By Pablo J. Sáinz
Together with neighboring Tijuana, San Diego is home to an immense array of Latino chefs and restaurants that are creating an exciting Latin culinary movement in the border region, according to the director of an upcoming comida festival.
Richie Matthews, director of ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!, a multi-city Latin culinary celebration that will kick-off in San Diego with a lavish international food festival September 12 through the 15, said that San Diego, with its proximity to Baja California, has become an epicenter of Latino food in the United States.
“San Diego is a top test market for many food companies,” Matthews said. “We chose to host the inaugural ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! in San Diego versus L.A., Miami, or New York, because consumers’ palates here have matured in such a significant way.”
With more than 14 events, and more than 100 chefs, celebrating the cuisine of Spain, Latin America, and the Caribbean, ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! will also feature more than 50 chefs from the San Diego-Tijuana region.
“This speaks volumes about how far San Diego’s culinary community has embraced Latin cuisine,” Matthews said.
One of those local San Diego chefs who will participate in the festival is Chad White, described by organizers as “a local San Diego favorite with an eye toward producing eclectic urban style and Baja Med influenced food, unlimited in scope or boundary.”
White, owner of catering company EGO Culinary Trends, said that there’s great camaraderie among San Diego and Tijuana chefs, creating a close-knit community of men and women committed to developing the up-and-coming Baja-Med style.
During the festival, White will share the kitchen with several Baja California chefs, including Javier Plascencia and Miguel Angel Guerrero.
“It’s a privilege to cook with Baja chefs,” White said. “I’ve done it before, and it truly is a friendly environment, really coming together and enjoying food.”
Baja-Med, a term coined by Guerrero, is a popular style that is breaking new ground in restaurants across Tijuana, and the rest of Baja California, White said.
“The way I interpret Baja-Med is basically a style that combines three different types of cuisine: The Asian influence of the large Asian population in Baja California; Mediterranean from the Spanish settlers, and because the state has a similar Mediterranean climate; and traditional Baja California food, which includes nopales, seafood, chiles.”
In addition to regional chefs, ¡LATIN FOOD FEST! will bring popular chefs from across the United States, including some familiar faces from television shows, such as Aaron Sanchez, from Food Network’s “Chopped,” Ingrid Hoffman, host of Food Network’s “Simply Delicioso,” and Chef LaLa, who appears on different English and Spanish television shows to promote Latino food.
“Until now San Diego has had to export chefs to other cities’ food events,” Matthews said. “Now, we are bringing the nation’s top chefs to San Diego, and we’re doing this to showcase the San Diego region’s Latin culinary movement.”
With 14 events over the 4-day festival, there is something for each palate, restaurant and food company.
The Grand Tasting, which will take place on Saturday, September 14, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Broadway Port Pavilion in downtown, is near sold out.
“Until now the local restaurant goer has had no festival to sample all of the best Latin restaurants, food, wine and spirits and chefs in one event,” Matthews said.
¡LATIN FOOD FEST!, which can be found online at www.latinfoodfest.com, will be an annual event. Organizers are also hosting the festival in Miami in February, then New York, and back in San Diego in September 2014.