Baja California

Female Chefs Celebrated During 2016 Baja Culinary Fest

El Sabor de Mujeres de Baja features 15 regional cocineras

TECATE - Held in and around the oak-shaded organic gardens of La Cocina Que Canta – the famous wellness retreat Rancho La Puerta's cooking school – October 27th's El Sabor de Mujeres de Baja featured dishes from 15 of Baja California's top female chefs, Valle de Guadalupe wines, artisanal beers, live music, and a convivial countryside atmosphere.

While it may seem like a novel idea to highlight Baja California's female chefs as part of the 2016 Baja Culinary Fest, it's not. After all, the Olveras, the Plascencias, the Berestáins, and others in the oft male-dominated restaurant industry base and credit their modern Mexican dishes on recipes created by the country's traditional cocineras (female chefs) hundreds of years ago.

Sunset at La Cocina Que Canta, Rancho La Puerta. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com

"Rancho La Puerta executive chef Denise Roa is taking it a step further this year by promoting female talent that has long been ignored," Sergio C. Muñoz, financier of the upcoming project MXCNAS: Chefs in Baja California shared. "Female chefs have been sidelined by misogynist media in both Mexico and the U.S. that tend to only want to feature the same male chefs time after time."

"Rancho la Puerta and La Cocina que Canta are a crucial hub in Baja California to illustrate the beauty of México to new waves of Mexican and American food lovers," Muñoz continued. "It is past due to recognize the enormous efforts being made by all the women in Baja California to put México on the world stage with events like this."

The stage at La Cocina Que Canta was set with fifteen of the region's best female Mexican chefs hailing from or otherwise having roots in Baja California. "My restaurant, the Olympia Oyster Bar, is in Portland, Oregon," chef Maylin Chavez explained as she carefully prepared a batch of briny local oysters, "but my mom and my family are from Tijuana and I always love coming back to Baja."

Chef Maylin Chavez of Portland's Olympia Oyster Bar. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com

Local chefs, such as Mariela Manzano from Tecate's El Lugar de Nos and Daniella de la Puente from Tijuana's La Cocina Secreta represented the region's diverse restaurant scene. Chef Manzano served a miniature torta ahogada (drowned Mexican sandwich) filled with her savory 84 meat – a blend of beef, lamb, and pork that's slow braised for 84 hours and practically melts in the mouth.

Torta ahogada from chef Mariela Manzano. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com

Chefs Ofelia Núñez and Marisol Otaola from Tijuana's Culinary Arts School provided an education in regional culinary history — offering Yucatecan tamales of achiote pork wrapped in a banana leaf served with a rich, creamy cup of xocoatl — a cacao-based hot chocolate that originated with the Mayans.

Chefs Ofelia Núñez and Marisol Otaola. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com

Other dishes included ceviches, tostadas, lechon, and desserts from postre chefs such as Mexicali's Bianca Castro, whose dish demonstrated the international influence on Baja California cuisine. "Everything I learned and all of my flavors come from my Italian grandmother," Bianca enthused as hungry foodies lined up to sample her cheesecake in pumpkin puree.

Lechon from chef Reyna Venegas of Restaurante Amores in Tecate. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com

Adobe Guadalupe owner Tru Miller and sommelier Luis Garcia were on hand, pouring glasses of the Valle de Guadlupe vineyard's Jardin Romantico new world Chardonnay. Wines and craft beers from Tecate were also sampled well into the night — long after the chefs had packed up their knives.

Adobe Guadalupe's Tru Miller and Luis Garcia. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com

At the end of the station service, Culinary Art School dean Javier Gonzalez led a ceremony recognizing each of the women chefs and their accomplishments in the industry. After gathering for a photo opportunity, the chefs dispersed into the crowd and danced to the accompaniment of the evening's excellent Latin-tinged band joined on percussion by Emilio Espinosa Schwarz, Rancho La Puerta's executive director.

15 Baja California female chefs were celebrated during the event. Photo: AGringoInMexico

The event was well attended by the public, chefs, and other industry personalities from both sides of the border. Organizers provided bus transportation from San Diego to Rancho La Puerta, attracting many curious diners from the U.S. looking for an opportunity to experience Baja California cuisine.

For more information on Rancho La Puerta's wellness programs and the cooking school at La Cocina Que Canta, visit: www.rancholapuerta.com.

MXCNAS: Chefs in Baja California launches on January 26, 2017 at the Culinary Art School in Tijuana. For more information, visit: www.mxcnas.com.

San Diego-based culture, food and travel journalist W. Scott Koenig has explored Mexico and Baja California for over two decades. He founded AGringoInMexico.com in 2012 to report on south of the border destinations, food, culture and adventure. The website has since become an invaluable source of information on the burgeoning food and culture scene in Baja California, as well as the wider scene throughout Mexico. Visit Scott's websites and social media via the links, below.

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