It’s hard to mention the town of Tecate, Baja California without the name Rancho La Puerta coming up. For 75 years, the ranch has had a stronghold in the community, welcoming guests who come to escape everyday life through yoga and meditation classes, clean eating, art workshops, hiking, and a myriad of spa services.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of staying at Rancho La Puerta, but, of course, luxury services come with a luxury price tag, so a week’s stay at The Ranch is out of the question for me. However, I have been extremely lucky to get to know Chef Denise Roa of La Cocina Que Canta, the cooking school at Rancho La Puerta. And since the kitchen is the heart of any home, I feel like when I spend time at La Cocina Que Canta, I’m coming away having experienced the best part of Rancho La Puerta.
Recently, La Cocina Que Canta opened its doors to the public for its new Brunch-Wine-Bazar events where guests come for a Sunday to enjoy regional wine, shop Mexican artisanal goods, take a garden tour with Chef Denise, and, of course, enjoy her delicious food. Round-trip transportation is provided from San Diego so that guests don’t have to worry about driving.
Brunch-Wine-Bazar events were created to focus on the wine and food of this region in Northern Baja where boutique wineries are creating high-quality wines and the farm-to-table movement has taken hold. La Cocina Que Canta is situated in its own beautiful, six-acre organic farm that provides all of the produce for the kitchen. Guests at Brunch-Wine-Bazar get to take a tour of the garden with Chef Denise before eating the dishes that prominently feature the food that came out of the garden.
Unlike the strict alcohol policies at Rancho La Puerta (alcohol is not served at meals nor allowed in public areas), there are thankfully plenty of signature cocktails, wine, and beer at Brunch-Wine-Bazar events. And as the name suggests, the focus is on the wine, especially since the neighboring Valle de Guadalupe is now producing some incredible vintages. In August, the wine tasting included wines from Monte Xanic, L.A. Cetto, Emeve, and F. Rubio.
The menu for Brunch-Wine-Bazar that day in August featured treats like salmon ceviche with mango; oyster shooters; octopus and sesame tostada; and shrimp enchilado with chipotle cream sauce in a jicama tortilla. The meal was topped off with mango panna cotta with fresh figs, coconut and lavender. Chef Denise combines elegant presentation, fresh ingredients, and bold flavors with a subtle finesse.
Meals are served banquet style, outside under the trees overlooking the garden when the weather is agreeable. When it’s too hot or too cold, meals move inside to the dining room. Inside, the open kitchen and dining room of La Cocina Que Canta have a Mexico-meets-Ahwahnee feel, with Saltillo floors, a long wooden dining table, a grand cast iron chandelier, colorful Mexican tiles, and intricate tapestries. Guests dine together at one long banquet table where the conversation is candor, the wine is flowing, and the food is divine.
The magic that brings the whole day together is the unassuming star and driving force behind La Cocina Que Canta, Chef Denise Roa. Chef Denise is, quite simply, the real deal. She’s passionate about every aspect of cooking – the garden the food comes from, the region where she cooks, and the people that she cooks for. It doesn’t hurt that her food is delicious, striking a balance of sophistication and comfort. She spends time throughout the entire event talking to all of her guests. To attend a Brunch-Wine-Bazar event is to be invited into the kitchen and home of Chef Denise with open arms.
Maybe it’s the buzz from the delectable wine and food, but at the end of a Brunch-Wine-Bazar event, you come away feeling like you really have experienced the best that Rancho La Puerta has to offer. My indulgent spa week will have to wait for another lifetime, but until then, I’m content with a day at La Cocina Que Canta. Plus, it’s my personal opinion that life is more enjoyable with a glass (or three) of wine.
For more information about Brunch-Wine-Bazar: www.thebajakitchen.com