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Tijuana Hosts 3rd Annual Baja Culinary Fest

Tijuana Hosts 3rd Annual Baja Culinary Fest

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. The festival is a celebration of the region’s artisanal food, premium wines, and craft beers, and is scheduled for October 24-27. The region’s distinctive gourmet fare will take center stage with 25 of Baja California’s culinary stars and top sommeliers, and events that include special dinners, tastings, cooking classes, competitions, and entertainment. 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 Culinary Fest 2013.

As with other recent press events 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 culinary 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.

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

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

Speakers included 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 nof ow three years old, will showcase the culinary movement of Baja California.”

Press Conference for the 2013 Baja California Culinary Fest.

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, and will present cuisine from host chefs Roberto Alcocer, Alenjandro Alvarez, Ryan Steyn, and Javier Plascencia, respectively. The tour is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is only $750 Pesos (about $60 U.S.). What a bargain to experience the best that Baja has to offer!

Baja Culinary Fest 2013

Wines from Valle de Guadalupe will be featured during the Baja 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 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. and will feature 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 each day of the festival, and is open to the public with no admission charge. 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.

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

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 Mezcal 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

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!

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

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

Baja Culinary Fest 2013

Delicious tuna belly ceviche served atop a tostada.

As the journalists spilled out of TOAST and into the full moon 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 – Deanna 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 Deanna. Would Tijuana like to see the return of the “droves” of tourists that came first during U.S. prohibition, and later to party hard on Revolucion? “Well, cultural tourism does not necessarily come in droves.” Deanna 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.”‘

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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About Scott Koenig

W. Scott Koenig has traveled throughout Baja and Mexico since he moved to San Diego during the 90's. He has been called "guerolito" by Purépechan women in Michoacan, and "muchacho" and "amigo" by many friendly, warm and welcoming locals throughout the country. Scott is the owner of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego and author of the blog, A Gringo In Mexico www.agringoinmexico.com, Cultural Exploits, Tall Tequila Tales and Trip Reports.

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