"Constant jolting, yes. Extremely uncomfortable. But once you're there, you stay for a week, ten days."
"And you're just out there, living in the open."
"In a tent. Occasionally a truckload of fishermen will go by, and they'll ask for a beer and to use your tools...and bring you a couple of lobsters."
"So you settled in San Diego for the next 23 years and cooked at various establishments."
"I started out working for a local group of restaurants that were the first to bring California cuisine to San Diego -- Piret's. Then moved to Dobson's, a classic place, a great little restaurant [that won Zagat's top spot in '95]. And another of the owner's restaurants, La Gran Tapa, one of the first Spanish restaurants in the state (along with the Ballroom). After that, I was the first female chef at the Grant Grill, which didn't used to allow women in at lunch until a famous standoff in the late '60s. [It won the DeRona Award.] From there I went to the Hilton Torrey Pines right on the coast in La Jolla, followed by another hotel, the Solamar and its Jsix/Jbar. Presently I run ten kitchens for Premier Foods, a catering company at the Del Mar race track."
"No wonder Bon Appetit called you 'the reigning queen of San Diego chefs.' How many meals do you supervise each day?"
"Eight to ten thousand during the two months of the racing season when the thoroughbred meets are held by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club [founded by Bing Crosby]. And we'll do enormous parties, like the one for 9000 this past October. I like to do big projects. Restaurants are almost too easy now."
"Do you eat out locally?"
"I tend toward ethnic. I like Vietnamese, so I go to places like Phuong Trang on Convoy, which is terrific. Some of the Mexican places we haunt are excellent, very authentic, like Las Cuatro Milpas [on Logan]."
"Do you dine at high-end establishments, like the Ken-sington Grill or Laurel?"
"At times. I'm so impressed by the chefs in San Diego. Carl Schroeder, Amy DiBiase at Baleen.... They're all so talented. I was just at Laurel, and it was very, very good, and we're going to Blanca after Christmas. But it's kind of like -- what would it be like all the time? It would be like going to fashion shows every day. I'm sort of into noncompetitive eating."
"Eating that doesn't involve your work; that makes sense. Which prompts your interest in Baja and ethnic."
"Yes. Also I have a child headed for college, so I'm not about to drop $200 on dinner every week." Sounding mischievous, she adds, "Besides, I'd rather buy shoes."
"Saffron on India gets a lot of praise."
"Oh, it's wonderful. Su-Mei Yu's food is Thai, of course. She did a wonderful cookbook: Cracking the Coconut. What makes a great eating town are affordable restaurants; low key and casual, neighborhoody places close to residential areas where people come and support them and that aren't super competitive."
"Are your two teenagers as adventurous as you seem to have been in your youth?"
"I think my daughter would go off in a heartbeat. She goes to High Tech High. She was just in England her sophomore year, with her classmates, and she's going to China with them in the spring for three weeks."
"So, if your daughter announced, 'I'm going off on a motorcycle across Europe and Africa,' you'd be fine with it?"
Deborah laughs with delight. "I'd do what my mother did, which was buy burial insurance, to be sure the body made it home, and make her sign it. Then just say, 'Honey, go have a great time.'"
"What a smart mom."
Sounding wistful, Deborah says, "How many chances do you have. You know?"