When Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero Yagues isn’t in the kitchen smearing mole on his signature wood-fired pizza crust instead of the usual tomato sauce, or using freshly-hunted duck in his burritos, or drenching venison tartare in olive oil, chile and escamoles, aka ant eggs, maybe you can catch him on his motorcycle.
He’ll be the stud with the camo chef coat, a convoy of friends on cycles riding along with him, all followed by trucks filled with guns, fishing harpoons, kayaks, portable grills, camping equipment, and lots and lots of wine.
This fourth-generation Tijuana resident grew up on a ranch and started hunting and fishing at age 5.
“I watched my family hunt and trim meat and fish. They made cheese and grew produce. When I became a teenager I figured out I should learn how to cook what I caught because girls like a guy who can cook,” Guerrero says.
Despite his skills in the kitchen learned early on, Guererro got his law degree and later opened a market and liquor store. He says it was his wife who convinced him he was too good a cook not to become a chef.
He took her advice and went to Mexico City and studied for a year and half. When he returned to Baja in 2001, he cut his market in half and built his first restaurant in Rosarito called La Querencia. This was the birth of what Guerrero has trademarked as the cuisine he calls “Baja Med”.
With his restaurants El Taller, La Querencia, and Almazara, the chef explains that Baja Med is a combination of influences - Mediterranean recipes with Mexican flavors.
“It’s a mix of the easy to grow produce available in Baja and both the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.
"The Mediterranean influences I have are from my Spanish culture. Of course traditional Mexican food influences me, and the valleys of Baja or the Valles De Guadelupe—an area which produces 95% of all the wine made in Mexico. And there’s a very large Asian population in Baja and that influences my food as well,” Guerrero says.
He recently left his responsibilities and three restaurants behind for a twenty-four day, 2800-kilometer trip through Baja. The chef says they caught fish and hunted everyday, drank great wine, and crossed the Sea of Cortez eight times.
“We’d eat elaborate six to eight course meals every night, and sometimes sing Karaoke. It was a trip of a lifetime,” he says.
Though Guerrero could rightfully be a diva, he doesn’t act like one. He says all he wants to do is cook. He tells a story about a recent dinner guest who ate at his restaurant La Querencia. It was a large table of people, he knew they were Irish, he was asked to go out of the kitchen and talk to them. He says he said hello and chatted for a few minutes. It wasn’t until he returned to the kitchen that his staff told him the Irish guy was Bono.
He says he doesn’t know what the future of Baja Med cuisine will be, but he says he’s glad it’s on the map for now. “Eleven years ago we had nothing. No one believed we were important. We couldn’t convince people to come down here for great food,” Guerrero says.
In a couple of months the chef will open a new restaurant called El Taller on 5th. It will be located along a part of the once touristy Revolución Boulevard. Lately this area in Tijuana is fast making a transition from a time where people commonly posed for photos with painted burrows, looked for cheap tequila and found mediocre food.
Guerrero hopes, as all the new hot Baja chefs probably do, that the rise of interest in this area will continue to grow.
With celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Anthony Bordain arriving in Baja recently to see what all the fuss is about, a wider and wider audience is bound to follow.
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.