offer and meet the chefs,” said Strauss, who is known at the event for the giant dessert buffet he provides each year. “The culinary scene in San Diego has gotten better and better, and there are more chefs in this event than ever because there are more restaurants.”
Donna Greenbush, a spokeswoman for Casa de Amparo, said the event has grown from raising $58,000 in 2000 to $110,000 last year. She hopes to bring in $115,000 this year, but there are still tickets to be sold, she said. She also said Casa de Amparo has benefited tremendously from this fundraiser, growing from two programs in 2000 to seven programs in 2012.
“We’ve always worked to remove kids from abusive homes,” she said. “Now we’ve been able to instate programs that prevent abuse and neglect, such as parenting courses.”
Strauss said the event’s success has been the result of not only the many chefs who have contributed their food and time over the years, but also businesses like Young’s Market, which has donated thousands in food and beverages since the event’s beginning. Strauss said it’s also fun for the chefs to catch up with each other at the annual event.
“To get 15 of us on a Sunday afternoon cooking together,” he said. “It’s just as fun for us as it is for anyone.”
To buy tickets to the event, which will be held at the Hilton Del Mar, visit www.casadeamparo.com or call (760) 754-5500, ext. 23.