Epicurean San Diego and Chinita’s Pies

Stephanie Parker, the founder of Epicurean San Diego, and Christina Ng, chef and founder of Chinita’s Pies are, first and foremost, ambassadors for local farmers, producers, and artisans. Together they’re working to help preserve the circular food, farming, fishing, and market communities that make San Diego County unique.

Stephanie, a SoCal native, began her career in restaurant management here in San Diego before moving to San Francisco. “I had been involved with Slow Food in San Francisco, so I dove in when I moved back to San Diego to try to cultivate my network and forge partnerships, both professionally and personally,” she said. “I have never encountered such a warm welcoming network. There is a collaborative spirit here and I appreciated that as someone moving back.” She was captivated by the stories of the artisans and producers in San Diego. “I was learning about the drive behind their passions, and my ultimate goal became connecting people to how things are being made—how their coffee is being roasted, how their bread is being baked—and to humanize the makers through cooking classes and culinary tours. It is important to make the connection between food on the table and food in the soil.”

Christina was one such maker and educator who has since become an Epicurean San Diego partner. Her business, Chinita’s Pies, began as a small collaboration with a local coffee cart. Before that, most of her professional culinary experience was making savory dishes in restaurants, pies were her side project, especially around Thanksgiving. At the encouragement of friends and peers, she began to expand her hobby into pop-up events and fundraisers where she was able to promote the principles of sourcing responsibly grown, local produce and meat. “I found like minded partners through these events, which led me to work with nonprofits like Olivewood Gardens, BGFF, Slow Food Urban San Diego, and Stephanie. Food education has really come to light for me as one of my true passions.”

“We are both working for the common good, towards a common goal,” said Stephanie. “And I can always count on Christina, knowing my guests will be taken care of with her delicious food and warm demeanor.”

The pair are united in their passion for the San Diego County food community. “The accessibility factor of being close to a producer or farmer is very tangible in San Diego,” said Christina. “Literally eating slow food, but also encouraging diners to slow down.”

“We have gotten innovative and our food scene is worth celebrating,” said Stephanie. “People want a relatable story, and there are so many out there, like Luke of Cyclops Farm. He made a fully functioning farm out of two acres, while balancing his role as a father.  He makes farming approachable to those who are trying to grow with only a windowsill.”

“Our obligation, if we are branding ourselves as working on behalf of the people who are the source of food, is to emphasize the pathway as much as the meal,” said Christina. “You have to know where to find the food, and then how to tell the story, whether through emails, in a short talk before service, or in classes.”

With both of their businesses built around in-person experiences, the last year presented a unique challenge. “The model looks really different now due to COVID, but people’s desire to connect with food is even stronger,” said Christina. “My pivot came along the lines of what style of service we offered. My model went from full-service onsite catering to drop-off delivery services. In the beginning of March it was terrible to x-out all those events on the calendar, but then I did a couple virtual food system education cooking classes and one beekeeping cooking class for a kids’ birthday party. COVID doesn’t change that children need to learn, and it pushed me to realize my role as a food educator.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic, all of our farmer partners were bananas crazy. Everyone was in panic mode, and people were turning toward local sourcing, ” Stephanie explained. “In terms of our partners, with all of the policy changes, some businesses are doing better than others. We haven’t hosted experiences since last March, and I wasn’t passionate about virtual, so my support to our partners had to shift. The silver lining was relaunching our Sunshine Boxes. In each box we’re supporting anywhere from eight to ten businesses to whom we’re providing both financial and marketing support. And people can send some locally-made, San Diego sunshine.”

Both agree that the challenges of the last year have helped them to refine their missions. “My baking and beekeeping class was at a super affluent house in La Jolla, and yes, those kids needed that information, but so do kids in other demographics,” said Christina. “I realized I want to be accessible to everyone in San Diego and to get information to pockets of people who might not be the first people addressed.”

“My dream is to see San Diego become a food destination, and that includes more deep dives into indigenous food,” said Stephanie. “Seeking out the people in your own backyard is step one in preserving what we have. Then we have to create a whole experience that goes beyond the plate. Even if you can only influence one person, to have one conversation, that’s how we can move the needle forward.”

Stephanie Parker is the owner and operator of Epicuriean San Diego, a culinary tour and events company with a mission to connect people to their food. Stepahnie and her husband left their careers in upper management at restaurants, to figure out how they could create awareness of all of the wonderful local producers that San Diego has to offer.

Chef Christina Ng is owner of Chinitas Pies, Board member at the Berry Good Foundation, and Chef Instructor at UC San Diego. Chinitas pies started as a humble offering at a coffee cart, and has grown into a full time business for Christina. Her business is rooted in thoughtful sourcing, suppporting local growers and purveyors, and providing good food and warmth to the community.

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