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Behind the Scenes of the Big BajaMed Story

10 questions with writer Dana Goodyear on shadowing Javier Plascencia in TJ for The New Yorker

Photo by Courtesy photo

I'm guessing The New Yorker's newsstand sales and iPad stats are going to show a spike from the San Diego region this week, as everyone seems to be reading The Missionary, a "Letter from Tijuana" about Chef Javier Plascencia. We were especially excited to see the coverage, considering we've been fans of his for a while ("50 People to Watch in 2012," Best Bets by the Border in February 2012, Mision 19 review in November 2011, Romesco review in 2006 and in 2011). And I'm always curious what bigtime journalists from other cities and national publications think about our city when covering trends, people or events here. Lucky for us, staff writer Dana Goodyear was kind enough to answer a few questions on her experiences reporting and writing the story.

 

1. How many times did you visit Tijuana during your reporting? I went to Tijuana four times, staying for two to three days on most visits.

2. Did you venture south or east at all into the Guadalupe Valley? I made a three-day trip to the Guadalupe Valley and Ensenada for La Fiesta de la Vendimia in August.

3. You’re based in LA. Did ever fly in/out of TJ or did you drive across the border? What was your longest wait time coming back? Mostly, I took the Surfliner to San Diego, and then took a trolley to the border and walked across. Sometimes I drove and left my car in the lot on the US side, and crossed by mini-bus. I also got rides from Plascencia, who crosses often and has a Sentri pass. It never took me all that long but I think I lucked out. I saw ridiculously long lines, and heard horror stories.

4. Do you speak Spanish? Any funny stories about the language barrier? I don't speak Spanish, though I can understand a bit. Everyone I dealt with--from chefs to taxi drivers--spoke good English, reinforcing my sense of the strong links that exist between the Northern Mexico and Southern California.

5. I’m assuming you ate very well during your time getting to know Plascencia. What was the best thing you tasted?  The food at Mision 19 is excellent and ambitious, and I loved just about everything I tasted there (including that bone-marrow-and-tuna dish), but I would have to say that the sea-urchin at Cebicheria Erizo, Javier's casual ceviche spot, was the most delicious. It's based on the Acapulco-style tacos and cocktails prepared at La Guerrerense, a divine street cart in Ensenada. 

6. And then off the clock, back at your hotel, did you ever just go for a Tecate? Or 4? The contrast in dining experiences over the course of a few days must have been pretty stark. Shadowing Javier meant I didn't get back to my hotel till 2 most nights. My "off the clock" time was in the early morning. La Stazione Café was wonderful: fresh, warm pumpkin bread and a bright, bitter macchiato. 

7. We are outright fans of Plascencia in San Diego. Do you sense Angelenos clamoring to “claim him,” too? Did you end up rooting for him and the BajaMed movement by the end of your trip/reporting? How could you not root for Plascencia and his fellow Baja chefs! I do think that people in L.A.--and certainly the food-obsessed--are increasingly aware of him. I wouldn't be surprised if he opened a place here. My sense is that he fields offers all the time.

8. After getting to know Plascencia and the BajaMed cuisine “scene,” how do you see the San Diego market fitting into that picture? Did you get the sense that the local food community (diners, not just growers/producers) here is an important part of the movement? Or is it more focused on LA/other international markets? San Diego seems like an essential piece of the project--the diners and critics' support mean a lot to him, as does the produce that he can get from nearby vegetable and aquaculture farms that just happen to be on the US side of the border. Then again, part of the reason the scene has flourished has to do with the space opened up for interesting local dining and entertainment in the wake of the lost tourist business. What is going on there feels very Mexican, and that's what makes it interesting, but to survive and grow San Diego and the rest of the US will have to recognize its value, too.

9. I’ve enjoyed your blog posts about Super Rica, Umami Burgers and other fun food topics on Culture Desk. Come across any notable eats in San Diego lately? There's so much I've wanted to try there but haven't had the chance yet. Mostly, reporting this story, I ate chicken-salad sandwiches from the Starbucks across from the train station. 

10. It’s rare that we (San Diego region) get attention from the likes of a culture-focused staff writer from The New Yorker. After spending some time passing through, any final thoughts on our fine city at the moment? I love the energy of San Diego--youth, tech, homebrews. And, like anyone passing through, I think you've got the most beautiful train station around.

 

Dana Goodyear is a staff writer for The New Yorker. “Honey and Junk,” (2005), her first collection of poems, is now available in paperback. She lives in Los Angeles.

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