3:00 p.m. La Querencia is the birthplace of an alta cocina (haute cuisine) movement known as Baja Med—a fusion of local ingredients, Mediterranean techniques, and Asian influences. While this culinary style may seem like an unlikely amalgam of flavors and cultures, it actually makes perfect sense considering the history of Baja and its diverse inhabitants.
Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagües (pictured above) is the chef behind the Baja Med movement. A fourth generation Baja dweller, Chef Yagües runs a number of restaurants in the region and is an avid hunter, fisherman, diver, and farmer.
Ever since La Querencia opened its doors in 2006, the innovative eatery has received an abundance of press including a nod from Coleman Andrews in Gourmet magazine and a mention in the August 2006 New York Times article “It’s Hot. It’s Hip. It’s Tijuana?”
Our meal at La Querencia began with a loaf of bread served with a selection of spicy sauces. Each one contained a unique combination of chillies and aromatics designed to test our toughness and whet our appetites. From bottom to top—habanero, chile de arbol, and tomatillo.
We were also served a refreshing tepache, a fermented pineapple-based drink sweetened with brown sugar and beer. The tepache wasn’t very alcoholic because it was only fermented for three days. It was super-cooling though.
Next, a trio of carpaccio arrived; each one was a feast for the eyes and mouth. The beef tongue carpaccio (lengua – top) was sliced paper-thin, drizzled in a luscious olive oil and sea urchin cream, and topped with crispy fried onions. The zucchini carpaccio (calabasa - bottom, left) was dotted with a smoked chili confit, shards of cheese, and capers. The beet carpaccio (betabel - bottom, right) was dressed in a vinaigrette and adorned with chives and a pungent blue cheese.
With many of La Qurencia’s herbs and vegetables grown by Chef Yagües on family land, it was no surprise that the trio of carpaccio tasted amazingly fresh. Seasonality and superior local ingredients are two of the driving forces behind the Baja Med movement.
Flanked by the Sea of Cortez on the right and the Pacific Ocean on the left, Baja has access to some of the finest and most varied seafood around. Chef Yagües surprised the group with an off-the-menu creation of local scallops (callos Catalina) stuffed inside a hollowed-out cucumber, topped with sturgeon caviar, and dressed in a chipotle sauce. The flavors were pleasantly mild and clean; great seafood needs little to shine.
Our final course was a yellow cherry tomato and a slightly overcooked shrimp perched upon a corn cake and garnished with a ground chili sauce. Two point five words to describe the dish? Bobby Flay-esque.
“What I’m doing,” says Yagües, “is really a combination of Mexican, Mediterranean, and Asian. In the future, we won’t call this ‘Baja Med.’ We’ll just call it Baja California cuisine.”
Calle Escuadrón 201
Tijuana, BC, Mexico