Baja California Culinary Fest 2013: An Appetizing Array of Food & Events

TIJUANA - On Thursday, November 14, a press event to kick off the 3rd Annual Baja California Culinary Fest was held at Chef Martin Gonzales' TOAST Enoteca and Cucina restaurant in San Diego's East Village. El Gringo joined other members of the foodie press to learn more. The fest will celebrate the region’s artisanal food, premium wines and craft beers throughout Baja California, October 24-27. Featuring special dinners, tastings, cooking classes, competitions and entertainment, the region’s distinctive gourmet fare will take center stage with 25 of Baja California’s culinary stars and top sommeliers. A significant driver of tourism, Baja’s cuisine was recently declared an intangible cultural heritage to the state by the World Tourism Organization (WTO).

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013, Baja California Norte, Mexico Chef Javier Plascencia shares samples and chats with members of the press.

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013.

As with other events held for the press recently focused on Baja cuisine, there were a variety of wines from Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe region. El Gringo sampled several vino tintos and mingled with other press members, discussing the culinary fest, the growing popularity of Baja cuisine, Tijuana as a gastronomic capital and the rebirth of the ciudad as a premier food and cultural destination. As I tipped the last bit of the rich, red grapey goodness from my glass, we were led to the area of the restaurant where the press conference was about to begin.

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013, Baja California Norte, Mexico

The 2013 Baja California Culinary Fest kicks off at Toast Enoteca & Cucina in San Diego.

Speaking today were Chef Martin Gonzales of TOAST, Fernando Gaxiola, event organizer, Secretary of Baja Tourism Juan Tintos Fuenke and Tijuana Top Chef, Javier Plascencia. Secretary Tintos opened with a few statements regarding the phenomenal popularity of Baja California as a new food capital. “People used to come to Baja for the beaches. Now, they come to Baja for dinner. Whether it’s seafood in Ensenada or Tacos from Tijuana, Baja’s cuisine comes from the street and has become elevated to new levels of gastronomy in Tijuana.” Tintos continued, “Baja now has two of the top fifty restaurants in all of Latin America. We have 18 wine growing valleys, the only Baja producer of artisan cheese and 65 producers of craft beer. This event, which is now three years old, will showcase the culinary movement of Baja California.”

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013, Baja California Norte, Mexico

Press Conference for the 2013 Baja California Culinary Fest.

Fernando Gaxiola from Baja Wine + Food, one of the event organizers, focused on the beautiful and bountiful wine-producing region of Valle de Guadalupe and the culinary tour there on Sunday, October 27th. “This culinary tour will take place all over Valle de Guadalupe.” Gaxiola enthused. The tour includes Valle wines and top restaurants Malva, Almazara, Latitud 32 and Finca Altozano that will present cuisine from host chefs Roberto Alcocer, Alenjandro Alvarez, Ryan Steyn and Javier Plascencia, respectively. The tour is from 11AM to 6PM and is only $750 Pesos (about $60). What a bargain to experience the best that Baja has to offer!

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013, Baja California Norte, Mexico

Wines from Valle de Guadalupe will be featured during the Culinary Fest.

Next up was Chef Javier Plascencia, of Mision 19, Erizo and other restaurants owned and operated by his family in Tijuana. Chef Plascencia announced that the Baja Culinary Fest will kickoff on Thursday, October 24th, with a competition for new culinary talent in Baja California. The event will take place at the Culinary Art School in Tijuana from 8AM until 2PM and features a panel of judges (including Plascencia himself as well as noted chefs Miguel Angel Guerrero, Eduardo Plascencia and others). Plascencia also discussed the Culinary Expo which will be occurring at the Tijuana Cultural Center every day…and is open for free to the public. The expo will feature food, beer and wine tastings as well as demos, movies and presentations, which will also be translated into English for non-Spanish speakers. Oh, and there will be an opera performed by Tijuana troupe Santini & Cardini called “Una Historia Con Sabor”, about the creation and presentation of the Caesar Salad at Caesar’s restaurant in Tijuana (also owned by the Plascencia family). Spoiler Alert: The salad is drowned in dressing and anchovies then devoured in the end.

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013, Baja California Norte, Mexico

Chef Javier Plascencia shares samples and chats with members of the press.

Additionally, Club Tengo Hambre and El Gringo’s friends and hosts Antonio and Kristin Diaz Sandi (of Life & Food blog), will be operating two culinary “experiences” during the event. The first, Tijuana Dining and Craft Beer Outing, is October 25th. The second is “A Tale of Two Seas” Tijuana Seafood and Craft Beer outing. With stops at some of Baja California Norte’s most tantalizingly tastiest spots and onboard Mescal service, these outings are sure to be fun, appetizing and something you’ll talk about to your amigos and amigas for years to come!

Baja Culinary Fest 2013, Tijuana, Baja California Norte

Club Tengo Hambre has two fun events planned during the Baja Culinary Fest.

When the press conference concluded, we were served some amazing hor d’oeuvres prepared by Chef Plascencia and his staff. The oysters with meat and fritter were smooth and delicious. I salivated when I was presented with a plateful of giant callo de hacha scallops served on a tortilla chip. The final dish was a preparation of ahi tuna belly on a tostada, caught off the coast of Baja. “We will be breaking down an entire tuna the first day of the Culinary Fest and serving it as sashimi and sushi,” Plascencia told me. Say no more chef…you had me at tuna! El Gringo couldn’t help but share his recent first yellowfin catch off the coast of Ensenada with the chef, but stopped short of breaking out the hero shot on his iPhone!

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013, Baja California Norte, Mexico

Chef Javier Plascencia’s oysters with beef and fritter were a tasty sample of what’s to come.

Baja California Culinary Fest 2013, Baja California Norte, Mexico

Delicious tuna belly ceviche served atop a tostada.

As the journalists spilled out of TOAST and into the full moonlit night, El Gringo met Chef Plascencia’s personal assistant. In addition to her myriad duties for the chef – which may include picking up live goats for his restaurants – Diana Jimenez was also very well versed in the cultural scene of Tijuana. Earlier, I had asked Secretary Tintos about his views on presenting Baja California Norte to a wider US audience, and now asked a similar question of Diana. Would Tijuana like to see the return of the “droves” of tourists that came first during US prohibition and later to party hard on Revolucion? “Well, cultural tourism does not necessarily come in droves.” Diana opined. “We do welcome all of our visitors, but this is a different and better time for the city. The art and culture scene have always been here. The food is what’s new and exciting.”‘

For more information, check out the Baja California Culinary Festival on Facebook.

Your Gringo in Mexico,

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