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4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Buzzy local chefs give us the scoop on hosting the ultimate dinner party, plus recipes for their impress-the-guests dishes
Photo Credit: Robert Benson

By Archana Ram | Photography by Robert Benson

Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins

Executive Chef, El Jardín; former Chef de Cuisine, Bracero

Her neighborhood: Bonita

“I have people over once or twice a month, usually my brother, family, and friends. I do a lot of grilling; sometimes it’s Mexican, sometimes it’s more Asian driven, like cucumber salad with cilantro and Thai flavors. I just open the pantry and think, ‘Yeah, that sounds good!’ But this papas dish is fast and delicious. I grew up eating it for breakfast, and I’m going to do a version at El Jardín. You can add as many toppings as you want—Mexican food is very customizable. It’s like building a taco.

“I have a ’60s ranch-style home and a galley kitchen. The kids will come in and help me, but I kick pretty much everyone else out. I do easy prep so I’m not as stuck in the kitchen. And it’s usually one-bowl meals because I don’t want to have a great evening then turn around and see a mess in the kitchen that I have to deal with. This is maintenance-free entertaining.”

4 San Diego Chefs' Guide to Entertaining

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Papas with Chorizo Tostada

Serves 8 • 1 hour

  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 jalapeños, divided
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup beef chorizo
  • 2 cups small yellow waxy potatoes, diced
  • 8 tostadas
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1/4 cup crema (or sour cream)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  1. Blend black beans, cilantro, one seeded jalapeño, tahini, and salt until smooth and season to taste if needed. Set aside.
  2. Add chorizo to medium pan on medium heat. Season with salt.
  3. Once the chorizo is cooked through, add potatoes to pan and sauté until crispy, about 10 minutes. If potatoes still need additional cook time, lower heat and cover for another 8–10 minutes. Set aside.
  4. To assemble, spread 2 tablespoons of bean puree on each tostada. Top with 1/4 cup of papas and chorizo. Finish with 1/4 cup shredded lettuce, 1/2 tablespoon crema, 1 tablespoon queso fresco, and slices of avocado and remaining two jalapeños.

Pair it with a lighter pale ale, like AleSmith .394

4 San Diego Chefs' Guide to Entertaining

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Phillip Esteban

Culinary Research & Development Chef, CH Projects (Ironside Fish & Oyster, Craft & Commerce, etc.)

His neighborhood: North Park

“During potlucks, I’ll bring a baked pasta dish or entrée with vegetable sides. A lot of my buddies are like, ‘Don’t let Phil cook, he’s going to cook a fancy meal!’ But you can’t eat like you would at a restaurant every day. It’s really rich and a lot of butter. At home, I cook simple. This bucatini is one of the first dishes I learned to make at my first job, at Firefly in The Dana hotel. I made it so much that I never had to write the recipe down. I’ve cooked this for friends and family—definitely a crowd-pleaser, but I usually only cook it for my family now.

“The best part about cooking for my kids is they’re always in the kitchen with me. If you just put a meal in front of them, they’re hesitant because they don’t know what it is. But I have them cut, stir, cook, sauté, and season—that way they’re part of it and more inclined to try things. When we go to the store, I have them pick everything out, like, how do you choose a good tomato or avocado? They know what to touch and what not to touch, what’s hot and what’s not, so they’re more adventurous in the kitchen. For this bucatini, it was really up to them what we ate. Well, it was up to my 10-year-old, Noah. If I listened to the 4-year-old, Isaac, he would have said ‘candy pizza.’”

4 San Diego Chefs' Guide to Entertaining

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Bucatini with Maestri Roasted Tomatoes, Italian Sausage, and Chilies

Serves 3–4 • 1 1/4 hours

  • Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds ground pork
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 cups Maestri diced roasted tomatoes (available at Mona Lisa in Little Italy)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 12 ounces Maestri bucatini pasta
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved (garnish)
  • Fresh basil (garnish)
  1. In a large sauce pot, heat extra virgin olive oil over a low heat. 
  2. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until translucent. Then mix in ground pork and cook until lightly golden brown.
  3. Add salt to taste. Cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Mix in tomatoes, heavy cream, and chicken stock, leaving a splash of chicken stock for later. Reduce for one hour and taste for seasoning.
  5. Cook the bucatini al dente. Strain, toss with olive oil, and spread onto a large baking sheet to cool.
  6. Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce into a saucepan. Add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and remaining chicken stock. Bring to a light simmer and allow the sauce to develop.
  7. Add the bucatini to the pan and cook for another 2–3 minutes. Toss the saucepan to allow the sauce to evenly coat the pasta.
  8. Plate the pasta and finish with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil.

Pair it with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a saison, like Modern Times’ Lomaland​

4 San Diego Chefs' Guide to Entertaining

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Rich Sweeney

Executive Chef, North Italia (opening this fall); former Executive Chef, Waypoint Public

His neighborhood: Hillcrest

“If I’m working Saturday or Sunday night, inevitably we do brunch, like, how many bottles of Champagne can we line up? It’s usually a little group of friends, and everyone takes turns cooking based on who’s hosting. But whenever I go to someone’s house for the first time, they say, ‘I don’t want to cook for you—you’re a chef.’ I’m just happy someone else is cooking! If you ask for tips, I’ll give my two cents, but I’m not going to tear your food apart. It cracks me up, because the first time I cook for people I’m not pulling out all the stops. Those over-the-top meals, by the time you’re done you feel like you ate a Mack truck. And if everyone’s hanging out having a good time, you don’t want them in a food coma.

“The grilled tri-tip, potatoes, and asparagus, that’s how I like to eat—simple and easy. I get the meat from Siesel’s Meats and Iowa Meat Farms. My husband loves this dish because I can do it all outside, so I don’t make a mess in the kitchen. The clean-up is the cutting board, dishes, and tongs. It’s easy. And we can grill outside pretty much year-long here. It’s San Diego—we should always be outside.”

4 San Diego Chefs' Guide to Entertaining

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Grilled Tri-Tip, with Herbed Potatoes and Charred Lemon Asparagus

Serves 4 • 1 hour active cooking time

Roasted Garlic and Oil

  • 2 cups garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 cups oil (canola, grapeseed, or olive)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Put the garlic in a small, oven-safe dish and cover it with the oil. Cover dish with foil and bake for about 40–50 minutes, or until the cloves are soft and lightly caramelized in color.
  3. Allow to cool to room temperature, then strain the garlic in a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth, reserving the oil (can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator).
  4. You can keep cloves whole, make a chunky smashed garlic using a fork, or use a whisk to mash until totally smooth. (I’m a fan of the chunky smash.)
  5. Store the roasted garlic in an airtight container in the fridge or in the oil itself.

Herbed Pouch Potatoes

  • 11/2 pounds baby new potatoes/fingerlings
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, skin removed
  • 1 tablespoon garlic oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 11/2 tablespoons thyme, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  1. Tear off a long piece of foil and fold in half, creating a double layer of about 18″ × 18″.
  2. In a mixing bowl, toss potatoes and garlic with the oil, rosemary, and thyme. Season well with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the seasoned potatoes on the foil. Fold foil in half again, then crimp the edges to wrap the potatoes in a pouch.
  4. Grill the potato pouch over medium to medium-high heat, carefully turning and flipping it every five minutes until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.
  5. Remove from the grill. Put the parsley in the pouch, then toss well and serve.

Charred Lemon Asparagus

  • 1 bunch medium to large asparagus
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 lemons, halved
  1. Trim the asparagus, removing the woody lower portion of the stem. Place into a mixing bowl and carefully toss with oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Cook 3–4 minutes on a preheated medium grill. Flip to the other side, cooking 3–4 more minutes.
  3. Grill the lemon halves, cut-side down, making sure the flesh makes solid contact with the grates of the grill to get nice marks and caramelization.
  4. Remove asparagus to a serving platter when at the preferred doneness. Carefully squeeze the charred lemons over the asparagus and serve.

Garlic and Lemon Tri-Tip Roast

  • 1 tri-tip roast (usually 1.5–2 pounds each)
  • 1/3 cup roasted garlic, mashed (recipe, far left)
  • 2–3 sprigs fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup reserved roasted garlic oil (recipe, far left)
  1. Using a large fork, pierce the tri-tip all over to help tenderize. Place in a 1-gallon zip-top bag.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk all remaining ingredients except the oil to combine.
  3. Continue to whisk, and slowly stream in the oil to emulsify and thicken.
  4. Pour marinade into bag all over the roast. Remove as much air as possible, then seal bag. Massage the tri-tip in the bag to make sure the meat is fully coated, then place in refrigerator and let marinate 5–6 hours (up to overnight).
  5. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook, preheat your grill to high with the cover closed. Remove the meat from the marinade and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, so that residual marinade will drain off and the meat will temper (resulting in a more even cook).
  6. Pat tri-tip dry using a paper towel, then liberally season all sides with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Carefully place meat onto the grill, close the lid, and cook on high 5–7 minutes, creating a good sear and grill marks.
  8. Flip meat over, close the lid, and grill the other side an additional 5–7 minutes.
  9. Reduce flame directly under tri-tip to low. Reduce flames on the other side of the grill to medium.
  10. Flip the roast back to the first side, then close the grill and cook 4–5 minutes more on each side (about 8–10 minutes total). A 2-pound tri-tip will need about 20–25 minutes of total cooking time.
  11. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature at the thickest part of the meat. Remove the meat when it reaches 130°F. Let it rest for at least 10–15 minutes before slicing the roast against the grain of the muscle fibers.

Pair it with a Kölsch like Mike Hess Claritas

4 San Diego Chefs' Guide to Entertaining

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Kelli Crosson

Chef de Cuisine, A.R. Valentien

Her neighborhood: East Village

“I start everything with Champagne. I always have some bubbly in the house. But we’re all drinkers. When I have friends over, I like to get the brunt of the cooking done ahead of time because I’m pretty particular and more efficient. Usually someone will ask me if they can help, and they’ll chop a cucumber and then they’ll drink their cocktail, and I’ll finish the cucumber. I do love it when we’re all in the kitchen together.

“This dish is a variation of something on my menu, which is fine dining, so it’s nice to have something relatively simple to prepare that looks gorgeous. It can be as difficult or as easy as you want. At work I make the puff pastry from scratch, but for home I buy sheets, and it’s just as good—we’ll say that. You can also use whatever veggies you have on hand. That’s an easy way to not spend a lot of time at the grocery store. Also, I don’t do everything the day of. If you’re working all week and don’t have a lot of time, do a little every day. Having people over at our place is usually casual and comfortable. It’s about having fun and not slaving away in the kitchen—don’t make it so hard on yourself.”

4 San Diego Chefs' Guide to Entertaining

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

Seasonal Vegetable Vol-au-Vent

Serves 6 • about 2 hours total

Potato Puree

  • 1 large garnet sweet potato (orange sweet potato)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Place potato on a baking sheet and bake 45–60 minutes, until tender.
  3. Peel when cool enough to handle. Puree with salt and pepper in a food processor.
  4. With motor running, gradually add milk, then butter, salt, and pepper. Process until smooth. Alternatively, place through ricer or food mill and fold in butter, milk, salt and pepper—the result won’t be as smooth, but just as delicious. This can be made up to two days ahead; store in an airtight container and reheat when ready to assemble.
  5. Turn oven down to 400°F to bake the vol-au-vent (next step).


  • 2 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 egg yolk, mixed with a tablespoon of water
  1. Lay the puff pastry sheets out on the counter while still very cold, even partially frozen. Use an 8-inch cutter to cut a circle out of each sheet. You can use a knife with a cake pan as a guide if you don’t have a cutter large enough.
  2. Transfer one circle onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with the egg wash.
  3. Use a 6-inch cutter to cut the center out of the remaining circle.
  4. Place the ring on top of the full circle and brush with the egg wash.
  5. Chill for 20 minutes, then bake for 15–20 minutes, until golden brown. You can make this a day or two ahead if kept tightly wrapped on the counter.


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups vegetable (or any) stock
  • vSalt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat (don’t let it burn).
  2. Whisk in the flour. To make the roux, raise the heat to medium and stir the butter and flour together for about 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly whisk the stock into the roux and keep heating and whisking to ensure no lumps form.
  4. When the stock begins to simmer, turn down the heat to low and cook until the sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 5–10 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Strain if you have a fine-mesh strainer—it yields a better consistency—and set aside. You can make this up to two days ahead. Store in an airtight container in the fridge and gently reheat when ready to assemble.


  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cup English peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup pearl onions, peeled
  • 1 cup globe carrots (or regular carrots, peeled and sliced)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  1. In a large skillet, boil one inch of water with the salt.
  2. Add the peas, snap peas, and asparagus. Boil 3–5 minutes until tender.
  3. Drain water and vegetables through a colander and place under cold running water until cool. Set aside.
  4. Dry the skillet and place back on stovetop over medium heat. Heat the olive oil and butter, add the pearl onions and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, approximately 10 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic and the vegetables that were blanched earlier. Cook for another 5 minutes until everything is completely cooked and hot. Set aside for assembly, reserving parsley for garnish (see box, left).

To assemble:

Place vol-au-vent on platter. Spread the warm sweet potato puree on the bottom. Mix the warm vegetables with the velouté and spoon into the vol-au-vent on top of the puree. Finish with the chopped parsley and serve.

Pair it with a California chardonnay, like Far Niente

4 San Diego Chefs’ Guide to Entertaining

El Jardín Executive Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins at home in Bonita

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