The idea came to Ken Barnes when he was getting ready for a friend’s Zoom birthday party in April. Barnes, who serves as CEO of Options For All (OFA), a San Diego non-profit that helps intellectually and developmentally-disabled adults across the state, was not sure what to wear for the party, being held remotely for a friend. It was the sort of gathering people have had in recent months since COVID-19 upended life. “I did not have a costume, so I just reached in my closet and… I took a vest and a matching bowtie, and I wore that,” Barnes said. “I had on shorts and sandals, sitting in the backyard with a glass of wine.”

Just like that, the idea was born for the upcoming OFA event.

On August 29, OFA will host a virtual gala, “Bow Ties & Sandals,” featuring a real world, catered and delivered four-course meal prepared by Chef Brian Malarkey, a prolific San Diego restaurateur, veteran Food Network judge, and finalist on a recent season of Top Chef: All Stars. Barnes, a noted foodie with his wife Angela, is thrilled about the innovative combination virtual/reality event format. He views it as an opportunity to enhance the quality of the food with a gourmet menu and professionally paired wine suggestions, all while sharing the mission of Options for All.

Guests will have the option of purchasing small production wines sourced from the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s winery region located in Baja California. Baja wines are served at the French Laundry in Napa Valley and other top restaurants around the world. “I wanted a culinary event with an elevated meal and interesting wines, one that would be different and fun for people to enjoy at home while engaged with the gala,” Barnes shared with GB Magazine.

To do this, a monumental undertaking is planned. Malarkey, who owns San Diego-area restaurants Herb & Wood, Herb & Sea and Animae, will deploy 30 staff members to handle food preparation, cooking and packaging. “This is almost like a Top Chef challenge in how to get this much food, to these many people – and make it great!” Malarkey added.

A few highlights from the gala menu includes wood-fired octopus, roasted beet and pork belly, and wood-fired cauliflower steak; “items that are designed to travel well,” Barnes shared. After Malarkey’s team finishes its work, approximately 80 to 100 volunteer drivers will fan out around San Diego to deliver the food and wine selections for the event’s 6 p.m. start.

“It is going to be a logistical feat,” Barnes proudly exclaimed, “An evening of delicious food and wine, coupled with live music, an auction and short videos celebrating some of OFA’s longest-tenured staff. Chef Malarkey will also appear live at the event and drop in 1-on-1 for certain sponsored tables.

For Malarkey, opting for his first-ever virtual event was not a tough decision. “The fact that I can send out all this great food and bring a community together is what is really exciting for me!”

As for Barnes, he hopes this is just the start.

“My goal is that this is not an event because we are in the midst of a pandemic,” Barnes said, “But the inaugural event of something that will live for years to come.”

Bow Ties & Sandals
Options For All Virtual Gala and Dinner
August 29 at 6 p.m.
From Your home via Zoom
$175 with dinner; $75 gala only