Whether you consider ownership, accolades, or simply fame and fortune, the restaurant, cocktail, and beer industries are largely dominated by men. But in San Diego, there's a rising stock of female masters taking the food, beer, wine, and cocktail scene to another level. Here's a look at some of the city's top food and drink mavens, and where you can taste or sip their creations.
Café 222, Market, Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant
When she opened the quirky, colorful Café 222 more than 20 years ago in what was then a dreary corner of downtown San Diego, it was like a jolt of espresso for the city’s urban core. Today, the neighborhood bustles with residents and visitors hopping between museums, the waterfront, Petco Park, and dozens of hip bars and restaurants, including the café which still attracts crowds that line the sidewalk waiting for a table. Gavre went on to partner with Carl Schroeder, one of the region’s top chefs (Gavre’s careful to call herself “just a cook”), in managing the highly regarded farm-to-table restaurant Market in Del Mar, as well as neighborhood gastropub Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant, both of which consistently earn nods on San Diego Magazine’s annual Best Restaurants list.
Kensington Grill, Chive, Laurel, Cucina
A matriarch of San Diego’s modern culinary scene, Borkum started out mastering the neighborhood restaurant. Kensington Grill was a celebrated, beloved eatery in quaint, historic Kensington for nearly 20 years. Her reputation and devoted following carried through to her opening of Chive downtown, a successful catering business, the critically acclaimed Laurel and today, a popular network of Italian eateries that she called her “Cucina Family”: Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, Cucina Enoteca in Del Mar and Orange County, and Cucina Sorella in Kensington. Pizzas, shared plates, an excellent global wine selection (some bottles available at retail prices), and a buzzy, communal atmosphere mark the spaces.
Classically trained in France, this San Diego native brought back a level of elegance and drama to the culinary scene that her hometown frankly hadn’t had, ever, in the late 1980s. Her cakes towered ten layers high and were infused with real Swiss chocolate or the best imported coffee and topped with gold leaf or fresh flowers that dazzled more as centerpieces than the final course of a meal. After building a reputation catering for the city’s well-heeled clientele at special events, she opened her first bakery, Extraordinary Desserts, in a tiny space near Balboa Park. Today, lines still form around the block for her pastries, coffees, and specialty confections. She’s expanded to a second location in Little Italy, with a savory menu (think imported Italian Tuna Panini with artichoke aioli paired with a Super Tuscan blend) as well as a specialty retail shop featuring the finest local crafted goods.
Raised in Miami as part of a large, Cuban clan, Hernandez says sweets were an integral part of the family meals. She attended Le Cordon Bleu (achieving the Grande Diplomme) and worked as a pastry chef at Claridge’s in London as well as at hotels in Miami. A desire to teach brought her to California, where she opened Azucar in 2008. The tiny Cuban patisserie is a sweet-tart, bright spot in laid-back Ocean Beach that draws customers from all over the city looking for authentic Cuban meat pies and sweets that range from passion fruit cheesecake bites to sweet corn scones and wedding cakes.
Pizza Port Brewing, San Diego Brewer’s Guild
While San Diego’s scene is a booming powerhouse in the world of craft beer, it’s also young compared to other brew towns. Jill Davidson cut her teeth in brewing at Iron Hill back east, and moved to San Diego years ago as the craft beer scene was still adolescent, nabbing a bartending gig in Ocean Beach with a few good craft handles. When local icon Pizza Port opened up a location down the street, she secured a few shifts and quickly emerged as an expert not only at serving beer, but at connecting with customers’ palettes and being an ambassador for the brand. She rose up to a position as a regional sales manager for Pizza Port Brewing and has served as President of the San Diego Brewer’s Guild, which advocates statewide for the industry and organizes San Diego Beer Week each November.
Long before Wine & Spirits named her “Best New Sommelier” and Richard Blais tapped her to create the award-winning wine program at Juniper & Ivy, Wong built a solid reputation in the California wine world. With stints at San Diego darling Third Corner (with tables set in the middle of a wine shop, it’s no secret the food is secondary to the grapes), The Fishery in Pacific Beach, and the prestigious La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, she’s been the go-to somm for top chefs across the city. Today she is the go-to regional wine expert for everyone from Orfila Vineyards to the San Diego Beverage Times, and also does high-profile local tastings and events.
You & Yours Distilling Co.
Compared to craft beer, craft distilleries are few and far between in San Diego, if growing as a trend. Even fewer are helmed by women, which makes You & Yours Distilling Co. so unique. Laura Johnson dreamed up her business while still in school at the University of San Diego, and after three years of research, development, and fundraising, she opened up shop in San Diego’s hip East Village neighborhood with partner Luke Mahoney in 2017. San Diego Magazine cocktail writer Kelly Davis said the space “blends an industrial vibe with beach cottage charm” and contains a custom-made still. Currently, her focus is on gin and vodka, for which she leans on grapes, corn, and potatoes in the distilling process. She offers regular tours of the distillery and a rotating menu of signature cocktails that includes classics like a gimlet and more innovative, craft options like the Side Salad, made with house vodka, bell pepper, basil, and lime.
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