Located between the barrel room and the vineyards at the historic Bernardo Winery, Café Merlot combines Europe cuisines with Southern California flare. Café Merlot co-owner Toni Kraft grew up in a home with the smells of baking bread, and counts planting, harvesting, and consuming fava beans with her grandmother among her fondest childhood memories. After a career in catering in the Midwest, where she worked alongside the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Wolfgang Puck, Toni brings an experienced but experimental philosophy to her current restaurant’s seasonally-changing menus. And with the help of executive chef Ferdinand, Toni also helps with the cooking classes, which range from cooking with wine to Super Bowl snacks, spreads, and marinades.
The bistro uses the 123-year-old winery’s rustic surroundings to great effect. On the patio, olive trees and grapevines gossip above diners. Indoors, a warm-toned Tuscan ambiance welcomes guests. Sundays see Chef Daniel roll out some of his specialties on the brunch menu, such as lobster eggs benedict and Kahlua French toast, making the cafe an enticing destination for a romantic breakfast date or a confusing business meeting.
Do It With Icing's expert confectioners sculpt frosting frescos and lush delicacies in their classroom kitchen, benefiting bakers-in-training with years of experience and a plethora of sweet supplies. Sugary shelves offer provisions for opulent dessert sequencing, including candy-making paraphernalia and a bevy of different chocolate molds for creating an army of cocoa droids.
Jeff Roberto, a sushi expert, brings a plethora of experience to his San Diego sushi oasis. He has catered large events of up to 16,000 guests as well as the sets of such Hollywood films as Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and Elizabethtown. Inside SOAR (Sushi On A Roll) he constructs specialty rolls filled with shrimp tempura, seared tuna, spicy scallops, and sashimi and nigiri rolls featuring fresh water eel and squid.
Roberto also leads group explorations in the art of sushi preparation during interactive sushi-making classes held inside a private sushi bar. Two-hour classes commence with an assessment of how many edamame you can stuff in your cheeks before you begin tucking vegetable fillings in sheets of seaweed with the help of a bamboo mat. Students jot down notes on the proper consistency of sushi rice, when to sprinkle rolls with sesame seeds, and how to repurpose chopsticks as the mast of a ship-in-a-bottle.
A koi mural provides the backdrop for the expansive 30-seat sushi bar, which is outlined in neon to highlight the dramatic curve of the space. The expansive venue, which accommodates up to 100 people, is popular among large groups of friends looking for a fun outing and U.S. senators playing hooky. Free parking is also available.
In addition to catering and one-time meal services, Bent On Cooking provides private groups and solo food scholars with interactive cooking lessons under the expert tutelage of Chef Rosie Bent. With more than 13 years of experience as a personal chef and certification as a raw chef, Chef Rosie possesses the know-how and natural ease to teach any fledgling flambéist the pleasures of cooking. Relish the epicurean excitement with a two-hour cooking class for two that can take place in the privacy of your own home or on-site using Bent On Cooking's equipment. During the two-hour culinary lesson, Chef Rosie will guide you in making two to four delicious recipes while demonstrating various techniques such as the backhanded cucumber chop and the double-knot sautéing slide. Ingredients are not included for either location but a shopping list will be provided.
Patricio Esquivel draws on more than 20 years of culinary experience to impart gourmet food preparation technique through hands-on instruction. Gastronomic gurus guide up to 12 students through 2.5-hour courses designed to hone a variety of kitchen skills. Hone chopping chops in Essential Knife Skills, which is designed to help pupils become more confident at the cutting board, fine tuning basic knife skills and fundamental cuts for vegetables including mincing, dicing, and swashbuckling. The Grilling Seafood course teaches pupils to create immaculately grilled fish and shellfish, and Easy Chinese at Home classes explore the complex blend of seasonings and lifelike panda calls that create great Chinese cuisine. Patricio Esquivel also offers courses for kids and teens to nurture fledgling food-prepping prowess.
One should live to eat, not vice-versa. Cooking with Class's team of chef instructors includes Bill Sauer of The Marble Room, Christian Graves of Jsix, JohnAlonge', Chris Idso of Pacifica Del Mar, Danny Bannister of the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, Brian Malarkey of The Oceanaire Seafood Room, and more San Diego culinary celebrities.