TIJUANA. For two nights, May 20th and 29th, Tijuana's Cultural Center CECUT opened its doors and Tijuana photographer Josue Castro welcomed a sold out crowd of the region's foodies, dignitaries and press to his new photo exhibit, Puro Hedonismo/Hedonismo Puro. The photo series consists of stark black and white portraits of Baja California's most noted as well as up-and-coming chefs, winemakers, craft brewers and others involved in the regional culinary scene.
Castro had just completed his 47th of 99 portraits last November when we caught up with him in his Zona Centro studio, The Kitchen. He explained, "The chefs here right now everywhere due to the media and television are becoming like rock stars. The chefs and winemakers here in Baja California really ARE rock stars." Indeed, the Puro Hedonismo/Hedonismo Puro series is a veritable "who's-who" of Baja California cuisine.
In one of the large format portraits in the exhibit hall, chef Javier Plascencia tosses a classic Caesar's salad gracefully through the air. Hunter and chef Miguel Angel Guerrero holds his bow in one hand and a pair of antlers in the other. Another canvas captures Sabina Bandera of Ensenada's famed tostada cart La Guerrerense with an octopus atop her head, arms crossed as she glares defiantly at the viewer.
Recalling this session, Castro continued, "Sabina is always happy, always laughing. So when she was here, I asked her to try to stop smiling. It wasn't easy." He continued, "She brought clams, a fish and even an octopus and we started to play with them (as photo props). At the end, I asked, 'Do you want to put the octopus on your head?' She didn't mind so we put it on her like a wig."
Baja California winemakers are also featured in the exhibit; including Valle de Guadalupe pioneer Hugo D'Acosta, Alximia's Alvaro Alvarez, Leonardo Torres and others. Castro explained the difficulty in working with winemakers as models, "The problem is that they bring a lot of wine with them to the studio. We open a bottle to pour in a glass as a prop and it starts there. With two photo shoots a day, there are some mornings when I wake up a little hung-over."
As the project caught on, Castro found himself with subjects that included chocolatiers, craft brewers, producers and other culinary artisans. Once he hit his 99th portrait, he began preparing for the event at CECUT and planning the creation of a book highlighting the photo series. Explaining the exhibit, Castro emphasized, "My images are not for a culinary magazine. Some may not understand that this is an artistic project."
Many of the chefs, winemakers and artisans featured in the portraits were busy at their stations on the exhibit floor during both nights of Castro's showing. Ryan Steyn, Alvaro Avila, Miguel Angel Guerrero, Javier Plascencia and others prepared small plates for guests to try. Winemakers Emeve, Alximia, Vintango and several others offered tastings at the bar in the back of the hall. Pastry chefs and chocolatiers such as Oh! Bon Bon, Butter Bakery and Venus were also on hand with samples of their sweet, sweet products.
All the images exhibited at CECUT will be on sale beginning June 5th, with proceeds going toward the production of the Puro Hedonismo. Hedonismo Puro. book. Josue Castro also hosts ongoing culinary events at his Tijuana studio The Kitchen. Check The Kitchen's Facebook page for details.