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Living Coast Discovery Center's food and wine festival is a hoot Phillip Brents | Fri, Aug 09 2013 11:16 PM

The Living Coast Discovery Center’s fourth annual From Farm to Bay Food and Wine Classic proved to be a smash hit on Saturday with a sellout guest list of 548 patrons sampling cuisine and spirits from 40 vendors.

The four-hour event served as a fundraiser to help sustain the Chula Vista nature conservatory and education center located along San Diego Bay.

“This is the first year we have sold out, which is exciting news for us,” the center’s chief operating officer Ben Vallejos said.

Vallejos said the center has an annual operating budget of approximately $1.3 million and receives funding through sponsorships, corporate donations and numerous fundraising events — both public and private — throughout the year.

This year’s food and wine festival event, which received supporting guidance from event designer/culinary chair Andrew Spurgin, was the largest in the history of the event and attracted a younger, more foodie-oriented guest list.

This new vibe was evident throughout the evening as guests filled walkways and available building space on the center’s grounds. The center’s exhibits were open during the event, allowing guests to learn about the native habitat, endangered species and migratory patterns of various animals, especially birds along the Pacific Flyway, which includes the Sweetwater marshlands.

Last year’s food and wine festival attracted 240 guests, according to Vallejos.

Funds raised this year will go toward providing food and care for the center’s animal residents, many of which have been rescued from the wild and nursed back from injury. Funds will also go toward supporting educational outreach programs for under-served children in the community.

In fact, guests were greeted by two kinds of owls — a burrowing owl upon arriving in the parking lot and a barn owl upon entering the main grounds — calmly perched on the outstretched hands of handlers.

Owls have the ability to turn their heads 135 degrees in any direction for 270 degrees of total movement, making them appear to be looking behind their bodies at times.

Participating food vendors prepared dishes inspired by the center’s current Deadly Waters exhibit that runs through Sept. 2.

Among the tasty samplings were the pork bellies on polenta served by Via Lago Trattoria (Village Walk at Eastlake), Swiss chard salad from the Red Door and the Wellington and the chimichurri talapia street tacos from Terra American Bistro.

Various shellfish dishes also tickled the culinary fancy of guests.

For dessert, the spicy chipotle chocolate Viva pops were a particular hit with guests.

The event attracted many locals, including Troy Vierra, a teacher at Otay Ranch High School, and fellow guest Celia Tapia-Estevez.

“We wanted to help support the center and what they do,” Vierra said. “I’m a Chula Vistan and I support the community.”

The Living Coast Discovery Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The last shuttle leaves the parking lot at 3 p.m. to the main grounds.

The center is located at 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive. Call 409-5900 for information or visit www.thelivingcoast.org.

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