A decade after the magical summer of 2012, when a three-month ‘vacation’ from chef Drew Deckman’s successful Cabo restaurant turned into an epiphany that became Valle de Guadalupe’s most iconic restaurant, you’d be surprised to think that there’s still certain things untouched by time, other than Deckman’s at El Mogor’s jazz-centric soundtrack.
POR ERICK FALCÓN | FALCAO COMMUNICATIONS
“Oh, definitely the jazz has been there since day one. Our soundscape is based on what I think were the best decades of jazz, and it’s the music I like to listen to when I’m cooking,” says chef Drew Deckman, fresh from the 3-pm rush hour shift.
Deckman first came to Valle de Guadalupe in 2011 to work as culinary advisor to now legendary winemaker Hugo D’Acosta. It was three months of dinners, discovery and dusk-til-dawn wine tastings with D’Acosta and fellow friends and colleagues like winemakers Thomas Egli, Daniel Lonnberg, Amado Garza and craft beer brewer Nathaniel Schmidt, who all would become some of Ensenada’s culinary scene pioneers. Valle de Guadalupe was still an upcoming, relatively undiscovered region in the international wine map, yet Deckman felt it like a calling.
“I didn’t want to return to Cabo, so I came back to Valle. I hace so many fond memories, like Amado and other people helping hang the string lights onto the trees. And ten years later, these people are not only business partners or friends, they’re family.”
With only a few chairs, a couple of recycled wood tables and no waiters, Deckman’s en el Mogor opened during the wine harvest season of 2012 to offer an intimate, ingredient-first dining experience in Valle de Guadalupe, setting the stage for the boom of the then-only summer culinary scene in this region, along with a handful of chef colleagues like Diego Hernández, Jair Téllez, Benito Molina or Roberto Alcocer.
Two years later, Deckman closed down his project in Cabo, and decided to stay in Valle to be the first restaurant in the region to be open all-year round, instead of just cashing in during the crowded Vendimia season.
“We thought it’d be good enough just to make the week and pay our workers. Some things worked, some didn’t. But we kept growing, and soon thought of opening another restaurant, which happened with Conchas de Piedra three years later.”
From 2015 to 2019, Deckman’s en el Mogor was undoubtably one of Valle de Guadalupe’s top culinary gems, and business grew exponentially as its popularity soared, allowing Drew and wife Paulina Deckman to employ dozens of local people and open another two restaurants, Baja Omakase(in association with chef Toshiaki Tsutada) and Conchas de Piedra, Valle’s first oyster bar, located next to Casa de Piedra winery.
Reservations were full. Vendimia celebrations, special dinners, deals, orchards to be taken care of, a growing family, food media notoriety, awards and hundreds of tables waiting to be served. It was crazy years, and they took their toll. The increasing pressure made Deckman feel overwhelmed by his own success.
We got to a point were we exceeded our capacity. We were overworked, too much stress, feeling like a circus cage. It almost came to the point that I did not wanted my own name to be associated with my restaurant. People I trusted were actually stealing and using our stuff for their own benefit. It was tough, but we learned a lot during that period.”
Then came the pandemic, and everything closed, but it allowed Deckman to take time off to think things through, and three words stuck to him again and again, as they had done so since his first days in Valle: ingredient, ingredient, ingredient.
It was a reminder. The core essence of the Deckman’s gastronomic philosophy.
“I think you can feel that, it’s more than an idea we had in 2012, it’s now become more of our lifestyle,” says Deckman, who credits wife Paulina with marrying not only him personally, but his vision on creating a sustainable-first oriented culinary experience, and helping him tinker every minute detail, from ingredient sourcing to the restaurant’s earth-and-hen walls.
I’ve learned much as a chef, as a manager, as a person, from mistakes, from past dishes, even from the pandemic. And I think that’s key to filtering out what you want to do, and in my case, how I want to manage my restaurant.”