By Wendy Lemlin
As anyone in the SoCal/Baja border foodie community knows, in recent years there have been a significant number of outstanding events in Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s smoking-hot wine region about 90 miles south of San Diego. But, the first annual Valle Wine & Food Festival, happening October 22, stands out as a must do, not only for the amazing quality of cross-border chef talent who will be participating —hosts Javier Plascencia and Nancy Silverton, and Michelin-starred Dominique Crenn, to name a few—but also because the event will be flavored with a welcome taste of altruism, i.e. the festival will benefit the area’s farm workers, as well as victims of the recent earthquakes in Mexico.
The event, held on the expansive grounds of Javier Plascencia’s renowned Finca Altozano restaurant from 2-8 pm, will include 15 food stations presented by celebrity chefs from both sides of the border, a fabulous selection of Baja wines, a craft beer garden, dancing to live music and DJs, celebrity cookbook signings, VIP lounge, local artisans, live and silent auctions, and kids activities. If that’s not enough excitement for you, there’s also the late night After Party!
A few years ago, I was attending a Vendimia dinner at Finca Altozano, celebrating the grape harvest in the Valle. It was one of many such gala dinners held throughout the month of August at a number of the area vineyards, generally with impressive lineups of rock-star chefs, and all with ticket prices ranging anywhere from $100 to $250 per person. I remember discussing with Chef Javier how ironic it was that these celebrations were totally out of financial reach for the workers who actually made the harvest possible. “I should do something about that,” I remember him remarking.
Fast forward to now, and the Valle de Guadalupe has become one of the hottest wine-centered destinations in the eastern hemisphere, with new wineries, restaurants, and boutique hotels opening weekly, it seems. Now, with this festival, Plascencia is making good on his intention to help the workers who provide the labor for all this international buzz. He, Los Angeles-based celebrity chef Nancy Silverton, and writer Carolynn Carreño, along with travel concierge Baja Wine+Food, are hosting the Valle Wine & Food Festival, and will donate the proceeds to Fundación Campesinos, which Plascencia, Silverton and Carreño have established to improve the lives of the farm workers of the region and their families. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from this year’s festival will also be distributed to organizations in Oaxaca helping victims of the recent earthquakes.
The idea of the festival came about when Plascencia, (perhaps the most celebrated of the Baja chefs, with restaurants in Valle de Guadalupe and Tijuana) and Silverton (the 2014 winner of the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Award and lauded as founder of such L.A. culinary hotspots as La Brea Bakery, and Campanile, and currently partnered with Mario Battali at Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza) cooked together in the Valle last summer.
“I fell in love with the place, the people, and the rustic, over-fire style of cooking,” says Silverton, who recently rose to worldwide fame with a segment devoted to her on the award-winning Netflix series, Chef’s Table. “I knew I wanted to come back, and to give back to this place. After a few days, and a few glasses of red wine, Javier and I, along with my friend and co-author Carolynn Carreño, who is from Tijuana and introduced me to Javier, were determined to start an annual charity event to benefit the farm workers in the region, and thus, this festival was conceived. I participate in countless festivals around the world every year, but this is the first one that I am hosting.”
Guest Chef Dominique Crenn, who has also been profiled in a Netflix Chef’s Table episode, was named “The World’s Best Female Chef” in 2016 by World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Her San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn has earned a coveted 2 Michelin Stars status, and her less formal restaurant, Petit Crenn is currently serving as home base where she directs efforts to make sandwiches for victims displaced by the raging fires in the Northern California wine country.
Other guest chefs scheduled in the star-studded lineup will include: Hiro Sone & Lissa Doumani (Terra, Napa Valley), Michelin 2 starred Josiah Citrin (Melisse, Santa Monica), Suzanne Tracht (Jar, Los Angeles), Timothy Hollingsworth (Otium, Los Angeles), Ricardo Zarate (Rosaline, Los Angeles), Ryan Denicola (Chi Spacca, Los Angeles), Dahlia Narvaez (Mozza Restaurant Group, Los Angeles), Matthew Beaudin (Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA), Francis Reynard (Chileno Bay, Cabo San Lucas), and Yvan Mucharraz (Chileno Bay, Cabo San Lucas).
Along with co-host Javier Plascencia (Finca Altozano, Misión 19, and others), local chefs will include Andrew Spurgin (Bespoke Event Styling & Menu Design), Martin San Roman (Dobson’s, San Diego) Jair Téllez (Laja, Valle de Guadalupe), Solange Muris (Manzanilla, Ensenada), Roberto Alcocer (Malva, Valle de Guadalupe), Mario Peralta (Fuego, Valle de Guadalupe), Denise Roa (Rancho La Puerta, Tecate) Giannina Gavaldón (Olivia, Valle de Guadalupe), Sheyla Alvarado (TrasLomita, Valle de Guadalupe) and David Castro Hussong (Fauna, Valle de Guadalupe), Bianca Castro Cerio (Biscottis, Mexicali) and more.
The festival, produced with Plascencia and Silverton by James Beard Award winning author Carolynn Carreño and Baja Wine + Food, will offer a multi-sense experience. In addition to food and wine stations where guests will have the opportunity to meet the chefs and winemakers, there will be a band stage featuring cumbia rock band Takon Machine, and south of the border celebrity DJs, Lord Valle and Chukuchu. Booksellers Good Earth/Great Chefs will host book signings and sell books from the participating chefs. Kids will have their own corral for coloring, decorating, and other fun take-home projects.
VIP admission, $350, includes a shaded VIP lounge with optimal view of the stage styled by designer Marianna Iridin, private bar and mixologist, unlimited drinks including premium and reserve Baja wines, tray-passed appetizers, and all-access to the exclusive Chefs and Artisans After Party.
Event partner Baja Wine + Food is providing transportation from San Diego for $50/person. https://squareup.com/store/baja-wine-plus-food . To book a private travel experience, which can include private transportation, accommodations, festival admission, winery exclusive visits, adventure activities, and restaurant experiences, contact their concierge and lifestyle management team at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The address: Finca Altozano, Carretera federal #3 tecate-ensenada KM.83, Ejido Francisco Zarco, Ensenada, B.C 22750 Mexico