Better-than-Baja Cuisine

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The Flavors of Rincón San Román, the first “serious” cookbook to come out of Baja, went into its second edition this year. Its recipes, which are given in both Spanish and English, come from the kitchens of the chef Martín San Román’s signature restaurants and are presented such that readers might prepare them easily at home.

Back in the mid-1980s, when San Román first started cooking in Tijuana, the town was still finding its feet in terms of cuisine. There were the obligatory “combination plate” places made famous by generations of tourists, a goodly number of seafood restaurants serving the local catch, dozens of places offering what is still called Mexicali-style Chinese food (nineteenth-century Cantonese), and a couple of fine-dining establishments that Dean Martin would be comfortable in. But there was nothing remotely like the food San Román wanted to serve, food that has come to acquire a host of misnomers such as “Baja Cuisine”.

San Román comes from Mexico City, where he grew up with all the great Mexican regional styles at his fingertips, yet he was trained in classical and modern haute cuisine by the University of Michigan, the École Ritz Escoffier, and the École Lenôtre. Today he applies the techniques of Beard, Carême, and Bocuse to the raw materials of Colonial Mexico. He refers to his work as cuisine d’auteur, for which he has both his training and gastronomical history to back him up. He is an auteur, an individual artist: he applies what he knows to what he has at hand in order to offer his customers a uniquely satisfying experience at table.

Longhairs go PoMo pop in Tijuas

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from the OBC gallery

Entijuanarte always manages to pull off something iconic. This year’s memorable event was an open-air concert combining the efforts of Tijuana’s most respectable musicians with those of Tijuana’s most autochthonous musicians and ending with more than twenty-five thousand spectators shouting “Tijuana! Tijuana! Tijuana!”

The event was memorable because of the performance’s emotional effect. The audience, after having to endure so much depressing and uninformed media coverage of Tijuana, found their civic pride validated by a stage full of photographic imagery and seriously ebullient musicians. It was also an historically memorable event because this might very well be the first time orchestral performers and popular composition collaborated truly as equals.

Rescuing La Revu

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by Laura Durán

They would rather accept dollars but, when there are no tourists, the businesses on Avenida Revolución are out to attract local customers by offering restaurants, fine art, high-quality folk art, good prices in pesos, and improved customer service.

With the reduction in cross-border traffic brought on by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, by the U.S. policy for its citizens to carry passports, by the worldwide economic crisis, by the drug wars, and finally by the flu scare, Revolución can no longer expect much from foreign tourism.

The days of plenty are gone. The famous avenue is now a shadow of its former self. Sixty percent of the shops are empty. Potential customers look but don’t buy. The merchants who remain are finding it increasingly harder to keep their doors open.

With the Cow Parade came the discovery that local customers could be a source of income. For several weeks last year, entire families roamed the streets simply to enjoy the bovine statues installed along Avenida Revolución and the Zona Río.

“That exposition created a good image, raised our spirits, and attracted a lot of people” said Andrés Méndez Martínez, the coordinator of Ceturmex, the leading merchants’ association for Avenida Revolución. “It brought in local customers, something we hadn’t seen in a long time. Because of that, the association started to work on the idea of offering discounts just for local people.”

According to Méndez Martínez, Ceturmex, which is made up of a significant number of businesses on Revolución, will be adopting the recommendations offered by the state university’s school of marketing. “They suggest that we bring in good restaurants and culturally oriented businesses. We need to offer more diversity in our merchandise. Offering the same items store after store won’t keep Revolución going.”