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"The Critic and The Cook" Lunch and Learn at the Sanctuary: California-Inspired Cuisine and a Peek Inside the Mind of a Critic

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It's not often you get to see a well-known executive chef and a food critic chat about the ins and outs of the restaurant business. At least, not without the conversation breaking out into a shouting match. Thankfully that was not the case at the first installment of this year's Lunch and Learn series, held last Saturday at the Sanctuary Resort & Spa.

The event, which Chow Bella was invited to come out and enjoy, brought together local celebrity chef and Food Network star chef Beau McMillan and San Diego Magazine food critic Troy Johnson for a day of food, education, and entertainment. The pair, along with chef Rene Andrade Jr., offered cooking demonstrations, stories of their time in the industry, and a three course meal inspired by San Diego cuisine.

See also: 10th Annual Phoenix Cooks: Dozens of Restaurants, Chefs at The Westin Kierland Resort Aug. 30

The lunch event began with a cooking demonstration by chefs McMillan and Andrade Jr., both of elements restaurant at the Sanctuary Resort & Spa. Guests sipped on champagne as the chefs prepared a San Diego Surf N' Turf with grilled flat iron steak, crispy fried lobster, a roasted and stuffed poblano pepper, and creamy black beans.

In addition to demonstrating how to prepare the dish, the chefs offered general cooking tips and explained the reason for choosing each ingredient. For example, McMillian pointed out the flat iron makes a great steak since it's flavorful, tender, and relatively cheap. Chef Andrade Jr. offered tips on how to make homemade black bean sauce with fresh beans, garlic, onion, chipotle, and heavy cream and demonstrated the proper way to roast, peel, and remove the seeds from a poblano pepper.

After the demonstration, food critic Troy Johnson took the stage. In addition to writing restaurant reviews for San Diego Magazine, Johnson has made appearances of the Food Network including as a judge on Guy's Grocery Games with chef McMillan.

While guests enjoyed the first course, a Baja Tostada with shrimp, scallop, albacore, and yuzu ceviche, Johnson posed a question to the audience: "What do you think of restaurant critics?"

"Fat ass holes," was just one of the answers received from the crowd, which kick started a discussion about the delicate role of critiquing food as a non-anonymous critic. "It's hard not to become jaded," Johnson admitted, but explained that he tries to include constructive criticism in his reviews.

The second course arrived, paired with a Stone Brewing Co.'s Saison, after which Johnson took the mic again, this time to answer questions about what goes on in the mind of a critic.

"Food is, I hate to say, one-third of a restaurant," Johnson told guests, explaining that service and atmosphere are also critical parts of the dining experience. "The room is important."

The floor was also opened up for guests to ask questions, including about the San Diego food scene. While dessert, a California Cream Puff with strawberries, smoked salt, and milk chocolate was served, Johnson provided restaurant suggestions and thoughts about the San Diego's emerging food neighborhoods, Little Italy in particular.

The event concluded with a raffle for prizes including tickets to Mixology 101 at Jade Bar, Sanctuary Resort goodie bags, and even a one night stay at the resort and dinner at elements. The grand prize one night stay went to McMillan's own wife -- what are the chances of that one? Not that we're bitter.

This season of Lunch and Learn offers four more events; the next will be held on Sunday, August 2 and will feature award-winning mixologist Jason Asher. The three remaining lunch events cost $75 a person, while the one dinner event -- held on Sunday, August 23 -- costs $125 a person. That event will feature James Beard Award nominee and Food Network star chef Elizabeth Falkner.

You can view the entire Lunch and Learn schedule as well as each event's menu on the Sanctuary Resort website. Reservations can be made online or by calling 480-607-2300.

This post has been edited from its original version.

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