Thomas Keller and a galaxy of mega-star chefs to cook in San Diego, Baja
They run restaurants to which people make pilgrimages. The French Laundry in Napa. Per Se and Cosme in New York. Pujol in Mexico City. Topolobampo in Chicago. Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. Mélisse in L.A.
They hold every accolade in the food world, including Michelin stars, James Beard Foundation awards and episodes of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” about them.
They are some of the biggest stars in the celebrity chef universe, and in a rare celestial convergence this fall — two events, two weeks and about 86 miles apart — dozens of these celebrated culinary figures will be cooking in San Diego and Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe.
Most notable among them is Thomas Keller, who, according to Addison executive chef William Bradley, will be behind the stove for the first time ever in San Diego.
Keller, whose restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se are considered among the finest in the country, currently holds seven Michelin stars, and is the sole U.S. chef to earn simultaneous three-star Michelin ratings at two places.
“He is the Bocuse of America,” said Bradley of Keller, referring to Paul Bocuse, the late French mega-chef.
“Thomas Keller is an icon.”
On Sept. 22-24, Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar will host the Robb Report Culinary Masters, headlined by Keller, Bradley and Jérôme Bocuse (Paul Bocuse’s son), as well as featuring Paul Bartolotta (The Bartolotta Restaurants), Josiah Citrin (Mélisse, L.A.), Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn, San Francisco), Gavin Kaysen (Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis, and formerly of El Bizcocho, Rancho Bernardo), and Ming Tsai (Blue Dragon, Boston, PBS’s “Simply Ming”).
Soon after, on Oct. 5-7, Citrin and Crenn — each of whom holds two Michelin stars — will head south to join about 35 other high-caliber chefs at Javier Plascencia’s Finca Altozano, in the Valle de Guadalupe, for the 2nd annual Valle Food & Wine Festival. In addition to a bevy of the biggest names from San Diego and the Valle, the marquee chefs converging on Mexican wine country include Enrique Olvera (Pujol, Mexico City, Cosme, New York), Rick Bayless (Topolobampo, Chicago), Nancy Silverton (Mozza Group, L.A.), Nancy Oakes (Boulevard, San Francisco), Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto, New York), Walter Manzke (Republique, L.A.), Ori Menashe (Bestia, L.A.) and Michael Mina (Michael Mina, San Francisco, Mina Group).
The two big-ticket events couldn’t be more different: the Culinary Masters will offer highly conceptual, refined dining in the swanky confines of the Grand Del Mar, while a signature offering of the hyper-rustic Valle Food & Festival is stripped down local ingredients, often whole animals, cooked on open wood fires in the campground-like setting of Finca Altozano.
Combined, however, they will bring a culinary caliber never seen before in the region.
“We’ve been talking about turning the Valle de Guadalupe and Northern Baja into a world-class culinary destination,” said Valle festival co-founder and organizer Fernando Gaxiola, who owns the travel concierge company Baja Wine + Food.
“With all these names, people pay attention. There are a lot of food festivals in the world, but even if you put this lineup in New York, it’s a pretty amazing lineup.”
Bradley was instrumental in securing the San Diego visit by the all-star roster of chefs affiliated with the Robb Report Culinary Masters.
“It’s another exciting opportunity for San Diego to shine,” Bradley said. “There’s a lot of notoriety surrounding it and all I can do to contribute to getting it here, that was one of my goals when I was invited” to participate. (In 2014, Keller called Bradley “the future of our profession,” and handpicked him to compete in the Culinary Masters’ “World’s Next Super-Chef” competition. Bradley won.)
Both of the events are fundraisers where you can rub elbows with the celebrity chefs and each offers multiple activities over several days, capped by a gala dinner.
Tickets don’t come cheap to these ultra-craveable dining experiences. Prices for the Sept. 22 Culinary Masters gala is $1,500 per person or $4,900 per couple for a two-night stay at the Grand Del Mar and several curated pursuits, like golf and a cooking class. The Robb Report Culinary Masters, sponsored by the prestige publication geared toward the global elite, will benefit the Ment’or BKB (Bocuse, Keller, Boulud) Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports culinary excellence in young professionals and works to preserve “the traditions and quality of cuisine in America.”
Bradley said proceeds from the weekend will go to support the U.S. culinary team competing in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or, considered the Olympics of gastronomic competitions.
The Valle Food & Wine Festival is more accessible but no less exclusive. Tickets can top $1,000 for VIP admission to the Oct. 5 welcome dinner, the Oct. 6 chef event and the closing food truck pop-up on Oct. 7, featuring Gaxiola’s picks of the best street food in Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada and the Valle. Individual ticket prices range from $40 to $850. Single-day, round-trip transportation from San Diego to the Valle for the chef event is being offered at $60.
The festival is a fundraiser for the Corazón de Vida Foundation, a nonprofit that supports orphaned or abandoned children at 10 orphanages throughout Northern Baja. Gaxiola said donations will go toward career-oriented training and college scholarships.
“They need a plan for when they’re no longer at the orphanage,” he said. “Sometimes it just goes to hell when they get out. Some just get lost.”
Gaxiola said last year’s inaugural Valle Food & Wine Festival sowed the seeds for this year’s impressive chef lineup. Several of the participating the chefs had called him, saying they’d heard about the 2017 event and wanted in.
Part of being a celebrity chef is the role they play in influencing where people eat around the world.
“We want to expose them to the Valle,” Gaxiola said.
“The Valle is not pretentious, it has its own identity — the magic of the place is it’s still raw, it’s undeveloped. We want these chefs not to come here and do their fine dining,” he said.
“I told Dominique Crenn, ‘We want you to leave your tweezers at Atelier Crenn.’ ”
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