W.C. Fields is credited with the old Hollywood saw: “Never work with children or animals.” The attribution may be questionable. The wisdom is not. That was on full view at the Press Conference for Travel + Leisure México’s Gourmet Awards on November 6 at the spectacularly beautiful Centro Cultural Riviera in Ensenada.
As Baja California Tourism Minister Oscar Jesus Escobedo Carignan spoke about the importance and impact of gastronomic tourism in Baja a tuna crossed the stage. It did not swim and it did not make that crossing solo but it certainly did steal the show. Where a moment before the entire press corps had been focused on Escobedo’s words suddenly they only had eyes for tuna. Never mind that the fish was carried, in a plastic bag by Javier Plascencia and a line cook, that tuna eclipsed even Plascencia’s star power.
It was a fitting metaphor for the evening. As much as the event resembled a Mexican foodie Oscars, as much as it was about the words of men, what it was really about was that tuna: the bounty of Baja. There would be a non-Baja winner of the Best of the Best award (the “Best Picture” big one), the big winner on the evening was the host State: Baja California. And Baja took home some statues too.
Plascencia was one of those. His Finca Altozano won the award for Best Concept over six other competitors (including the eventual Best of the Best winner).
Another Baja champion was Diego Hernandez’s Corazón de Tierra, which won for Baja’s best restaurant.
Perhaps the most important – certainly judging from the applause – was Sabina Bandera’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
That “Best Picture” statue – Best of the Best – went to Pablos Salas’ Toluca restaurant, Amaranta, about an hour from Mexico City.
But the big win was for that tuna and for Baja. And my modest bit of advice to Minister Escobedo is to echo Fields apocryphal saying: don’t let an animal on his stage.
Complete list of winners:
Best of the Best: Pujol
Best New Restaurant: Aperi
Best Tasting Menu: Le Chique
Best Concept: Finca Altozano
Best Hotel Restaurant: Aperi / Dos Casas San Miguel de Allende
Best Art of the Plate: Alcalde
Best Sweet Experience: La Postrería
Best Local Restaurant (Host State): Corazón de Tierra
Lifetime Achievement: Sabina Bandera
People’s choice: Quintonil
Mixology: Expendio Tradición
Best Regional and Traditional Cuisine: Nicos
Best Casual Dining: Cortéz