Interview with Chef Javier Plascencia at the James Beard House
The James Beard’s mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs. They are carefully selected and invited to cook and its considered a great honor. This is the first time that a chef from Baja, Mexico was invited to perform. I’m a great fan of Javier Plascencia and was happy to support and participate in this historic event celebrating one of our own local celebrities.
This was my first time in The James Beard House and my stomach filled with excitement as I walked in. I was stunned to see how small the kitchen was. The frenzy and the energy of Plascencia’s team was hypnotizing. We were quickly escorted to the second floor of the house where our 8-course meal would take place. Once finished with our dinner, it is customary for the Chef to be introduced to his guests. Javier Placencia was charming, timid and when in momentum, had a wonderful sense of humor.
JB: “It was one of the best meals we have ever had here. Javier started his culinary career in his family’s kitchen. In 1989 opened his own restaurant. Has been in LA times, NY Times, No reservations with Anthony Bourdain and Andrew’s Zimmern’s Bizarre foods. He has cooked for Ex-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Gary Johnson and other Mexican Leaders. Has won a lot of awards.”
JB: Can you introduce your team?
Placencia: “Well, we brought the best. Ernesto is a passionate foodie and home cook who loves food. Pedro works in Valle de Guadalupe where we make the bread, olive oil, raise goats, lamb and pigs. Luuis Gomez works at Mission 19 and is going to a new project called Tracero, and he’s a student from the culinary school here in NY. Hopefully you got to learn Mexican food today. We’ve been here since 8am in the morning and are super happy and super excited to be here. When I went to culinary school it was one of my dreams to cook at James Beard House.
JB: What the meaning behind the word Bracero? How do you feel about the concept and generally the concept behind the Baja Cuisine?
Plascencia: It’s a program where they brought braceros from Mexico to work the fields. It’s a tribute to them. We were in Salinas and spent a few days with them. Ex-Braceros and the stories they tell you are amazing. We serve Cali-Baja Cuisine at Braceros. It’s a tribute all these people. Bracero is local cuisine from San Diego and also do it in Tijuana. I cross the border 2 to 3 times a day.
JB: Why did you choose to cook with Octopus tonight?
Plascencia: I chose to make octopus because of its popularity. Many people come to the restaurant to have it. It’s one of my favorite ingredients. We used Portuguese Octopus because it’s very tender. We grilled it, roasted with some peanuts and chiles that he brought from home: squid ink, black beans, Epazote and made a puree with plantains, chard onions with tortillas to make a dust powder. We cooked the tomatillos with lemon, butter and jalapeño sauce.
JB: How do we showcase this type of food and get more exposure?
Placencia: This type of Mexican Cuisine made with better ingredients and better presentation started five years ago because of the Mezcal, craft beers and the wineries. Baja California has amazing restaurants that are three star Michelin restaurants in Mexico. It’s happening all over Mexico. It’s happening in Oaxaca, Puebla and going to Spain and France.
RO: What advice can you give me as to keep Mexican cuisine true?
Plascencia: Stick to fresh products from the region. Our quail tonight is from Baja. Keep it local. Another way is to spend a week with me. You’ll learn a lot.
JB: How do you keep yourself so passionate in everything you are doing?
Placencia: Mezcal! (laughs) I’ve been cooking since I was 12 years old. My family owns restaurants. We don’t talk politics. We talk food. It’s what we do. Source the best ingredients and show case them. We brought abalone and quail from home. We try to teach the people that there are a lot of regions in Mexico. Teach them what’s there in different regions. There are so many regions in Mexico. Just like Italy and France we have different regions too.
JB: Any issues with bringing any ingredients from Mexico?
Placencia: I wanted the dishes really to taste like home, like Baja California. So, I brought everything from San Diego from our own garden. The spices, olive oil and mustard were from Baja California as well. That makes a lot of sense to bring them from Baja. The masa was brought from Cosme new restaurant Enrique Olivera. Macienda heritage corn. Very proud as Mexicans that they are doing so well in NY. “Each chef had a big luggage at the airport.” he joked. Masinda and its heritage corn and we are really proud as Mexicans that they are doing really well in NY.
Chef Javier Plascencia’s James Beard House Menu
Scallop Parfaits with lemon Gelee, Crema Cucumbers, Salsa Macha Avocado Mousse, and Chicharrons
Cia Tostadas with Avocado Cream, Quail Escabeche, and Cured Quail yolks
Oysters on the Half Shell with Cured and Pickled Cactus Paddles and Baja Scallop Dust
Baja Farm-Raised abalone with Crispy Yuimuni Beans, Smoked Tomatoes, Sea Beans and Seaweed
Bodegas Henri Lurton Le Sauvignon 2015 / Fidencio Tobala Mezcal
Onion Agua Chile with Gooseneck Baracles and Burnt Onion Dust
Bodegas Henri Lurton Chenin Centenario reserve 2015
Veal Sweetbread-Chorizo Verde Sopes with Manzano Chile Salsa and Spicy Greens
Paoloni Shiraz-Merlot 2013
Charcoal-Grilled Octopus with Beef Udder Confit, Spiced Black Bean Caramel Roasted peanuts, pickled Potatoes and Charred Jalapeños
Paoloni Sangiovese Grosso 2013
A Norterno Machaca Feast
Baja Sonoran Beef and Machaca de Monterey Stingray with house made Flour Gorditas chile de Arbol Salsa and Baja Extra Virgin Olive Oil -Refried Pinto Beans
Paoloni Nebbiolo de Guadalupe 012
La Venenosa Raicilla Sierra Occidental de Jalisco Mezcal
Koch el de Oaxaca Olla de Barro Mezcal
About Chef Rosie O’Connor
Rosie O’Connor is the chef owner of Provecho Grill in Menifee and Xicana (coming soon). She is a Food Writer for Menifee Buzz and Valley News. She is also the winner of Farmer’s Market Flip, Season One, Episode One.