Institute is a worthy stop for food enthusiasts

Are you a food and wine enthusiast looking for like-minded people who gather monthly at San Diego’s best restaurants? If so, the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF) in San Diego is worth checking out. The AIWF is a nonprofit organization founded by Julia Child, Robert Mondavi, Richard Graff and others in 1981 to advance the understanding, appreciation and quality of what we eat and drink.

The San Diego Chapter is one of many across the United States. Along with our sister chapters and the national organization, they promote an exchange of ideas that benefit both professionals and dedicated enthusiasts through publications and programs. AIWF’s San Diego Chapter offers a variety of local events that inspire a lively and comprehensive exchange of information and ideas. Members and guests have the opportunity to attend exclusive wine tastings, winemaker dinners, cookbook author signings, culinary cruises, and garden tours and much more.

AIWF members and scholarship winners at their recognition dinner hosted by the student run Palette Restaurant. Photo by David Boylan

These specialized events are designed to explore and celebrate the many aspects of food and drink, from preparation to presentation. It’s a great mix of attendees of all ages, from business owners to couples and singles, all with a shared passion for food and wine. The venues they choose for their events are top quality as well.

While the name may imply that this is some kind of industry-only organization, membership is open to anyone. It is a great way to meet knowledgeable people in the industry and others with common interests. The AIWF encourages guests to try them out at one of their monthly events.

Besides celebrating all things culinary, the AIWF also gives back through a scholarship program. I recently attended a dinner where the AIWF was celebrating their two most recent scholarship award winners. It was held at the Palette Dining Room of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California — San Diego.

The students’ new semester menu was designed just for AIWF San Diego under the guidance of Chef Instructor Michael Zonfrilli. AIWF San Diego has a special relationship with The Art Institute, which has hosted many past events with its students preparing fabulous multi-course dinners. This was another example of the AIWF allowing insider access to observe what is happening with culinary education in San Diego while enjoying delicious creations.

I was very impressed by the entire evening and the menu presented by the students. We started with assorted cheese and charcuterie then moved into a first course of a porcini risotto arancini with mushroom duxelle, buffalo mozzarella, roasted garlic aioli and toasted bread crumbs. It was basically a delicious risotto ball.

Next up was the quinoa chowder with avocado, aji amarillo, cilantro-mint pesto and manchego cheese. This was a wonderful and unique creation and one of my favorite dishes of the evening. And just a side note, if you have not seen quinoa on every other menu in town yet, you will soon, it’s everywhere.

A winter greens salad came out next that was delightful and nicely presented. My favorite dish of the evening followed which was a pan roasted local snapper with lemon-chive mashed potatoes, fried green beans, citrus beurre blanc and an herb salad. This dish would have been right at place on any fine dining menu in San Diego. Nice work by the students on this one!

The fifth course was an herb grilled beef strip loin with polenta fries, sautéed greens, parmesan-truffle fondue and a sauce bordelaise.

The meal wrapped up with a dark chocolate ganache tart with peanut butter ice cream, caramelized banana and a raspberry coulis.  This came out from the pastry students and again, was ready for prime time. By the way, this is the menu all semester at the student-run Palatte, which is open for lunch and dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays only. Make a reservation at (858) 598-1405.

There were AIWF members from Milwaukee and Chicago in attendance that night and it was great to talk food with people from other parts of the country. I would highly encourage all food enthusiasts to attend one of the AIWF’s monthly events as a guest. You can learn more about the organization and check out upcoming events at the aiwf.org/sandiego/.

David Boylan is the founder of Artichoke Creative, an Encinitas based integrated marketing agency. He can be reached at david@artichoke-creative.com.

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