SAN DIEGO.- Last night, the Baja California Ministry of Tourism hosted an event called "REdiscover Baja California" at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park. Visitors wined and dined after hearing some of Baja's most enthusiastic advocates gush about why they love the state so much.
Hosted by Sam Zien, AKA Sam the Cooking Guy - Culinary Ambassador for Baja California- the event showcased the experiences of three of the region's most enthusiastic advocates: Jorge Meraz, host of KPBS tv series "Crossing South"; Chad White, Chef and Co-Owner of La Justina Gastro Bar in Tijuana; and Derrik Chin, creator of the Turista Libre Project.
Jorge Meraz, a Baja native, who just finished wrapping the fourth season of Crossing South a travel show that exclusively explores Tijuana and Northern Baja talked about the extensive praise the show has received not only in California but throughout the country, as it is set to be aired now by over 90 public broadcasting stations across the US. Meraz states that there are not very many regions in the world that can rack up the same level of enthusiasm that Baja has garnered.
Derrik Chinn, creator of the widely popular self-described "atypical day trek" company Turista Libre, discussed the evolution of his company which started off as a blog and monthly tour of Tijuana with skeptical San Diegan friends and friends of friends, and has now grown into what is now an internationally acclaimed tour company. Turiste Libre, which is now in its fifth year of operation, has been ranked as number one tour group in Tijuana on TripAdvisor, and maintains a five star rating on Yelp.
Chad White, a native of Spokane, Washington, told of how his first encounters in Mexico were visits to San Felipe during spring break as a child. Many years later as a well-known chef in San Diego, he was invited to participate in a culinary competition as part of the Tijuana Innovadora summit, and told how he was taken aback by the generosity and passion of his fellow competitors, which included renown local chefs Miguel Angel Guerrero of La Querencia Baja Med, and Javier Plascencia of Caesars Restaurant, Villa Saverios, and many other local restaurants including Bracero Cocina, a new restaurant set to open in Little Italy, San Diego, in May 2015.
Chad White's team won that day, and thus began a love affair with Baja California. He opened up shop on Tijuana's Avenida Revolucion with a speak-easy style restaurant called "La Justina Gastro Bar" in 2014, and has a restaurant in the East Village in San Diego called Común Kitchen & Tavern. He touts about the Baja culinary scene in all facets including craft beer and culinary schools, and claims that he has hired eleven recent grads of the Culinary Art Schools that will give their San Diego colleagues a run for their money, and stated that they are more skilled than White himself in some ways.
Before ushering guests to try out the food and drink pairings waiting in the nearby gallery, the Undersecretary of Tourism for the State of Baja California, Ives Lelevier, stated that he almost preferred to leave the presentation at that as there was no higher praise for Baja than that of the "unpaid spokespersons" that had just presented, to which the host Sam Zien sarcastically shouted out in the back ground "what?" feigning unhappiness that his work as the Culinary Ambassador for Baja California is an unpaid position, and garnering lots of laughs from the audience.
In case there was any remaining doubt about the wonders of Baja California after the presentation, guests were delighted with a pairing of food, wine and beer from some of the region's top gastronomic purveyors: UVE, Puerto Nuevo II, Humo Charcuteria, El Lugar de Nos, Biscotti's Reposteria, Alximia Winery, and Insurgente Beer, among others.
Pairings included UVE's Bluefin Tuna Tostada with Sauvignon Blanc wine, a Lobster Burrito paired with Baron Balche Chardonay, a Ciabatta Bacon Sandwich prepared by HUMO with Alximia's Grenache, a Hibiscus Tostada by El Lugar de Nos with a Grenache wine from Lomita Pagano winery, and a Chocoolate Tamal with Ale Icecream made by Bisotti's Reposteria paired with beer by Insurgente Brewery.
Ives Lelevier states that Baja California, and specifically Northern Baja is a destination that caters to all classes of tourism. What is great about Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada, he claims, is that you don't need to spend a lot of money to have a great time. You don't need to book airfare, or even a hotel in order to explore what the region has to offer, and that was the purpose of the event to invite tourists to rediscover what Baja California has to offer.
According to David Strausser, Special Liason to the Baja California Ministry of Tourism, "[h]aving people like Sam, Derrik, Chad, and Jorge people who we can relate to north of the borderactively promoting the best Baja has to offer is a huge step in correcting many of the misconceptions that we here in the States have about Baja. It's a big first step in regaining the trust of people again."