It is 4 am and the journey to Mexicali, starting without coffee might I add, has begun. My goal is to seek out fresh inspirations and expressions of flavor from abroad and bring them back home to the Hudson Valley. From JFK to San Deigo it is a little over a five hour flight, followed by a two and a half hour car ride across a small dessert. Soon enough, I found myself crossing the US southern border into Mexicali, Mexico. Joined by my friend Marc, from LA, we were anxiously looking forward to two days of exploring the capital of the Mexican California Baja.
Mexicali, Mexico is an emerging area. With a population educated in, agriculture, and industry, on the surface every-day-life here doesn't seem so different from back home in the USA. Though you may not be able to drink the water or have all your creature comforts readily available, there is un-rushed rhythm to the days. As I have found in many cultures, food and drink seem to be at the center of every past time here. With an abundant supply of street vendors, restaurants, and cold beer it feels only right to get to work and discover the flavors of Mexicali.
Guillermo Ptacnik, or Memo for short. Memo tells me has an intense drive to bring a defining, progressive gastronomic experience to his city, while staying true to local fresh ingredients and flavors. He has pushed ahead creating a momentum that is truly admirable. The best part is, he is doing it his own way. I like this guy instantly, I'm not sure if there are many people, or chefs that really understand a grassroots passion like his. Memo and I realize we have been talking for some time, so we take our conversation to a table, and crack open a few local beers to offset the heat from the afternoon sun.
Our chat quickly become a deep discussion about a food (of course), the things that drive us, and even day to day interactions with our customers ... chef stuff. My trip is made. I had traveled almost nine hours to connect with my long lost Mexican brother, Memo. At least I thought it was… then, it was time to eat!
His dishes captured the California Baja like none other. Choosing fresh, local ingredients (some of which he catches himself!) Memo and his team expertly captured my attention. Clean, crisp flavors fused with a Chinese and Mexican influence, tantalize my taste buds bringing my experience full circle. (Mexicali boasts the largest population of Chinese people in Mexico- they are doing something very right when it comes to food.)
Peter A Milano
Eat, Drink, and Explore from chef Peter's blog about his food experiences, recipes, and travel.