Fun Facts You Never Knew About 40 San Diego Chefs

December 19, 2016

Most of us know that chefs are by and large an interesting lot. It takes a special breed to devote their lives to such an honorable career as that of a chef, a frequently thankless job that requires long hours and hard work, all in the name of pleasing people through food. Like an onion, a chef has many layers to peel away. In the interest of getting to better know our local brigade of devoted culinarians, we've talked with 40 San Diego chefs to find out a few lesser known fun facts about them.

A great debater, an expert skydiver, a balloon handler, and a former "Orange Princess" walk into a bar.... and they find out that they all currently work as professional chefs in America's Finest City. We asked a bunch of San Diego chefs to give us a little known fun fact or two about themselves. Get ready to be fascinated. Let's dish!

Kat Humphus, Chef/Owner of Savory Made Simple - When she's not putting together recipes and do-it-yourself meals for her clients, Chef Kat is usually dropping from the sky. She has more than 200 sky dives under her belt. She was also the valedictorian of her high school and is an avid drummer.

Matt Gordon, Chef/Owner of Urban Solace and Solace & The Moonlight Lounge -  Chef Matt once worked three salmon seasons, one crab season, and one cod season in Alaskan fish processing plants in Bristol Bay. He also worked one herring season on a fishing boat where he had many odd adventures, including a close call involving a near-crash in an airplane.

Claudia Sandoval, Author/Chef of Claudia's Cocina - Masterchef Season 6 winner, Chef Claudia is not someone you want to get into an argument with. Claudia was the captain of the Speech & Debate team at Sweetwater High School and has won over $10k in scholarships for her skills. She was also on the drill team and colorguard in highschool and went on to major in philosophy at SDSU. Claudia is the head honcho of @IgersSanDiego and, in 2013, she organized and set a World Record for the World's Largest Instameet. The record still stands today.

Javier Plascencia, Chef/Owner at Grupo Plascencia (Bracero, Romesco) - Chef Javier once worked as a busboy at Le Gran Tour Restaurant in Horton Plaza, a restaurant that Plascencia claims was way ahead of its time in San Diego, as they had an Italian cafe, an English pub and a fine dining Italian restaurant all in one huge location. He also once was chased by an immigration officer helicopter while trying to jump the fence of a drive-in theater on Coronado Avenue in Chula Vista because they thought he was an illegal.

Brian Redzikowski, Corporate Executive Chef of SDCM (Kettner Exchange, The Grass Skirt, Firehouse) - Chef Brian is a regular Sherlock Holmes and claims that before he realized his dream of being a chef he wanted to be a criminal investigator. He has read every book on JonBenét Ramsey and even toured the property in Boulder, Colorado.

Accursio Lota, Executive Chef at Solare Ristorante - The Italian-born chef grew up playing the drums and other percussion instruments. He loves gardening and cultivating produce. Growing up, his family would harvest grapes, although Chef Accursio was known to ditch out on the grape harvest after lunch. When Accursio was a young chef, he was known as the "elephant in a glass store" because he was always breaking things.

Anthony Sinsay, Executive Chef at Jsix - Most people know that Chef Anthony is a humble, Ninja Turtle-loving rockstar behind the stove, but many aren't aware that Sinsay used to be an aspiring jazz musician in high school. Chef Anthony sings and plays the piano. Sinsay is a HUGE fan of singer Michael McDonald and does an impression of him and other 80s singers like Aaron Neville, Barry Manilow, and Billy Joel. He also has a playlist of all 80s and 90s-era television theme songs that he plays in his kitchens, much to the chagrin of his staff. Another crazy fact, Anthony has never seen any of the Star Wars movies. WTF?!

Kevin Templeton, Corporate Chef for Verant Group & Executive Chef at barleymash - Mild-mannered Chef Kevin is actually a tattoo-clad headbanger. He is currently in a death metal band called Godhammered and was previously the lead singer of Awaiting Samsara. For a scream of a time, check out Kevin stretch his vocal chords on YouTube.

Daniel Barron, Execute Chef at Bull & Grain - Not only is he a master of dry-aging meat, Chef Daniel is also a craftsman. He loves woodworking and has built a lot of the furniture in his house, as well as cornhole boards and various woodworks for other chefs and friends.

Nick Nappi, Executive Chef at Bar One - The former MasterChef finalist is known for his Italian food and savory sausages, but one of his favorite foods is cheese whiz. Chef Nick's favorite color is purple and he is also deathly afraid of heights.

Anthony Pascale, Chef/Co-Owner of Saiko Sushi - Chef Anthony (who hails from the same small town in New Jersey that I do) loves the American rock band Styx, so much so that all of the rolls at his North Park location are named after the band's songs or albums.

Steve Brown, Chef/Owner at Cosecha and The Shipping Yard - After high school Chef Steve started out as a housekeeper in a hotel in Germany, but he was demoted to dishwasher for sleeping in the rooms. At the time he thought it was the worst day of his life, but it was actually a blessing in disguise because he hasn't left the kitchen since.

Michael Poompan, Executive Chef at Coronado Island Marriott Resort - Although today Chef Michael loves his veggies, he grew up never eating vegetables (except corn and potatoes), and it wasn’t until he was 19 years old that he had his first salad. It wasn't until he was forced to taste vegetables at culinary school that he began appreciating produce.

Sarah Polczynski, Caterer at Seasoned Plates, Associate Culinary Professor at San Diego Community College, & Proprietor of Sabor Imports - Chef Sarah, who now operates a Mexican food import company, didn't eat avocados until she was 40 years old. She also once lived with elephants for a week in Thailand where she fed them, walked them and bathed them.

Matt Richman, Executive Chef at Depot Springs Beer Company - Ever the charmer, Chef Matt knows that the way into a woman's heart is through her stomach. He may have learned that when he was cast twice to be on the popular dating show Change Of Heart.

Casey Thompson, Executive Chef at Morada at The Inn at Rancho Sante Fe - The 3x Top Chef contestant has a need for speed. She once had a Mustang Cobra that she could shift without even touching the clutch! She also had a pet squirrel named Ferdinand who lived with her in a large cage with a tree branch.

Stephen Gage, Executive Chef at Blind Lady Ale House - Chef Stephen played the trombone in his high school marching band and for a brief time took up a career in music production before committing to a life in the kitchen.

Christine Rivera, Executive Chef at Galaxy Taco - Chef Christine has been tap dancing sine she was just three years old. She also has three weiner dogs at home. Her dachshunds are named Penny, Sydney, and Maia.

Craig Jiminez, Executive Chef/Partner of Supernatural Sandwiches - Chef Craig received the Jeune Professionalism Academie Brillat-Savarin Medal during graduation from the Art Institute of California San Diego. He once baked breads in Cape Cod and designed ice carving sculptures before getting back into the kitchen. Chef Craig also once built a 90 gallon reef tank from scratch and was forced to eat a goldfish when he was 7 by his older brothers. He is the youngest of 4 brothers but the tallest of them all.

Giselle Wellman, Executive Chef at Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen - Native San Diegan Chef Giselle is somebody you may want to steer clear of in traffic. The former-Top Chef admits that she is an aggressive driver. She also has some strange skills. Giselle can move her ears on command and can touch her nose with her tongue.

Bradrick Cooper, Chef/Owner of Coop's West Texas BBQ and Da Chicken Coop - Before devoting his life to being one of the best pitmasters (and chicken fryers) in San Diego, Coop worked as a registered nurse for 12 years. Also, prior to opening up Coop's in 2010, he made lunch and dinner plates on his days off and sold them at barbershops and beauty shops in his community.

Flor Franco, Culinary Director at Berry Good Food Foundation - Chef Flor is an avid lover of cheesy romantic movies. When she is sad, peeling garlic and deseeding chiles while listening to Gipsy King music makes her feel better. She grew up on a farm in Veracruz, Mexico, where she was the "Orange Princess" of her hometown when she was 16.

Tae Dickey, Chef/Owner of BiGA - In his free time, Chef Tae enjoys apiary (beekeeping). He is also autodidactic and has taught himself soldering, plumbing, saxophone, sewing, and photography, a skill he frequently uses to photograph his own food for his restaurant's social media.

Jason Hotchkiss, Executive Chef at Encontro North Park - For the last nine years, Chef Jason has volunteered as a balloon handler in the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City. This past Thanksgiving, he was holding down the Paddington Bear balloon.

Fern Tran, Executive Chef at Bao Beach & Chef at Legal Restaurants - A lot of people don’t know that Chef Fern is not all that good at remembering names. If she greets you with a "Hi, Handsome," or "Hi, Beautiful," that means she doesn't remember your name - although she is very good at recalling faces. Fern also loves eating raw vegetables!

Ken Irvine, Chef/Owner of Bleu Bohème - Chef Ken worked in his family's business as a commercial tuna fisherman for 10 years, which took him throughout Central and South America, the Western Pacific and the Caribbean. Although born in Montreal, he moved to Coronado when his father relocated his fishing business to San Diego. He is a graduate of Coronado High School where both of his 15-year-old twin boys now attend.

Terryl Gavre, Baker/Owner of Café 222 & Co-Proprietor of Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant - Terryl got her start in hospitality through a business she developed in her early 20s called "The Surrogate Wife." Through her unique business model, which offered shopping, baking and cooking, among other domestic errands to some of Seattle’s most well-known, high-income bachelors, she attracted national media attention and wrote a screenplay that became a made-for-television movie titled, “This Wife for Hire.” In 1992, Terryl used the money she made from the Hollywood production to move to San Diego and open her first restaurant, Cafe 222.

Davin Waite, Chef/Owner of Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub - Sushi master Chef Davin played violin in his junior high and high school orchestra. He is also a self proclaimed 'train geek' with a model railroad in his garage. He also had an English accent until he was 12 years old. 

Danilo "DJ" Tangalin, Executive Chef at Tidal at Paradise Point - You've noticed that Chef DJ is a smart guy and it's probably because he graduated from high school twice - once in the Philippines and another time in New Jersey. After graduating from high school in the Philippines and moving to the United States, Chef DJ didn't have enough credits to go to college, plus he had the SAT's to prep for so that he could go to college. He decided that it would be an awesome transition and would help him learn the American culture if he went back to junior year of high school. Chef DJ also once had dreams of being a hip-hop MC, recording about 8 songs. He used to freestyle on stage every Sunday in one of his old restaurants. Where are those songs? We will never know!

Christina Pancheri, Executive Chef at Miss B’s Coconut Club - Chef Christina loves horror movies and whiskey. Although it’s a tough call, her favorite is Bookers Rye and Blanton Single Barrel Bourbon paired with the scary flick 28 Days Later. 

Aaron O’Mara, Executive Chef at Royal Stone Bistro - When he was newly out of college, Chef Aaron worked at a major recording studio in Chicago as an engineer and music producer for a few years.

Andrew Spurgin, Executive Chef & Event Stylist at Bespoke Styling - Chef Andrew, who many refer to as "Zoro", competitively fenced and practiced judo for two decades. Born in England, he emigrated to the USA via a ship into the New York City harbor. He can convincingly whistle like several types of birds which he enjoys doing while flying on planes over the mid-Pacific. Another fun fact: when traveling and asked what he does for a living, he usually tells people that he was the "Movie Phone Guy" and they always ask for a sound check.

Abraham Botello, Executive Chef at West Coast Tavern & Consulting Chef at Voltaire Beach House - Chef Abe, a San Diego native, played the trumpet in his high school's jazz and marching bands. He has also completed a half marathon from the Oakland Bay Bridge to Golden Gate Bridge and once tore his lateral meniscus snow boarding.

Jaime Chavez, Executive Chef at Sirena Cocina Latina - Although Chef Jaime has never worked as a pastry chef, while working in Spain in 2011 he won a pastry competition. He also learned to shuck clams and oysters as an act of defiance: Chef Jaime's parents weren't keen on him eating too much of the mercury-rich delicacies at a young age, so he learned to shuck and would sneak off and hide so he could slurp down as many mollusks as he could.

Giacomo Pizzigoni, Co-Founder & Co-Chef of Ambrogio15 - Giacomo is from Milan, Italy and, at 23 years old, was the youngest student at his university admitted to Beta Gamma Sigma, an honor society for the top 10% of students who are pursuing their MBA. In addition to this, he is a huge soccer fan - to the extent that he attended 350 games in a row (that’s 7 years without missing a game!) to support AC Milan (his favorite team), every time sitting in the “nosebleed” seats and even once attending a Champions League semifinal with a broken knee (on crutches) in the middle of thousands of crazy soccer fans.

Evan Cruz, Executive Chef at Arterra Restaurant at Marriott Del Mar - Chef Evan first went to school to become a chiropractor and studied medicine, then decided to become a chef. He is also an avid shooter and builds guns.

Daniel England, Corporate Chef for OMG Hospitality (Union Kitchen + Tap, Backyard Kitchen + Tap, Pacific Beach Alehouse) - Chef Daniel began working in a kitchen at age 13, paid "under the table". He turned down volleyball scholarships to attend culinary school. He has never met a chef taller than himself at 6'9''. Daniel didn't begin eating seafood until he got his first sous chef job at a seafood restaurant. He became an executive chef at age 24. He is terrified of snakes. He has never worked outside of the hospitality industry. He has a pet chow chow that he shaves to look like a lion. He listens to the Beatles at least once every day. And, last but not least, he is a self-declared Marvel Comics nerd.

Lety Gonzalez, Executive Chef at Uptown Tavern - Before Chef Lety decided to focus on a career in the culinary industry, she worked in the music scene as an entertainment manager where she toured with and managed bands and sold their merchandise. She even started her own record company and once worked at the now-defunct Bar Eleven in Normal Heights as a promoter booking talent.

Ivan Flowers, Culinary Instructor at The Celebrity Cafe - During his freshman year at SUNY Oswego, Chef Ivan got a bit too tipsy and his beer muscles caused him to attempt to swim across Lake Ontario to Canada. A Harley man of three decades, Chef Ivan used to frequently have drinks with Sonny Barga, the founding member of Hell's Angels, who would ask for cooking tips. Ivan was also a flight attendant for Tower Air for 2 years, and he travelled all over the world, finding his way into a kitchen everywhere he landed.

Michelle Lomelin, Chocolatier at Sweet Petite Confections - Michelle has a rare blood type, is a licensed Holistic Health Practitioner who specializes in and teaches Hawaiian Lomilomi massage, professionally designed Halloween costumes for two years in her prior career as a fashion designer, and is a huge Jane Austen fan who has been reading her favorite book Pride and Prejudice on and off for the past 25 years.

So there it is! Now you know just a few of our San Diego chefs a bit better than you did before. If you happen to meet any of them, let them know a fun fact or two about yourself. Sharing and learning things about one another is a the best way to unify as a society. Dish it out!