Congreso Ensenada Gastronomica convened in June at Ensenada’s Hotel Coral, featuring top chefs and starstruck culinary students from across Mexico, who converged for a full slate of cooking demos. Street Gourmet LA founder Bill Esparza and I had the opportunity to interview four of the nation’s preeminent chefs: Tabasco’s Aquiles Chavez, the Yucatan’s Arturo Fernandez, Ensenada-based Benito Molina and Mexico City’s Mikel Alonso. I asked, “Why is Ensenada so important right now in Mexican cuisine?” Read their responses, in anticipation of Baja Culinary Fest.
Aquiles Chavez (LO Cocina de Autor Signature Restaurant)
At the end of the day, it’s the gastronomic center of this country. It’s more about the cooking rather than plates that represents Baja, California, except for the lobster from Puerto Nuevo with rice and beans. Apart from this, it doesn’t have what they have in Morelia, the Yucatan, Tabasco or Oaxaca. The cuisine in Baja, California, is relatively new, created by people like Benito Molina Dubost and Solange, in Tijuana, Javier Plascencia, and in Rosarito and Tijuana, Miguel Angel Guerrero. The cuisine of Baja, California, is not about plates or techniques, but about the products. The question has been, what is the interest about the products? It has seven of the 10 most expensive species of seafood products in the world: geoduck, lobster, abalone, bluefin tuna, shrimp, sea cucumber. Seven of the 10 most expensive seafood products in the world come out of these docks. What gives me joy is this rich variety of wines, the microclimates it has. It has incredible vegetables and wineries and spectacular ingredients.
Arturo Fernandez (LAOS)
This is our store where the best products are coming from. This is where Mexico goes to shop for its seafood. It’s the sparkplug that’s setting off the production of intelligence using the appropriate manpower and respect and consideration to its products. At this moment, this is our store. Many people all over the republic are imitating what they’re doing here in the last 80 years with a theme of food meant to pair with wine, which is very unique to Baja.
Benito Molina (Manzanilla)
Because the best seafood from Mexico comes from here, and the best wine and the best olive oil, so the combination of all those three.
Mikel Alonso (Biko)
Mexico has a spinal column in its gastronomy that’s connected to the rest of Mexico and to the whole world. Several of these vertebrae are Ensenada, not one, but many. Ensenada isn’t only the people, but the coasts, its place, its geographic location, it’s so beneficial. The cold waters, the bounty of seafood, but it’s not just the people who utilize these products and treat it with lots of care. It’s impressive, the magic of Valle de Guadalupe. Really its appearance and beauty is a gift from God. The lands, it’s really nothing without the people that treat it with so much care. This is the grandeur of Ensenada.
Thank you to Street Gourmet LA founder Bill Esparza for transcribing the bulk of these interviews from Spanish, except for our interview with Benito Molina, which was in English.