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The Giant-Big Chef News at Iconic Lodge at Torrey Pines

After 11 years, Kelli Crosson takes the reins at one of San Diego’s top dining destinations

Kelli Crosson bid her time, put in the work, earned this. The California native cooked alongside Jeff Jackson for 11 years at AR Valentien as his chef de cuisine (the iconic restaurant’s second in charge). Starting at The Lodge at Torrey Pines over 20 years ago, Jackson was the one of the earliest and brightest stars of San Diego’s food scene—doing farm-to-table before it was a marketing buzzword, cooking tip-to-tail when the rest of America was “just cook the sexy cuts.” Under his watch, the family-owned Lodge became a high-culinary attraction on par with the famed golf course it sits on. Still is.

And now he’s stepping aside to let his beyond-ready apprentice take the reins. Crosson is now the executive chef of all things Lodge—A.R., The Grill, banquets, events. If you eat it, she’s had a say in its creation. Jackson is still very much “around.” The Evans family created an emeritus role for Jackson—corporate culinary advisor (soon you’ll see his guiding influence at the new restaurant at Evans’ family’s other property in Mission Bay, The Bahia).

On this episode of “Happy Half Hour,” we get to know Crosson beyond the kitchen. How she grew up on a fruit tree farm (“we’d take our entire bedroom and put it under the orange trees, just live under there”), how at age 27 with a good marketing job she decided to upend it all and grab her knives, and how the magic of AR Valentien and the Lodge gets done (hint: source the absolute best ingredients on the local part of the planet, tweak them with just enough of your accumulated art as a chef, but let them shine), and what makes that famed “Drugstore Burger” so explitively good.

In “Hot Plates,” we talk about the up-and-comingness of O.B. restaurant, The Joint, which recently hired a chef whose resume includes Cowboy Star and Mister A’s. We preview the Lakehouse Food & Wine Festival—some of north county’s top chefs (including Jeff Jackson) and restaurants cooking and serving drinks on the edge of Lake San Marcos (at the Lakehouse Hotel & Resort). Dog lovers have a new hangout—a massive utopia for pets and humans called Dog Society (there’s craft beer and putt putt golf and acai bowls and dog toys and sandwiches and massive TVs and dog runs). We discuss the closure of International Smoke, the concept from star chef Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry, and in brighter news the owners of Beeside Balcony in Del Mar have opened a modern Italian concept right next door called Cevasco’s (for chef Christophe Cevasco).

For “Two People, Fifty Bucks,” Kelly professes her love for ramen, identifying Tajima as her go-to and Menya Ultra on her hit list. David raves about Kingfisher, the new modern Vietnamese concept from star local chef Jon Bautista and the local owners of the local staple Crab Hut. And Troy continues on his personal brunch journey, raves about the house-smoked lox benedict and cinnamon roll beignets at Provisional Kitchen in the Pendry Hotel.

Thanks for listening, y’all.

Kelli Crosson

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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