Descending from a family of restaurateurs on the US-mexico border, Tijuana-based Javier Plascencia grew up with the example of his parents' discipline and work ethic. But always restless, the Mexican chef managed to break out with his own style: a relaxed, smart and delicious cuisine, defined by the border.
In the words of his colleague Guillermo González Beristain, who was recognised last year with the Latin America's 50 Best Lifetime Achievement Award, "Javier is the top representative of the West Coast and one of the most talented chefs in the country." For decades, Plascencia has been a tireless promoter of Baja California, a region that has been influential, both for its producers and ingredients, in the current boom of Mexican cuisine and wines. In this region, the cuisine has an intimate relationship with wine.
Plascencia recently published Soul of Baja, a book that reflects the culinary wealth of Tijuana and Baja through stories and recipes. Among its restaurants, Finca Altozano has the look of a country dining room in line with the wine region of Valle de Guadalupe, where Animalón offers a culinary experience in the shade of a 200-year-old oak. Both offer grill-based cooking.
Plascencia’s iconic restaurant Misión 19 has captured the attention of the press since it opened in Tijuana seven years ago. And in the south of Baja, the recently opened Jazamango has a kitchen garden and offers fresh fish on the idyllic coast of Todos Santos. If someone knows about teamwork, it's him.
We had the chance to catch up with Plascencia and hear his thoughts on the cuisine that will be served at the Valle Food & Wine Festival, which will take place from 5 to 7 October 2018. There, along with iconic US chef Nancy Silverton, he will celebrate Baja, the area he loves so much, at this second annual festival.
What do you think of the culinary contrast between the North and South of the American continent?
The contrast is fascinating. With basic ingredients, such as corn or potatoes, we can make many different things. But also, those same ingredients have distinct flavours, due to the climate, the soil and the cultivation system.
What do you like the most about Baja California?
I love the people and the nature. The region has exceptional products, such as olive oil, cheeses, seafood and livestock. The contrast of climate contributes to the quality of these ingredients. I am a very lucky chef to have grown up here. For any chef it is a dream come to cook here!
The cuisine of this region is the result of its location at the border. What does this means for you?
The kitchen of the region is marked by migrants who arrived in Tijuana for centuries: Spaniards, and then Italians, Chinese, Japanese and American neighbours, as well as people from other parts of Mexico. I am privileged by the ingredients and the range of flavours that I grew up with. Baja is a region with a very new cuisine compared to the rest of Mexico, so the research and documentation done by the Culinary Art School of Tijuana is very valuable.
What about Valle Food & Wine Festival?
The festival was born out of a joint initiative with the Los Angeles-based chef and Netflix Chef’s Table star Nancy Silverton. Both of us want to promote the region, and in particular, to honour the people of the countryside. So the festival was founded to benefit a children's institution, Corazón de Vida. This year, we invited colleagues including Dominique Crenn, Top Chef Master Jonathan Waxman, celebrity chef Rick Bayless, as well as national talent including Benito Molina and Solange Muris from the groundbreaking Ensenada restaurant, La Manzanilla Restaurant, Michelin-starred Drew Deckman, and Top Chef Mexico contestant Adria Montaño.
Which Baja ingredients are your favourites and how do you cook them?
I like everything! For example, from the sea, I like the tostada with scallops from Baja Sur and sea urchins from Baja Norte or geoduck clam with aguachile with green strawberry and shiso leaves, grown in our garden. From the countryside, I like quail from the valley roasted over local oak firewood with oregano limoneta and our olive oil. I also like lamb from Tecate, roasted in a Chinese box with garlic from the garden, confit in its own fat.