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May 10, 2008 08:49 PM

Valle de Guadalupe - Indigenous Cooking [Split from Mexico board]

[Split from


I am expressing personal preference... I think carrying the pyramid on ones back... or the Nopal on one's forehead is a quintessential Mexican characteristic.... we are a conflicted people, with a conflicted complex history... but can deal with it and smile... the V de G people are getting off too easy, imho!

While B.C. may not have the indigenous richness of MesoAmerica.... it has been inhabited by native peoples with unique cultures... talk about harmony & balance with the environment... these people were THE original environmentalists... there is much homage to pay. But that is me... I hold the Cocina de Autor places in lower regard to those arduously working to create something for the whole body of the National cuisine.

Yo know 50 years from now... perhaps nobody will even think of Laja and the local wineries... but if they invent some thing long lasting, something classic, something that adds to that cliched but relevant term... "Patrimonio Nacional" ... that is more powerful in my opinion.

And perhaps Jair & gang are the typical pioneers that bring attention and construct a human foundation of talent & know how that gets superceded by the next generation of iconoclasts etc., as seems to happen in all Art genres.

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  1. If you haven't read it yet get a copy of Earl Shorris' book "The Life and Times of Mexico". It's about the best history of Mexico book out there, and it's not what you think ;-).

    Some Mexicans choose to carry the piramide (or nopal in your case), some don't. It's a personal choice and if the basis and foundation for the choice are solid then it will work for the person making the choice. But it's a dangerous path when one side insists the other conform to their image of identity. You've chosen to wear your nopal, the Mexicans we met yesterday have chosen not to take on the piramide. They've simply found their life and their cultural identity along a different path than you. It's neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, it's just a choice that's all.

    I do find it interesting you think the native people with unique cultures seem to have been limited to the Baja. The International border is a recent and man made creation. There was most likely a thriving trade between the indigenous of northern Baja and the tribes of San Diego county. And that's part of the point here. The International border is an artificial creation. The land on both sides of it is remarkably similar in topography and composition. There was no one with a citation book and gun standing there a thousand years ago taking stalk and telling los indios in Baja they couldn't trade, farm or fish north of an imaginary line, and vice versa. I was very much struck by how similar the Valley de Guadalupe was to the San Diego back country I knew as a child and young adult here. Take away the language difference and we could have been in the U.S. or Mexico, it would have been hard to tell.

    And that is part of the point of V de G. It's not about the Mexicanness or Americanness or ancient cultural identity. It's about the land and the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. A cycle that was around long before cultural identities formed and emerged.

    20 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      The thing is that Mexico is a country with too many Old Money Philosophers & Artists and not enough Leaders that care about the common person. I don't judge Jair... the Valle de Guadalupe artisans or that new generation of Mexico City English singing Rockers for their choices... but there is no doubt in my mind that there is one way that leaves a longer term legacy, and another that is not going to have as long of a legacy.

      1. re: Eat_Nopal

        Read the Shorris book, I think you find it very interesting. I suspect it may resonate pretty well with you :-)

        1. re: DiningDiva

          BTW... I don't ever think I mentioned that Indigenous cultures are unique to Baja... I have numerous times claimed that the biggest oversight in American Gastronomy is that there are no Native American restaurants or classic recipes getting into the New American restaurants.

          Like I said I am not judging or blaming Jair & gang at all... but to me... one has to think that V de G is available for Wine, Olive Oil etc., because the Kiliwa, Cucupa & other peoples have been robbed by the government & put into reservations... the cheap land has come at the cost of these people... and I think a gracious nod could be to engage those people in Fair Trade for Baja's Native / Wild ingredients to be found.... to me going that extra step would really put Jair & gang on a pedestal. - One other thing... it doesn't soudn like much Chiles are being used in the cuisine... they could do something about that =)

          1. re: DiningDiva

            I just watched a special on Baja a few weeks ago calling it the new Provence.In the interview, Jair said he didn't really relate to Mexican food.He snickered as he mentioned tacos,etc., making light of Mexican cuisine.

            I've been to just about every winery in El Valle,Ensenada,and San Antonio de Las Minas, including ones that aren't even open yet, and have been traveling to the wine country for the past 6 years on a regular basis.I've also visited the Kumai village beyond L.A. Cetto and Casa de Dona Lupe.

            This issue the two of you have raised is one that divides the vintners of the Valle de Guadalupe.When I first started coming to the wine country most wines were copies, or attempts to copy European traditions-Bordeax,Rioja Piedmont, and even Canton of Geneva.These are reflected in the wineries of Monte Xanic,Baron Balche,L.A. Cetto, and Mogor Badan with its chasselas varietal.Casa de Piedra started with the idea of Mexican terroir being unique and looking for varietals that matched his San Antonio de Las Minas sub-appellation like tempranillo and chardonnay.Wineries like La Casa de Dona Lupe, Tres Mujeres, and La Casa Vieja have tried to reflect a more Mexican character bringing forth blends with the mission grape, the original grape planted in Mexico.Many wineries are run by familes having lived in El Valle for generations and don't care for a Laja or these non-Mexican restaurants.Many investors or transplants from the U.S.(Adobe Guadalupe), or Europe don't care for Mexican food and would rather be at Laja.After a day of tasting in the Valle, I like to go to La Diferencia or La Querencia to enjoy my Cavas Valmar.The wine maker of Cavas Valmar, excellent wines, likes to drink his wines with Mexican food and will feature Mexican food at Las Vendimias this year.He joked that maybe he would serve tortas, a reflection of his feeling about some Baja wine country practices of trying not to be Mexican.

            The fact is that culture is ever changing and marked by borders.The Kumiai people of San Antonio Necua are different from the American Kumiai north of the border, and it isn't just language but all the cultural experiences that go along with the language.

            I think Laja is a great restaurant that exists in the wine country but is not a true reflection of Mexican culture, nor will it ever define it.Jair Tellez is a suberb chef who doesn't relate to Mexican food nor does he understand it by his own admission.It's not about pyramids or Earl Shorris' views of Mexico.Mexico is a history of invasions, both military and cultural, but Mexicans have always turned the tide their way.Tudor, the chef from the court of Maximillian discovered this as well as the German and Spanish musicians.From these traditions we got crepes con huitlacoche con salsa poblana, banda, and mariachi-definitive Mexican food and music, not to ever be confused with European products.

            Those who wish to feast at Laja will always have a fantastic experience and I respect any great chef dedicated to freshness and local ingredients, but I think the uniqueness of Baja will ultimately rest with those who seek to incorporate the Mexican tradition.

            Respect to the both of you for your chowhound contributions, always.

            1. re: streetgourmetla

              You know... I have called Sonomo County & Napa out for similar (maybe not as extreme) attitudes. People up here get so into being the "Tuscany of California"... but the reality is that this area will never be Tuscany just like Valle de Guadalupe is never going to be Southern Spain... I am all for learning & being cosmopolitan... in fact I think the definition of Intelligence is recognizing the great elements of each Culture & Society... embracing those and discarding the disfunctional aspects of the Culture you belong to... but each place has to have its own Raison D'Etre.... and to me the Baja of Monte Xanic & Laja while not endure.

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                One of the things I really don't like about electronic media is that it's so very flat and a lot of emotion and nuance of language is missing leading to miscommunicatons, and that may be the case here. So...

                EN, what I hear you saying is that though you have never eaten at Laja, and it's unclear when the last time was that you visited or spent any time in that area, you feel compelled (entitled?) to pass judgment on the food/wineries/area saying they will not reach their apex until they include the indigenous aspect, irrespective of what their current reality is, or isn't for that matter. That without the indigenous piece whatever is happening/developing there is valueless. That is, however, based on you personal filters, values and belief structures as applied from afar. (As mine would be as well). To suggest such, smacks of cultural jingoism. But I would like your crystal ball to see if Mr. Right is ever going to come my way ;-)

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Yup that is right... I am commenting purely from the historical perspective... great for Laja & its fans if I am wrong... but this pattern tends to play out over & over among different eras & societies... we shall see if what they are doing is influential or fades away into the deserts within a couple of decades.

              2. re: streetgourmetla

                Thanks for your comments. It does not surprise me that this same discuss is happening in the V de G, and it is probably one that should be taking place as part of the natural growth and evolution in the area.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  BTW... I don't think I ever expressed my true view... i don't care if Laja & V de G decide they are the New World's Provence... what I don't like is that they label their approach Baja-Med.... Romesco in San Diego is Baja Mex... Laja is just a Provencal restaurant that happens to be in Baja... and that is absolutely, without a doubt not going to get any criticism from me... but I do resent if they try to usurp the Baja-Med label from other more deserving concepts that actually put some Mex & some Baja in the Baja-Med.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    There is NO comparison between Romescos and Laja, they are completely different leagues. Romescos is good to very good, Laja is much better. They are two completely different restaurants style, food and orientation. I was not under the impression that Laja was "labeling" themselves or their food as Baja-Med, I've never read or seen that on any of their materials.

                    You've never even eaten at Laja so how can you even comment?

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      I have seen interviews of Jair, the Manzanilla guy... and the owners of Cetto (who have a dining room)... and they all labeled their food (at least for the benefit of D.F. writers & cameras) as Baja Meditterranean. Jair went on & on about how they are creating a new regional cuisine that everyone in D.F. is raving about etc.,

                      You are probably right... Laja is leagues better than Romesco... I wouldn't dispute that...what I am saying is that Romesco could be appropriately discribed as Baja-Med (given their actual fusion of Mediterrenean & Mexican ingredients & techniques) wheras Laja (which seems to basically do Provencal & other European dishes in a localitarian vein) really doesn't seem like much of a fusion. (Remember from Biz Law class... that you can't have a valid contract without consideration / compensation... well you can't have Mex fusion without any identifiable Mexican technique, traditions or Native Ingredients!).

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        Hola ! Hola !
                        I read this post about a week ago and I just have been too busy to reply , but I can't take it any longer I have to let it out of me.....
                        First of all I take my hat off to you Dining Diva you have truly understood the spirit of Valle de Guadalupe my heart is full of joy .... Chapeau !!!
                        Great respects to you .
                        SeƱor Nopal what up with you ?
                        I am " The Manzanilla guy " and I will clarify a few things for you
                        The Baja Med story one that I don't care much for but here it goes when I first came to work for the Santo Tomas winery in 96 the menu of la Embotelladora vieja was like a bad copy of el Rey Sol "French" I changed the menu and the first page was something along the lines of "The inspiration of the flavors comes from the Mediterranean with a Mexican touch" I left the winery with my wife and opened Manzanilla in 2000 the sign at the door says to these day "Restaurante Regional".
                        Around 2002 more less Miguel Angel opened La Querencia in Rosarito with a sign that said Baja-Med Cuisine or something like that but the point is that he is the one who came up with the term . Villa Saverios in Tijuana is Mediterranean, they originally did not use many local ingredients but as time passed they realised that many of the ingredients needed to produce Mediterranean food were here anyway ... So today they consume many local ingredients . Romesco is self described as Baja-Med. Jair has really never christened his cuisine I remember when I fisrt meet him he used to say that he did food with no short cuts. I have seen magazines call whats hapening as Mexiterranean , Baja-Med , etc. Me I don't like the term at all but you know our societies need names for things they have to be labeled something ,and Baja-Med is easy in English and Spanish not much thinking needed. The best article I have seen on the subject is Gourmet magazine march 2007 writen by Andrew Colman . The firs olive trees in America were planted 400 years ago + - in Mexico a few survive today in Xochimilco the same goes for the vines but as you probably know the spanish king ordered both olives and vines to be taken out of the earth . That is the main reason why there is no wine culture in Mexico. A few survived mostly for religious ceremonies so Baja with the misions is one of those rare cases. When I first arrived here there was almost no Mexican wines in any list of any fancy restaurant in Mexico today it's the big hipe in all of the top restaurants some of them over 100 $ u.s. the only Baja ingredient found in menus ten years ago was canned Abalone , today every top restaurant in the country has at least a couple Ensenada items on the menus . So are we making a change or not ?
                        To say that we have it easy just because there is olive oil , wines , fish that is exactly the same as I have seen in markets in the Mediterranean , mussels , oysters that are as good a Britany ones (I worked in Britany in the kitchen so I can tell), among many other things organic vegetables etc. You have no idea how easy it is with the narcos killing themselfs making California tourist beleive that coming here is like going to Beirut. Or the economic crisis along with the gas prices. Never mind that Vancouver is closer than Mexico city , or that in the mind of many tourist going to Mexico is sunny beaches and Margaritas the water of the ocean is cold year round ,thats why the seafood is so good, also the reason for the "Mediterranean" microclimate. After reading your reply I googled Baja-Med and came across a web page called California Mediterranean institute or something like that and it says something really interesting only 5% of the earth surface has the Mediterranean microclimate , it showed a map of those areas South Africa, Sothern Australia, Chile , California and off course Baja California among other places I felt very fortunate after seeing it. It took a lot of work to change the concept of Mexican wine. Monte Xanic will go down in history as the first boutique winery comited to good quality, Hugo D'Acosta did his first harvest for Santo Tomas here in 89 . The first harvest for Casa de Pierdra in 97. We live in a paradise for any wine and food lover.
                        As for your no chiles remark I don't think there is a single item on my menu that does not have dried or fresh chiles. I was born in D.F. both my grandmother and my mother are from Campeche both excelent cooks so I grew up eating fantastic cochinita pibil with habanero of course among many other wonderfull things. My backround is more southern and central Mexico so do this mean I cannot use this backround because I'm in Baja ? Should I go looking for snakes in the dessert to reach the apex ? In Jair's case he grew up in Sonora and Baja people from this area don't really relate to central Mexico. There was no Mexican T.V. here not so long ago, kids grew up watching mister Magoo and kids in the center watch tio Gamboin.
                        Could you tell me what indegenous ingredients are you talking about ? The excavations around Bajamar showed that natives ate shellfish there is evidence of oysters , clams diferent sorts, abalone . All of wich we use today. I agree that looking in our roots is very important for the future of Mexican food. But I don't see a ratlesnake search as the path to follow , no Baja is not Oaxaca .And is not Provence , or Napa for that matter . It is a dessert with a very special microclimate. Baja California is one of the youngest states in Mexico most of the people who live here are not from here so in a way its a mexican melting pot and everybody has some good grandmother recipe to share. Finally I have a few more things to say sr. Nopal first that before passing such strong judgement come and see for yourself whats going on here, try the food and the wines Plese. If you need a guide I will be happy to show you around . Second I have Never said that what we do at Manzanilla Is Baja-Med , what would be of the mediterranean diet without tomatoes ? That the Aztecs made into salsas long time ago . But what would it be of us without Carnitas ?
                        These is something from the Ducasse book La Rivera wich I find very apropriate for the subject at hand :
                        It is posible , independently of the place where you were born , or live, of becoming Mediterranean. The Mediterreanity
                        (have no idea if that word exists in English but my book is in french so sorry if it does not exist) is not inherited, or aquired. It's a distinction , not an advantage

                        1. re: bigotes


                          First, in my haste I typed Manzanilla instead of Laja... I meant Laja. I appreciate that you, and the people at La Querencia, La Differencia etc., use chiles & so forth... I haven't seen a menu from Jair do that yet.

                          With regards to Jair's philosophy & provenance from Sonora... I have been there... Sonora has a huge indigenous imprint with many intriguing dishes & ingredients (for example take the many of varieties of unique Basil & "Oregano" used in the indigenous cooking). Sonora seems to have two types of people.... those who hate, denigrate & deny the Yaquis & other peoples... and the few educated elites who embrace them... it takes a big man to go down right.... I guess we all know Carranza was from Sonora too.

                          You & I are both chilangos and I think you know the future of Mexico lies with the D'Angelis, Don Fortino, Matachines, the MNA, Templo Mayor & Xochimilco organic produce. Simply an opinion.

                          I guess I will have to start sending correction letters to any publications that refer to Laja or Manzanilla as Baja-Med cuisine.

                          1. re: bigotes

                            Let's all agree that Manzanilla isn't Baja-Med and get to the heart of the matter, or corazon.

                            And, let's also agree that Laja isn't Baja-Med, because it isn't.

                            The only Baja-Med restaurants in the Tijuana-Ensenada area are La Querencia(I believe it used to be in Ensenada), the Baja-Med Pizza Co.(the La Querencia people), the late Palmazul(closed last year), and Villa Saverios.When I first went to Saverios years ago it was mediterranean, but my recent visit in which I had codorniz criadero mezquite in a mild tamarind salsa and a degustacion of fresh Mexican cheeses including the local Real del Castillo along with a glass of Vina Kristel, I noticed more of the Baja-Med items on their menu.They have added more Mexican ingredients keeping their mediterranean style and inspiration.More chiles are present!This was within the last month.

                            Yes, food has terms and categories thast people are comfortable with, but Baja-Med, as coined by Miguel Angel is now the focus of the Baja tourism boards, magazine articles, and television shows as a cuisine.It has invigorated the restaurant scene in La Zona Rio in Tijuana.You mention the mind of the tourist seeing Mexico as beaches and margaritas, which is what this really is about.Do Cancun, or Cabo San Lucas represent Mexico?It's not Laja's fault that they have become the focus of the media when it comes to Baja, but article after article talk about them as the quintessential Baja experience.Many winemakers in the Valle, which I have come to know on my frequent visits to the area feel that Laja should not be the definitive cuisine of Baja.They are interested in maintaining tiest to Mexican tradition.Others are perfectly fine with not even resembling Mexican;again, I saw the show where Jair said that he didn't really relate to Mexican food.I've been to Sonora and matter of fact, I'm on a plane to Cd. Obregon in the morning.Sonora may have American television, but their unique cuisine is Mexican.If Jair wants to turn out a version of cahuamanta using local Baja produce or do a chilorio of local venado, I'm there.

                            Laja is a unique restaurant withy a great chef, but I don't eat there when in the Valle de Guadalupe for the same reasons I don't go to El Rey Sol.While they may be good or great, I'm there to experience Mexican food and a food tourist, foodie, etc.I don't go to Italy for tortas.When we are in our country of residence it doesn't matter.When I'm at your wonderful restaurant I will order something that is more in the tradition of Mexican cooking.

                            The wine and restaurants of Baja are exploding and that is fantastic news for all. When thinking of the Provencale reference to Baja one only need to heed the lesson of Provence which was not just about local ingredients but about incorporating the mediterranean influences from Northern Africa, Spain, Italy, etc. into something definitively French, and that is what has made Provence the best cuisine of France,IMHO.

                            My family is from Aguascalientes and I love Mexico and its culture, just like you y el otro Chilango, Sr. Eat Nopal.We just hate to see it defined by Sunset magazine and tourists who go to Senor Frog's and EL Rey Sol.

                            Finally, you mentioned that natives ate shellfish around Bajamar. There's no problem with oysters, just make it Mexican.No one's asking for rattlesnake, just a little chipotle or nopal here and there.People should just enjoy the restaurants they want; go to Laja and enjoy the fine cooking of Jair Tellez, but don't say this is what Baja is about, it is was Jair is about, which should be good enough.Please, I'm not saying that you are making these statements, or labeling anything, but just trying to partake is this meaningful dialogue.The individualism of wine producers, restauranteurs, and those who live the Valle de Guadalupe and Ensenada is important, and evident in everything from Dona Lupe,Mogor Badan, Tres Mujeres, Hugo D'Acosta, Laja, Mustafa,Cavas Valmar, to the man who makes the pizzas in his brick oven and sells them at the Badan farmer's market,yum! In this sense Laja does embody EL Valle, but perhaps La Querencia is closer to Mexico, which is also important.

                            Todo mi respeto y muchos saludos.

                            I hope to enjoy your cuisine again sometime soon.

                            1. re: streetgourmetla

                              Thanks you expressed my views much more eloquently than I was able to do so. I am glad to know I am not the only that feels Laja is not representative of Baja as a Culinary identity. Laja is what in Mexico is called Cocina de Autor.... I am not sure if there is a label for it in the U.S. but in many respects is analogous to the stuff Keller, Alice Watters and others are doing. Its wonderful stuff... just not definitive of a culture... and it doesn't leave much of a cohesive body of dishes that becomes part of the culinary culture. When they die their food will largely dissappear with them. In their case... you can't really call the cooking California Cuisine if the dishes don't become classics of the California kitchen that will be cooked 200 years from now. The same will happen with Jair's food imho.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                Yeah, if I want that experience I can go to Lucques right here in LA, which is local ingredients and sensational.

                                You're right, culture is created with dishes like Chiles en Nogada, Bouillabaisse,Feijoada,Paella, and Margherita Pizza, not just by chef's using fresh local ingredients to do whatever.That has to do with chef culture, which is cool.We all are interested in a restaurant with top chefs executing artistry and creativity.But, all the chefs that created the amazing dishes of Mexico are not in our consciousness as much as the classic plates.Baja already has the Ensalada Cesar,Paella Estilo Baja, Queso Real del Castillo,Langosta Puerto Nuevo, Tacos de Pescado Estilo Ensenada,Chorizo de Abulon,Codorniz Estilo de Puesto, etc.The margarita(disputed), and clamato as well.

                                Let's enjoy Mexican wine with Mexican food, which I like about Cavas Valmar.The very unpretentious winemaker and owner will be featuring Mexican food at Vendimias this year. He seems to agree with our position and even joked about serving tortas with his Cabernet.Of course, he won't, but the sentiment was profound.Casa Fuentes will also be serving Mexican food at their restaurant attached to their new tasting room.

                                1. re: streetgourmetla

                                  "He seems to agree with our position and even joked about serving tortas with his Cabernet."

                                  You laugh but in the Mexico Airport domestic transfers wing there is a little cantina that makes great "cold" Tortas and has decent Chilean red wines that make a good pairing.

                  2. re: streetgourmetla

                    curious about where/when you saw the program on Baja, can you provide some details?

                    1. re: ibstatguy

                      It was on just recently and they called it Baja:The new Provence as part of Diary od a Foodie.They featured Laja, Hugo D'Acosta's wine school,Paraiso restaurant in Los Cabos, a local fish supplier in Cabos, and the Wednesday farmer's market at Rancho El Mogor.
                      Here's the link:

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