After slipping behind fire lines to check on his home and restaurant, Mille Fleurs owner Bertrand Hug was relieved to find that both had been spared. But his neighborhood wasn't unscathed.
"A house was burning about 200 yards down," he said. "It's completely deserted except for the fire engines."
Hug closed both Mille Fleurs and Bertrand at Mister A's Monday, but reopened the Banker's Hill restaurant yesterday. He planned to create a $20 special as a treat for fire victims.
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The Grande Colonial Hotel housed 120 evacuees, spreading them among hotel rooms and letting some of them bed down on cots set up in the banquet rooms. Nine-Ten chefs and staff who came in on their days off fed their guests a family-style dinner of roast turkey, a buffet breakfast with eggs and sausage and snacks of popcorn and cookies throughout the day, Food and Beverage Director Neal Wasserman said.
"They're all a bit in shock but they're super nice and super appreciative," Wasserman said. "The outpouring of general civility you don't see in normal life is great."
Like many evacuees, Pamplemousse Grille chef Jeffrey Strauss was holed up in a downtown hotel. But the wine-loving chef and his girlfriend had fled with a little more than the basic necessities.
"I told her to pack up my clothes and the pets and I'll grab my Screaming Eagles and RomaneÐe-Contis," Strauss said. "Those are my most valuable bottles of wine and I've got the room at 65 degrees."
Screaming Eagle is highly sought-after Napa Valley cult cabernet sauvignon; Domaine de la RomaneÐe-Conti is the most storied estate in the French wine region Burgundy. Both are easily worth thousands of dollars a bottle.
With all of his scheduled parties cancelled, Chef David Chenelle was sititng at home watching fire coverage when he decided he had to help.
"We're not rich guys but we have strength with food purveyors," said Chenelle, executive chef at the Coronado Yacht Club.
Chenelle, Joaquin Cuevas and Ralph Ford -- members of a professional organization called the Chef's de Cuisine Association -- gathered up fruit, vegetables, meat, beans and bottled water from Restaurant Depot, Sysco, Baja Produce and set out to feed somebody.
There were a couple false starts; the people at San Diego High School and Qualcomm Stadium already had enough. Authorities at the Chula Vista Youth Center, an evacuation site, told them to come back Wednesday. But 30 minutes later they called back.
Chenelle said they fed 60 Chula Vista Police officers a buffet of mixed green salad, corn on the cob, fruit, barbecued pork sandwiches and ranch beans.
-- MARIA HUNT