Just a few days after returning from Europe I learned of an unmissable opportunity just south of the border, thanks to Chris and Jen of Baja Test Kitchen. Rafael Mier, a Mexican food activist, was in town educating chefs in Baja California about the sad state of Mexican heritage corn. Joining him was Cristina Potters, an American-turned Mexican citizen who has been living in Mexico for almost 40 years and a food historian who pens the blog Mexico Cooks! The details of that will be included in a story I'm writing, but during the course of my visit with Mier to the Culinary Art School in Tijuana, we also visited Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, the heavenly wellness resort and spa that has inspired cult-like devotion among its clients, many of whom have been returning for decades.
In particular, we visited with Denise Roa, the executive chef of "The Ranch," as its called, and the woman behind the beauty of its cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta. Mier wowed Denise, the head gardener, Salvador and Sarah Livia, the owner of Rancho La Puerta, and afterwards, we were treated to a tour of their expansive garden and a spectacular multi-course dinner. The food Denise is cooking is in stark contrast to what other Baja chefs are cooking: it's entirely vegetable-based, with a little bit of fish thrown in. Her creations strongly make the case for going vegan or vegetarian: when vegetables taste this good, why would anyone need more? Combined with her sense of self, meditative presence and refreshing openness, Denise's take on life and food is something to consider. Also notable is that Denise is a woman chef in Mexico--no small feat in this country that still has strong macho overtones.
I love meat. I'll never give it up. But I will admit that eating a lot of seafood in Europe and wondering about quality has made me reevaluate how and when I eat it. It's still a work in progress, but I hope to work around a more plant-based diet while smartly incorporating grains and meat rather than being lazy and relying on whatever is in front of me. I'm becoming more convinced that whatever is in our food is making us sick and unhappy. Of course all of this is said as I close my computer to make my way to Tijuana for a carne asada feast today--I'm going to call that experience one that is almost surely "worth it" in the grand scheme of meat eating.
Another shocking and meditative aspect of "The Ranch" is that from certain vantage points, you can stare at the border fence and, by default, the United States. Occasionally, border patrol will park up on the mountain to scare and scan below. There is a lot to think about when considering such luxury sits adjacent to such desperation, and I admit it was a distraction for me the entire time I was on property. Of course, when Rancho La Puerta was founded 70 years ago, border relations were nothing like they are now. I'm not sure anyone could have ever predicted the spiral that has occurred. Still, it is yet another wacky juxtaposition and truth of life "on the fence."
Finally, some things I recently published:
Thrillist: where to eat Somali food in San Diego (we have one of the largest Somali communities in the country)
Ranch & Coast: on Spanish-style "gintonics" and where to drink them in San Diego