Celebrity chefs compete in Illy Chefs Challenge in San Francisco 

Russell Jackson’s creative wheels are turning. He is brainstorming for a menu for which he has no ingredients — at least, not yet.

Click on the photo at right to see more of the chefs.

Lafitte’s owner and executive chef will have to wait until 4 p.m. Saturday to find out, when he will pair with chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn against Incanto’s Chris Cosentino and Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake in the Illy Chefs Challenge at the Westin St. Francis.

Each pair of San Francisco culinary heavyweights will receive a surprise basket of ingredients, of which the only known ingredient will be coffee, in a battle for charity that is part of SF Chefs 2011. The week of programs celebrates The City’s eclectic cuisine and local food culture.

“I’ve cooked in a lot of places around the world,” Jackson says, “but there is nothing like San Francisco.  There is a unique, diverse, intense, committed and dedicated food industry community in this town.”

Crenn, his co-chef for the battle and former “Next Iron Chef” contestant, may be French, but the owner of the Fillmore Street restaurant also is an established member of the San Francisco culinary scene.

They will duke it out against Cosentino and Falkner in a race against the clock in front of a live audience. The dueling duos will attempt to win over the tastebuds of San Francisco Magazine’s Jan Newberry and Margo True of Sunset Magazine.

Jackson admits his excitement comes with a touch of anxiety.

“I’m always up for a good fight.  But I’m going to stand up onstage with three ‘Iron Chef’ killers,” Jackson says. “They’re all intimidating, intense individuals.”

But he remains confident in his abilities alongside Crenn, with whom he has cooked before.

“I love cooking with her,” says Jackson.  “She’s very passionate and she does things that I don’t do well, and I do things that she doesn’t do well, so we’re a good balance.”

Besides creating a great spectacle, the event will raise money for charity. Chase Sapphire will donate $20,000 to the winning team’s charity of choice, and $5,000 to the runner-up. Jackson and Crenn will be battling for Kids against Cancer, while Cosentino and Falkner have chosen Meals on Wheels of San Francisco as their beneficiary.

“It was important to find a strong foundation we could both stand behind and support,” says Jackson. “Children are the future, and we want children with cancer to have a future.”

The contest is one of many in the weeklong SF Chefs, which is housed in a tasting tent in Union Square and hosting additional events across The City. 

More than 200 culinary establishments are involved in the weeklong celebration, with activities including demonstrations on everything from cooking and butchering to mixology and tasting. Programming supports the Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation.



Illy Chefs Challenge

Where: Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell St., San Francisco

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $50

Contact: (415) 781-5348, www.sfchefs2011.com

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