Campobaja's Oyster Workshop, Taste of the Sea in the Heart of Mexico City
By Sascha Zuger
Mexico City's restaurant scene feeds the obsession of culinary travelers by celebrating a wealth of native delicacies. For the elite chefs of the capital, one alarming trend is seeing the best of native Mexican ingredients shipped off to higher paying markets instead of being rediscovered in their home.
One such local ensuring ingredients are enjoyed in the country's capital is Campobaja's chef-owner Ezequiel Hernández, who is passionate about investing in the country's best with guests from around the world at his exclusive oyster workshop chef table events.
"People forget what real food taste like; they forget their heritage if we don't save some for ourselves," says Hernández of his beloved treasures of the sea.
A culinary community
Hernández grew up in a small fishing village on the Baja coast, following his father as he toiled in the family's seafood business. His interest in restaurants grew as he did, trying every position from front of house to cook to manager. After college, he explored his heritage and the culinary scene of his father's native Oaxaca before finding his true home in Mexico City as the chef-owner of the restaurant, CampobajaOpens in a new window in your browser.
Yet at Campobaja, Hernández missed the briny, buttery goodness of the fresh oysters from the West Coast. His solution? Enlist his family and friends to bring a taste of the coast to his hip eatery. Today, one cousin dives for shellfish inside Baja's protected bays, while another harvests oysters via seeded ropes accessed by boat. And oysters aren't the only food that's towing a community effort.
"I personally love a flour tortilla, but with the altitude [in Mexico City] they could not rise," laments Hernández. Soon neighborhood women from home were rolling and flattening endless stacks of fresh tortillas to join the crates of seafood. The family business now focuses on providing the best of Baja, to the best kitchens in Mexico City.
A taste of the sea
Hernández also educates visitors at his trendy Campobaja eatery through oyster tasting workshops. Guests belly up to a U-shaped communal table facing the open kitchen. The table, made with recycled wooden planks from fishing boats, is an homage to the sea.
Visitors first sample four oysters in their raw, natural state without the usual lemon or sauce. Different oysters — San Quintin, one large and one small, Rincon de Ballenas and San Carlos — have distinct tastes and shapes. To his patrons, Hernández explains they are the same species of Japanese oyster, harvested as close as fifty yards apart. Variances in the water's nutrients, he explains, change their taste, much like growing up in different neighborhoods within the same community.
The second course involves lighter-in-flavor, plump Kumiai and smaller, sweeter Kumamoto. The chocolate clam, the rare Pismo clam, and three different parts of geoduck (a large saltwater clam) are also served with a chef-led tutorial on how to combine each with up to twelve different salsas, sauces and accompaniments for the perfect bite. Unexpected options include homemade ponzu and extra virgin oil from mission olives and guacamole with chicatanas, flying ants that have become a delicacy from Oaxaca.
The meal is expanded with a third course of whole-roasted fish, yellowtail amberjack and rockot, with blue maize and Baja tortillas, and finished with lychee-rose ice cream. A final mezcal toast ends the evening, as satisfied strangers-turned-friends stroll arm-in-arm into the Colonia Roma night.
Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CIBC or their partners.
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