by Angel Hu
Every now and then, out of the monotony of life bursts forth new and exciting strides in human invention and creation. In this case, Baja Med sprung from the unique circumstances of its geographical location and has since offered the culinary world an eye-opening glimpse into a region and culture that has long been overlooked beyond the ever ubiquitous street tacos and ever more pervasive drug-related violence. The full term is actually “Baja Mediterranean” and, as you can guess, is a fusion of traditional Mexican cuisine with Mediterranean influences. Baja California’s special climate allows for Mediterranean ingredients and produce to grow in abundance, which Baja chefs like Javier Plascencia have used to their advantage.
Javier Plascencia is a name that frequently comes up in talking about Baja Med. As one of the forerunners of the cuisine, Chef Javier is a central and significant figure. The Tijuana native has been immersed in the culinary world since birth, as the Plascencia family owns several fine dining restaurants in TJ region. Chef Javier grew up working in his father’s restaurants and eventually went on to attend school in San Diego and to seek his culinary education in the States. However, Tijuana remains his home.
For years, the crimes and violence that plagued Tijuana also gave it a terrible reputation and, as the region steadily improves, that reputation has remained difficult to shake. Chef Plascencia is hopeful to change this by showcasing the bounty of fresh produce and flavors of Mexico in his dishes to pull people in. If Chef Plascencia’s scrumptious dishes that seamlessly blend his Mexican heritage with European cooking techniques were not enough of a draw, TJ and its neighboring regions in the Valle de Guadalupe have cultivated a burgeoning wine and craft beer scene in recent years that are sure to transform Baja California to a culinary destination. Chef Plascencia’s own Misión 19 utilizes the freshest produce that the Baja region offers for his mouthwatering creations and is blazing the trail for other chefs to follow. Guys Bite Out was fortunate enough to be invited to the Baja California Culinary Festival, in which Chef Plascencia and countless other notable chefs, including Diego Hernandez (Corazon de Tierra), took part. Watching the chefs in action in the comfort of their home turf–surrounded by the smoky smell of meat roasting on wood-fire grills and the sounds of scrappy dogs sniffing hopefully at the ground for precious pieces of food that never made it on to a plate–was a special treat, especially to experience the spirit of Tijuana alive, thriving, and imbued in the food itself.
The unique locality of Baja California also presents another challenge: how does one spread the word about Baja Med? Chef Plascencia has taken it upon himself to travel stateside for one-off appearances at notable restaurants in hopes of enticing food enthusiasts with a taste of south of the border. In San Diego, he has planted his flag with Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro and now a new venture in Little Italy. These eateries provide a great starting point for those who don’t want to venture down to Tijuana, but food is best savored in the places where they originated. There are undoubtedly many great Italian restaurants in the United States, but one can’t really compare that to the experience of eating Italian food in Italy. Same goes for Baja Med. Sooner or later, the desire for more will lead you to the source via a journey that will be equal parts rewarding and enlightening.