The greatest impediment to understanding some people—and even some restaurants—is figuring out which storyline to follow. Sometimes there are so many varying angles and storylines, one’s spoiled for choice. Pull on one string, one picture presents itself; pull on another, and an entirely different story emerges. That seems to be the case with chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins and her El Jardín (2885 Perry Road) restaurant in Liberty Station.
There’s the story of Zepeda-Wilkins’ TV career: from darling of Top Chef Mexico (Season 2) to bad girl of Top Chef (Season 15) in America. She was also a total badass on Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen. There’s her personal story: kicked out of the house at 15 and a single mother within three years. There’s the story arc of her career: working for Rancho La Puerta’s Denise Roa, then two-time James Beard Award winner Gavin Kaysen, before taking the helm under Javier Plascencia at the short-lived, but late-lamented, Bracero Cocina de Raiz.
And there’s no shortage of story threads to choose from with El Jardín itself. Is it about the role of women in the building and assembling of Mexican cuisine? Is it about the richness, variety and depth of Mexico’s regional cuisines? Is it a politico-social statement or one that’s more socio-historical?
Based on multiple visits, I’d say it’s simply a culinary story, but with the other streams feeding into that.