Last week, I was invited to judge at Sabor de Baja, an annual event held at the historic Rosarito Beach Hotel to celebrate Baja’s top chefs, and the end of summer. We are reluctant to leave our cool room at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, where I am enjoying the view from the patio — each room in the Pacifico Tower offers a waterfront view — however, it is time to join the party. We are enveloped by the balmy air the minute I open the door, and it is to linger for hours longer until the sun sets later that evening.
I meet Chef Bo Bendana Sein, a stunning lady who is co-organizer with her husband Dennis Sein. This is the hotel I stay at last year during a foodie trip, so I am quite familiar with it and its surroundings.
After we gather our passes, we have a little time and decide to visit the bar for a quick drink and I am utterly amused by the lovely singer at the piano. He is the cutest man ever!
I am introduced to the other judges as they arrive: Michael Gardiner (San Diego-based national writer/blogger San Diego City Beat) needs no introduction, I know Michael well; Porter Brooks (Celebrity Cook and Lifestyles Personality); Drew Deckman (Michelin-star chef/owner of Deckman’s En El Mogor); and Marco Antonio Amador, a top enologist in Valle De Guadalupe Wine Country.
Dennis Sein leads us to a secluded area where we are to taste the offerings from 19 chefs/restaurants, all with a wine pairing of their choice.
I find, rather quickly, that Porter Brooks and I have similar palates and we pretty much score similarly on almost all of the dishes. Even with varying opinions and palates, it takes us less than two hours to taste and score everything. It is now time for partying.
But before then, we escape up to the room where I need a moment to cool off. A shower later, we are back downstairs, and I am hearing Maryam Malak, winner of The Voice Baja, belting out songs to a somewhat inebriated crowd.
As we approach the waterfront garden, I now understand the all-white attire. The blanket of white is mesmerizing, especially at dusk. However, this will be the only time I am ever going to appear clad in all white!
I make my rounds again chatting to people, visiting with the chefs who created all of the dishes. I stopped at some of my favorites and have another round. At 8.30pm, MC Jose Ghilarducci introduces the judges, then, along with Chef Bo, announce the winners.
The People’s Choice Winner is: Chef Julio Rodriguez of Navio with Blue Fin Tuna Tostada paired with a Legado Sais 2014 Sauvignon Blanc.
Second runner up is from La Caza Club’s Chef Ruben Silva. Pig’s neck taco with arugula, fig and goat cheese paired with a Witbeer infused with orange peel and coriander. This is another one of my favorites with a perfect balance of sweet, tart, salty and also, textures.
First runner up is Juan Jose Plascencia’s Villa Saverios with Chef Brito & Chef Jotch Plascenia at the helm wowing me with a sun-dried tomato risotto and lamb chicharon in a sweet wine reduction. The creamy, toothsome dish is paired with a red blend of Cabernet and Nebiolo from the Vinicola Regional de Ensenada. This was MY first choice.
And the winner of Sabor De Baja 2015 goes to Chef Marco Marin of Latitud 32 with his Mayan Black Ceviche with recado negro dust, orange habanero oil, tomato, red onion and micro cilantro. It is paired with the 2014 Cassiopea made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Guadalupe Valley from El Cielo Wines owned by Gustavo Ortega and wife Daly Negrón.
The year’s event draws in 700+ attendees, a testament to the gastronomy scene in Baja today. Next year’s event has already been scheduled for Wednesday, August 31st. Tickets will go on sale in May, 2016. If you want to be part of this incredible event, keep your eyes on social media, or for more information, visit Sabor De Baja’s website.