Valle de Guadalupe – Cooking in the Valley
Under the shade of an ancient oak tree surrounded by vineyards, I stood staring at three cookbooks positioned upright with proud covers on a table, facing the opening of leafy branches. In just a few minutes a crowd of sunglassed, wine-toting guests from Los Angeles to Ensenada, would ramble under the magical spot at “El Arbol”.
Finca Altozano is Chef Javier Plascencia’s Valle stronghold which is ever-growing. It started as a simple outdoor, shade covered, open-fire restaurant on a plot overlooking the expansive, Casa Magoni vineyard. It has since creeped across the lot with a large garden, more animals, a bakery, a coffee shop, a torta trailer and a new deck under the tree.
The popular location for family gatherings & special occasions was the obvious choice to hold Cooking in the Valley, an afternoon of food and wine with legendary Chef Nancy Silverton (Osteria Mozza & La Brea Bakery), Carolyn Carreno and Javier. On this occasion, Javier chose to debut his newest milestone, his first cookbook, The Soul of Baja Javier Plascencia.
The event was the perfect harmony between rustic and elegant. The reception allowed guests a first glance at the beautiful new cookbook, the culmination of 30 years of Javier’s cooking. Photographer Jaime Fritsch, presented the dishes in such a lovely way that the end result almost resembles a coffee table book meant for display.
Once guests got their fill of wine, appetizers, celebrity selfies and signed cookbooks, it was time for the meal to commence. As the tables, one by one, filled with guests from all over Southern California and Northern Baja, I flitted around photographing food, service, sleeping pooches, wine filling and laughter.
Once I found my own seat, I was greeted by a friendly face, Mr. Camilo Magoni, the winemaker of the vines I could see in every direction. I spent the next few hours in curious conversation about his history here in Valle de Guadalupe. We chatted about his journey to Valle from a little village in Northern Italy, his love of family, the camaraderie of the valley, nuances of wine making and of his high tech, olive oil production plant just down the road.
At the communal table, we ate, toasted and chuckled with the other guests, all of whom traveled from Los Angeles to participate in the special event with their hometown, famed chef. (If you haven’t watched the Chef’s Table profile of Nancy Silverton, you should. It is a great story of perseverance and curiosity.) The food was bright and elevating, yet I was stuffed. Once the meal concluded, guests began to leave but a few of us, friends of Javier’s and Jaime’s, gathered around the fire pit with wine and more mezcal to discuss everything and nothing.
After a few days of the “back to normal” rat-race, I’ve reflected back on the afternoon to evening excursion with a sense of peace. This connectedness of people with food, wine, and conversation is special and when done in a special place, it is momentous. Javier’s new milestone became a recurring checklist item for me, a reminder to do “this” again… and often.
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