All eyes are on chef Javier Plascencia, who remains cool, collected and humble despite overseeing a binational restaurant group that has earned accolades the world over - and being on the cusp of opening the most anticipated eatery of the year with Bracero Cocina de Raiz in Little Italy. In his culinary and creative prime, Plascencia took a break from prepping the nearly 5,000-square-foot, two-level eatery in the Ariel Suites building (1490 Kettner Blvd.) to chat with DiscoverSD about what to expect from Bracero, and where he finds inspiration and the energy to do it all.
Q: What does Bracero mean? What’s behind the restaurant’s concept?
A: It means that we pay tribute to the braceros, who came to work the fields when the U.S. built the program to bring Mexican workers to the U.S. We met a couple of braceros who made wine in Napa, and they told us their story and we fell in love with it, and felt it was something that needs to be told. We went to Salinas because that’s where the braceros work; then we went to Stanford where there’s a history of their photographs and letters. We wanted to pay tribute to these people.
Q: How did you choose the location for Bracero? Why Little Italy?
A: For us, Little Italy is the best food destination in San Diego. It’s very different from what downtown San Diego used to be. The restaurant is very serious, and we wanted it to be where the other restaurants are who share our same passion. I even moved to Little Italy a couple months ago.
Q: Tell us about the food at Bracero.
A: I want San Diegans to taste the real flavors of Mexico, because a lot haven’t had the opportunity to travel throughout the country. There will be lots of tacos with big, bold flavors: fish birria, beef cheek, lamb neck barbacoa. We’ll also be butchering and roasting whole animals like lamb, goats, pigs; making our own chorizo; grinding our own corn for tortillas. The raw bar will have tostadas with sea urchin and chocolate clams, and we’re also bringing in flavors from central Mexico, like grasshoppers and escamole - ants with epazote butter in a tortilla.
Q: You cook all the time and have access to the best food in the world. What flavors inspire you when you feel like you’ve tasted it all?
A: I’m very influenced by Oaxaca lately; it’s one of my favorite regions of Mexico for the mole, and mescal, of course. I had one of my best experiences eating recently near Puerto Escondido. I got in a cab and asked the driver to take me where the locals eat. It was a shack next to the river, where the owner makes mescal, cheese, tortillas. It’s changed a lot there, it’s more expensive and crowded now, but still has that low key vibe.
Q: What’s it like juggling your restaurants in TJ, Valle de Guadalupe and San Diego, TV appearances on “Top Chef” and the Food Network - all while preparing to open the most anticipated restaurant of the year?
A: This year has been very special. I just can’t do it alone anymore, so now I have to have an assistant and PR. It’s a lot of work, but I think if you have opportunities, you just can’t let them go. They only come once. I am very blessed that people follow me and that young kids look up to me. Yeah, I get a little tired, but now chefs are like rock stars: everyone wants to be one, know one and get a little piece of you. It’s just what it is right now, maybe it will go away but the good food, restaurants and cooks will always be there. And if you cook from the heart, there won’t be any issues. All day I’m thinking about food, and that more good things are coming.
Bracero Cocina de Raiz is currently scheduled to open at the end of June.
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at email@example.com.