Photo by Urban Kitchen Group
San Diego's food culture is a lot like a beautiful teenager: You can see the future and it looks bright, but it still needs seasoning and maturity.
But events like the ones planned by Joe Magnanelli, executive chef of CUCINA urbana (505 Laurel St.) in Banker's Hill, go a long way toward helping this city's food scene graduate to the next level.
Magnanelli is planning four "Beast Feasts" over the next year in which he will create a family-style meal where the focus is on one animal and uses as much of that animal as is possible.
The first event was on July 19, at which Magnanelli created a two-course meal using a large fish for $70. The press release claims the first will be a redfish, but Magnanelli said the exact style of fish won't be determined until the day of the event. After that, the events will be held quarterly.
"I'm planning to see what's available at the dockside market or I might go fish for it myself," Magnanelli said before the July 19 event.
The next meals include ones centered around a lacquered duck (Oct. 25), a cow (Jan. 31) and a suckling pig (April 17).
As diners demand restaurants pay attention to things such as the environment and sustainability, some foodies in other cities are choosing to eat in places that use as much of an animal as possible.
What's cool in Portland or New York still isn't the norm in San Diego, but Magnanelli is happy he is able to do it at all.
"We couldn't have done this 10 years ago, but in other cities, you go to a 'chef's table' event two or three times a week," he said. "I want people to appreciate the whole animal."
Although this sort of sustainability could be the wave of the food future, it's actually looking back toward the past to a time when people had to use everything from an animal without wasting it.
But for it to work in modern times, diners need to be willing to recognize how the food they are eating came to be on their plate.
"People get squeamish about seeing a whole animal," he said. "For instance, in April, we will be serving a whole suckling pig. Some people want their food, but don't want to see what it is."
If the "Beast Feasts" are successful, Magnanelli hopes to continue them, but he also hopes to provide a path forward for the local dining scene in general.
"I hope this is the way of the future," he said. "If we want to be responsible, it's not just about a pork chop, it's the whole animal. And then maybe people won't be so frivolous and send back the chop if it's a third overcooked."
For more information on the "Beast Feasts," check out cucinaurbana.com.