Star chefs head to the Valle: Will L.A. follow?


Here’s what happens when Nancy Silverton, L.A.’s legendary Goddess of Gluten, gets passionate about something: she obsesses; she perfects; she causes a sensation.

That’s how her pursuit of the perfect loaf of bread, pizza crust and handmade pasta turned into the wildly successful La Brea Bakery, Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza .
Now, she’s setting her sights on the Valle de Guadalupe wine county, joining with Baja star chef Javier Plascencia to organize and host the first culinary event with her name - and celebrity cachet - attached to it.
For this latest passion project, Silverton has used her considerable clout to corral a blockbuster lineup of California chefs - including two-Michelin starred Dominque Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and Josiah Citrin of Santa Monica’s Mélisse - to cook at the inaugural Valle Wine & Food Festival, to be held Oct. 22 at Plascencia’s ranch-style restaurant Finca Altozano.

The event, a fundraiser for farmworkers and their families in the Valle and quake-damaged Oaxaca, will also be a showcase for the Valle chefs and wine producers that have helped make the rapidly growing region one of the hippest in the world.

Co-host Fernando Gaxiola, of the travel concierge company Baja Wine + Food, said the chefs will have the region’s culinary bounty at their disposal, including fresh local seafood, lamb, quail, suckling pig and produce. There will also be music, a beer garden, cookbook signings and live and silent auctions.

Silverton said in an interview from her Mozzaplex offices off Melrose that she hopes the festival will draw 500 people and that the impressive caliber of the participating chefs will convince fellow Angelenos to venture south.

“San Diegans are more apt to cross the border, but in Los Angeles they always go north to wine country, to Santa Barbara, of course, and up to Napa,” Silverton said.

Though the Valle de Guadalupe has enjoyed a decade-plus worth of glowing press from national restaurant, travel and luxury lifestyle writers and is often referred to as “the next Napa,” it has only recently appeared on Silverton’s radar.

Like a lot of people, she heard about it from a friend who’d been there. Unlike almost everyone, that friend was chef Rick Bayless, the regional Mexican cooking expert and arguably the Valle’s most famous cheerleader.

“Rick was telling me about these great wines from Baja and I said, ‘they make wine in Baja?’ I didn’t even know it existed. And he said, ‘You and everyone else.’ ”

In typical Silverton fashion, she keened her laser focus on the Valle and events quickly snowballed from there. A few encounters with Plascencia - at his former Little Italy hot-spot Bracero and then at Caesar’s, his family’s legendary Tijuana restaurant - led to an invitation to cook with him at Finca Altozano in June.

She became enchanted. A few months later, she’s co-hosting a potentially game-changing star-studded event.

“One of the great things about the Valle is its ruggedness,” Silverton said. “You’re driving on this dirt road and turn left and it’s another dirt road and all of a sudden you turn into a beautiful winery and a fantastic restaurant.”

The rustic, open-fire grills and outdoor settings of many Valle eateries is a big part of the region’s appeal, one she hopes won’t change after all the Angelenos get a taste of a it.

“That’s why it’s so nice and that’s why we maybe shouldn’t do events like this. It will become Napa Valley.”

Valle Wine & Food Festival

When: 2-8 p.m. Oct. 22

Where: Finca Altozano, Carretera Federal #3 Tecate-Ensenada, Km 83, Ejido Francisco Zarco, Valle de Guadalupe

Tickets: $75 (before Oct. 13), $85 after; $350 VIP package Union-Tribune readers can use the promo code bajawinefood for a 10 percent discount.


Transportation: Co-sponsor Baja Wine + Food is offering transportation from San Diego starting at $50. Email

Hosts: Chefs Nancy Silverton and Javier Plascenica, as well as cookbook author Carolynn Carreño and Baja Wine + Food.

Participating chefs: (California) Andrew Spurgin, bespoke events (San Diego); Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn (San Francisco); Josiah Citrin, Mélisse (Santa Monica); Hiro Sone, Lissa Doumani, Terra (Napa Valley); Suzanne Tracht, Jar (L.A.); Timothy Hollingsworth, Otium (L.A.); Ricardo Zarate, Rosaliné(L.A.); Ryan DeNicola, Chi Spacca (L.A.); Dahlia Narvaez, Osteria Mozza (L.A.); Matthew Beaudin, Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey). (Valle) David Castro Hussong, Fauna; Roberto Alcocer, Malva; Jair Téllez, Laja; Mario Peralta, Fuego, Giannina Gavaldòn, Olivia; Sheyla Alvarado, TrasLomita. (Ensenada) Solange Muris, Manzanilla. (Tijuana) Martín San Román, La Rotisserie San Román (Cabo San Lucas) Francis Reynard, Chileno Bay; Yvan Mucharraz, Chileno Bay.