Chef Javier Plascencia is one of Mexico’s most celebrated chefs. Born in Tijuana, Mexico Chef Javier Plascencia owns and oversees 8 restaurants in Tijuana, Ensenada and San Diego. He is a world traveler and enthusiastic advocate of Baja California’s Mediterranean cuisine. He proudly uses the freshest local ingredients in his modern surf and turf modern cuisine which is influenced by his travels, culture and heritage.
I interviewed Chef Plascencia at Harrah’s Latin Food and Wine Festival where over 30 restaurants and 30 wineries celebrated Latin wine, food, culture and music. We enjoyed the green chorizo sopes and savored the delicate coconut water aguachile of hiramasa (yellowtail amberjack) with coconut cream, edible flowers and coconut.
At the end of the month Chef Plascencia will also be opening a new restaurant, Bracero Cocina in San Diego, California. Read on to learn about Chef Javier Plascencia cuisine characteristics, his family’s historical restaurant and new restaurant influences:
Can you tell us about some of the ingredients in the green chorizo sope?
Well we use braised pork for “texturity” and they feed that pork. He eats a lot of figs. He eats a lot of avocados and fruit.
It’s free range?
It’s free range pork and he drinks a beer every day. It’s a special kind of breed that my friend raises in Escondido. It’s in the sope with pickled cabbage and radishes.
And what inspired this dish?
I wanted people to taste green chorizo. A lot of people have never seen or heard of it. It’s very popular in central Mexico. In Toluca we eat a lot of green chorizo. I took inspiration from the fondas in Tijuana. We have lots of fondas where you can go and have a taco or tostada. It’s sort of like tapas, but in the Mexican way. So you can go and have a taco or tostada or eat menudo or pozole. It’s like comfort food, usually run by family. And usually a lady will be cooking. That’s how I grew up. I love that food.
I was observing you guys when you were preparing the dishes during Harrah’s Food and Wine Festival. Your team works together like a rhythm.
When you are cooking you have to be well-organized. If not, the end product won’t be the same and won’t taste the same. It’s almost like an orchestra. You’re the director but everybody knows what they are doing. All the guys that you see here today are from a cooking school and they’ve been with me for several years. They all learned how to cook with me.
What influences your cooking?
The place where I come from is like being a kid in Disneyland. We have so many good ingredients around in Baja California, the Sea of Cortez, and the Pacific Ocean. We have people making cheese and olive oil too. And that’s all in Mexico. But we also have this side of California as well where people make so many excellent products. And most of it’s the same because the weather is the same. If you taste my food you are going to taste a lot of flavors and contrasts.
What features characterize your food?
I do a lot of surf and turf the modern way. I think that’s staple cuisine. But I also work with the freshest ingredients that you can find. I work with the whole animal. I don’t just buy the loins or the ribeye. I buy the whole thing because you can make stocks and chorizo sausage. I buy the whole animal and we make tons of things. One of the things I make is beef cheek tacos. We may take the cheeks to make tacos de cabeza. It’s mostly cheeks. We use the tongues. We use the tail. You blend everything. My father even eats the eyes.
How does it taste?
It’s amazing. The cheek is the most flavorful and tender meat of the whole animal. People don’t realize that. It’s just really really tender.
When did you know that you wanted to be a chef?
I grew up in my parent’s restaurants. They own a chain of restaurants in Tijuana and this past month it turned 47 years old. Giuseppis is a chain of pizza restaurants. My father opened the first pizzeria in Baja California. He was the one who invented the Mexican pizza.
What’s different about a Mexican pizza?
The story is that my father opened a Giuseppis and it was very successful because there were no other pizza places. My father was the pizza guy. My grandmother made the sauce. And my mother was the cashier. It was a very small place. It only had three tables. It was mostly to go. They worked like that for many months and they were eating pepperoni pizza every day because they were so busy and tired. But one day my father opened a can of jalapenos and put some refried beans instead of tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese and chorizo and bacon. That pizza became really popular with his friends. The clients started asking for it and now it’s their best seller in the restaurant.
You’re opening a new restaurant soon in Little Italy in San Diego. Can you share some details?
At the end of this month. It’s going to be called Bracero. It’s a tribute to the Bracero workers that worked the fields. We thought there was a story to be told. Whenever we open a restaurant we like to tell stories. We wanted to give some history to it. We found the Bracero story very interesting. We met a couple ex-Braceros and they’re living the American Dream in Napa Valley. They’re winemakers. We went to Stanford University and they had a lot of letters and photographs and stories. The restaurant will open on May 27th.
Will your restaurant have Braceros all around it?
Does travel inspire any of your cooking?
Yes. I don’t travel to go to museums or the beaches, I travel to go eat and find ingredients and markets. I don’t go shopping, I go shopping for food.
What do you want our reader to know about Mexican cusine?
I want people to taste and learn about Mexico. Here in California or in the United States, when you think of Mexico you think of tacos, burritos, or nachos but Mexico has many regions and every region has different flavors. I want people to look into that. The region of Oaxaca is very different from the region of Veracruz. They can use the same ingredients but the flavors at the end are very different and unique. Everybody cooks differently. I want people to know that. And I want people to not buy store bought tortillas. They’re awful. Go find a good tortilleria or make your own. It’s not that hard. It’s very easy and you’ll have fun doing it. Once you have a good tortilla, you’ll never go back to eating that sh*t!
I’m excited about what Chef Javier Plascencia is doing for the food scene in San Diego and Baja California. Chef Plascencia’s love of his culture and heritage is evident in everything he touches from the savory baja mediterranean cuisine menu-style, his plating and creative restaurant concepts. For additional information on the grand opening visit Bracero’s Cocina website or Braceor’s facebook page.
Harrah’s Latin Food and Wine Festival featured world acclaimed cuisine and wines. For a full list of wines and restaurants visit Harrah’s Latin Food and Wine Festival.