Saturday, April 20, 2024

Chef Throwdown for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at the Hotel Del

On Friday, September 22, 2017 I was invited to be a part of a very special night. The Hotel del Coronado hosted a charity event on the Windsor Lawn aptly named the Chef Throwdown, which benefited the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The evening was absolutely perfect. An amazing sunset, a slight fall chill in the air, everyone was beautifully (and handsomely) dressed, encircled by amazing local San Diego and Coronado restaurants and breweries providing a variety of cuisines, and wonderfully paired libations. Up on the stage there were the 10 appointed and one celebrity (a place that was auctioned off on the spot) judges, the culinary experts.

Melissa d’Arabian and Troy Johnson hosting the Chef Throwdown at the Del, benefiting CFF Sept 22, 2017

I was, of course, excited to be in the same area as two of my favorite Food Network Stars: Coronado’s own Melissa d’Arabian, a Food Network Star and best-selling author, and local San Diego award winning food writer, TV Host and humorist Troy Johnson.

There were more than 25 different restaurants represented. Of those, four were from right here in Coronado: 1500 Ocean, Chef Marc Oiser and Bruno Albouze; Blue Bridge Hospitality, Chef Lori Sauer; Chef Jorge Gonzlez from Calypso Cafe, and from Current and Tides, located at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort and Spa, Chef Michael Poompan. As attendees made their way around the circle of cuisine, they were to place a ticket in the voters’ box of their favorite restaurant. This progressive style sampling continued throughout the evening. After about an hour and a half, all guests were invited into the ballroom to watch a brief presentation on CFF and its most current news updates.

Next, a four course plated meal was being served while the live auction was going on. The meal consisted of Spanish octopus carpaccio, duck confit tortellono, snake river strip loin, and a dessert bar. Additionally, the awards for the Throwdown were announced. The People’s Choice award was given to Parq, a stunning restaurant and night club in downtown San Diego. The Grand Champion award, awarded by the culinary council, went to Latitud 32. What I loved most about this culinary tour is that there were so many tasty dishes. Mexican lasagna, octopus fritters, pork dishes, you name it. This event was so very well done and most certainly worth doing again and again.

Naomi was diagnosed with CF at just 6 days old. She is a young, spirited, energetic, independent young lady who has been able to, with help from her family, learn how to manage CF and continue with her many interests, and a dream of one day being a farmer! Photo courtesy of Gallagher family.

While the Chef Throwdown was amazing, the real reason for the dinner was to raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis. CF is a an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States. Some of medical issues that a person with CF faces (due to the defective gene that creates a thick mucus) are that the lungs can get clogged and lead to life threatening infections. This mucus also affects the pancreas by obstructing it and prohibiting the pancreas from utilizing the enzymes to break down and absorb food. When CF was initially diagnosed most kids would not live long enough to attend elementary school. Through CFF and the research and drug-research they have been able to do, many people live well past their 30s and in to their 40s. Because CF is such a rare disease, it doesn’t receive any federal funding for research. Almost all, 89% to be exact, funds raised through events like the Chef Throwdown go directly to the patients. This is used for drug research, specialized care at home or in a treatment center. I had the opportunity to speak with Leigh Innocenti, who is currently the Executive Director of CFF, about the organization. She stated that she has been in non-profit for many years, and when she moved to San Diego she wanted to continue working in the non-profit arena, and waited to find the perfect match for her. That is when she found the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, CFF. We talked about what an amazing organization CFF is, and their ability to raise as much as they do and be able to give almost all of it back to those who really would benefit from it. She stated that “all people deserve to live a long and purposeful life. With CFF continuing to work towards a cure, they can.”

Ongoing throughout the evening were both silent auctions and live auctions. I had the privilege of sitting next to Bob and Diane Dalto, whose daughter Nicole is a local here, and they shared their connection with CF. Their granddaughter, Naomi, has CF. Talking to her mom, Nicole, she explained to me what exactly CF is. It is a genetic disease in which parents who are carriers have a 1 in 4 chance of their children having a diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis. The most common organs that are affected by CF are the lungs and pancreas, causing frequent lung exacerbation and difficulty digesting food. Throughout Naomi’s life, her family and her have learned what remedies work best to keep her healthy. Nicole stated, “Since her diagnosis at the age of six days old, there has not been one day that has been free of a long list of treatments.” There are pre-meal pancreatic enzymes she must take to help with absorption of nutrients and digestion of food, a vest for chest physiotherapy, and other medications. Naomi has taken control of her care, and her mom said that as she has gotten older she requires less and less help from family. “We are so fortunate that her CF is manageable, and all of her hard work has equaled an almost normal life,” Nicole stated. Naomi is training in classical ballet and martial arts, enjoys acting, playing piano, and hanging out with her family and their family dog. She as aspirations to be a farmer. I asked Naomi’s mom what she wanted others to know about CF, and she said, “CF is a huge variable, there are extremely mild cases to very severe cases and everything in between. It is a day to day fight. There are easy days where everything becomes quite routine…, and other days where every step feels like a steep climb with another mountain to climb over and over again. When you get done and head to bed you know the mountains are waiting for you the next morning….sometimes before the next morning.”

There are many more stories like Naomi’s. Thank you to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for all that you do for these families. Thank you to the Hotel del Coronado for hosting and sponsorship of such a beautiful event. Thank you to all of the employees that made this night a success. Lastly, kudos to all of the amazing chefs and restaurants that participated in the Chef Throwdown. We’re already looking forward to next year!


Heather McNeil
Heather McNeil
Heather is a Navy wife of 20 years, a mom to two beautiful daughters, two dogs, and an educator. "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall" ~ Confucius Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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