The first time we set foot in Valle de Guadalupe, we fell in love. I suppose it would be a little hard not to.
Our first trip to Valle de Guadalupe was in July of 2010, and it just so happened that it was alongside photographer Jaime Fritsch. Exploring the landscape and culinary scene, we had little agenda that day, but the visit left a lasting impression on all of us. Now, four years later, we find our love affair with the land manifesting in a new way, as we (as Set & Drift) assist with the latest iteration of a project that Jaime has developed in the past few years, based first in Portland and now in San Diego.
Death For Food, a photographic project fueled by the topic of thoughtful consumption, will host a July 13th harvest + feast in Valle de Guadalupe. Set & Drift is collaborating with Jaime Fritsch and Tijuana based architect Manuel Martinez to develop an experiential exhibition of Jaime's photographic work, which will converge with a culinary event hosted by chef Javier Plascencia at his ranch restaurant, Finca Altozano.
Valle de Guadalupe lies less than two hours south of San Diego, with golden hillsides cradling family ranches, roadside stalls, and sprawling vineyards. What appears quiet is also incredibly productive, turning out something like 90% of Mexico's wine. A community has formed in the valle, and chef Javier Plascencia is one personality among many. An acclaimed chef with restaurants on both sides of the border, he points out establishments in the valle where he sources his restaurant's ingredients; El Mogor, for example, is one part vineyard, one part ranch, flanked with willows and bushy flowers, a few historic houses, a charming farm, and a weekly farmers' market held on site.
Pablo is a young cattle rancher at El Mogor who has studied the ways of small scale "holistic management", as owner Natalia Badan refers to it. Water is now especially scarce in the valle, as it is in California, and at El Mogor they seek to enrich their land through careful management. Pablo will be slaughtering goats and lambs in preparation for the Death For Food dinner, humanely and informed by the training in Sonora and San Francisco that lends to his thoughtful contributions in the valle.
Our photo from El Mogor: Pablo the cattle rancher with Jaime behind the camera
The valle is an ideal setting to exhibit the Death For Food work. The land is photogenic with exploding blooms from otherwise dry brush, amber hills, meandering livestock, and geometric vineyards. Javier has created there the utopian ranch restaurant that is Finca Altozano, with its giant wine barrel lookout towers and grills perched on open-air decks that look out over the hillside below, with its restaurant garden and vineyards. Fellow culinary masters have set up restaurants in the Valle as well - including Corazon de Tierra, Laja, and Deckman's En El Mogor. Vena Cava winery and Escuelita exhibit a stunning modern take on the reuse of materials that is Baja's signature. The valle's establishments are steeped in culinary and aesthetic creativity while remaining connected to the land and the rural landscape. It is enchanting.
Joining up with Death For Food in its first foray into Mexico offers a unique opportunity for cross border collaboration. San Diego's Monkey Paw brewery has collaborated with Javier Plascencia to create a 5-style imperial red ale (the so-called "JAVIER!JAVIER!") brewed with sea salt and Mexican spices and botanicals, which will be released at the dinner to a gathering of guests from both sides of the border. To create a structure for the event, we also looked to collaborate south of the border, reaching out to Tijuana based architect Manuel Martinez, who has also worked with Javier on projects such as his stunning Tijuana restaurant Mision 19. Manuel's expertise spans from architecture to interiors to furniture design, and he is inspired by this comprehensive approach and a guest's total experience of a space.
Art + antiquities at Manuel Martinez's Tijuana studio
In collaborating with Manuel, the plan was to create a structure that would encourage not just a viewing but an experience of the Death For Food photographs. To venture to Mexico, especially as an American, is to disrupt one's daily routine and expectations. When traveling, especially in Mexico, one's senses come alive. Nature is operating on a grand scale in the valle. The Death For Food work is about reconnecting with the land and the food we eat, creating an opportunity for reflection and taking ownership of a process that has largely been cut out of our view, mechanized and sometimes, stripped of humanity. To experience the culinary expressions of Javier and the wine of El Mogor, taking cover from the valle sun under the shade of Finca Altozano's giant oak, is to experience the land viscerally.
Manuel envisioned a structure to house the photos that would engage all the senses - with crackling of hay underfoot, the smell of crushed verbena from the ranch, piles of local wool -- along with the photographic images projected into the space around the viewer. The guests' feeling of the immediacy of the moment is well-tuned, their senses picking up on the bountiful output that flows forth from the land at its prime ripeness. The viewers see some images of animals that by now have long since passed, but feel their presence.
Our photo: Gathering mesquite and eucalyptus in the valle for the exhibition structure
The structure we envisioned with Manuel is a darkened tunnel. The wood beams present crosses that are suggestive of a cathedral or church. It is a place for reverence. The guests are participants in a communal, contemplative experiment.
The entrance is constrained and guests proceed down a tunnel that evokes feelings of death, emerging ultimately into light at the far side. It is a suspension from the reality of the surroundings -- a further disruption that provokes reevaluation, as some illusions die and thoughts are born. In this structure, taking in the photographs of the animals and land of the valle, death itself almost becomes an illusion as one ponders the ever-flowing bounty that continually pours forth from the land -- death recycling into new life.
"You often say 'I would give but only to the deserving.' the trees in your orchard say not so nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live for to withhold is to perish."
During the animal's supreme act of giving, Jaime captures the beauty of humanity -- the beauty of humane treatment. Although difficult at times to take in, the images evoke a sense of awe, gratitude, and reverence for the individual and a singular moment of giving.
We hope you will join us July 13 to take part in this communal feast.
More Details on Death For Food >> The Backstory
Troy Johnson of San Diego Magazine >> "Why I’ve opted to go to Mexico for a day & kill my own dinner"
Tickets for Death For Food's Valle de Guadalupe Harvest + Feast >> Reserve Now