Susan Luzzaro 6:30 p.m., July 31
Tijuana's culinary future
If Juan Plasencia is any indication, the next generation of TJ restaurateurs will continue the dining renaissance south of the border.
Right now, high-school senior Juan Plasencia is living in the shadows of his father and uncle, the big names behind Grupo Plasencia’s family of restaurants in Tijuana (Caesar’s, Casa Plasencia, etc.) and San Diego. For a young guy just getting his start in the world, those are some big shoes to fill.
But Juan’s got his own ideas about the future of Tijuana’s food and dining scene, and he’s already starting to think about his role in that future. Partly to get a good grade in his senior business seminar--partly to demonstrate that he’s worthy of someday playing a big role in his family’s business--Juan just organized the “Tijuana Makes Me Hungry” event at the San Diego Public Market. Held in conjunction with the Taste of Asia, Tijuana Makes Me Hungry (a play on the title of a movie) brought some TJ restaurants up to San Diego to showcase the southern city’s culinary style. Proceeds went to “Just Call Us Volunteers.”
When I talked to young Juan, as he cooked a huge batch of paiella for his event, I got the idea that he doesn’t want to just sit back and quietly work his way into the family business. He plans to head out to Vegas for school and to learn how the hotels there are run. He wants to bring that kind of ambition back to TJ with him and work towards building bigger and better things for his city.
He still thinks that TJ, and TJ’s businesses, need promotion. The city’s reputation as a dangerous place needs to go if Tijuana is going to fully revitalize and become the destination city it was when Caesar’s restaurant (which Juan’s family owns) and other places were serving salads and cocktails to Hollywood stars. The best way to make that happen, in Juan’s eyes, is to keep things growing, to keep opening new restaurants and hotels and to work towards a more vibrant Tijuana.
Juan’s still young and a little shy talking about himself. He doesn’t have the ready answers and sound bites that older restaurateurs often resort to when they go on the record about things. At the same time, it’s obvious that he’s a smart kid with ideas in his head. If Tijuana’s recent culinary rebirth is going to continue, it will take a lot of kids like Juan keeping the ball rolling.
More like this:
- 9/11 is the best thing that ever happened to Baja cuisine — Dec. 25, 2013
- El Take it Easy set to close April 22 — April 12, 2013
- Fourth of July: Caesar Would Have Turned In His Grave? — July 4, 2012
- Missionary Revives Caesar, His Salad...And Now His City? — Feb. 24, 2012
- Tacos Are a Tiny Taste of Temptation — Jan. 23, 2008