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Acid Test with Claudette Zepeda

We’re honored and excited to have chef Claudette Zepeda as our next guest in our Acid Test interview series with chefs, winemakers, brewers, bartenders, and other culinary creatives. 

James Beard Best Chef West semifinalist Claudette Zepeda is a San Diego-based chef most recently known for her time as the executive chef & partner behind El Jardín, a regional Mexican restaurant in San Diego. During her tenure, El Jardín received a glowing review from the New York Times, inclusion on Esquire’s 2018 Best New Restaurants, and recognition from Michelin on their 2019 Bib Gourmand list. Her next adventure will see her at the helm of the kitchen at the soon-to-open Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas. Known for her fearless culinary style and bold approach to regional Mexican cuisine, Zepeda was also a competitor on Top Chef Season 15 and Top Chef Mexico.

What does acidity mean to you?

Acidity is the cornerstone for balance whether it’s a savory or sweet dish.

What does acidity bring to food?

It brings surprise and clarity in the other flavors—does the heavy lifting so to speak for the more rounded earthy notes.

What are some of your favorite ways to feature acidity in your cooking?

I use acidity in every dish, through lime, lemon, fruit vinegars, or wine vinegars. I let the dish tell me what it needs and adjust accordingly. Vinegar is usually added at the end to keep the flavor alive.

Do you have a favorite flavor-tripping memory?

Most recently I was playing with a classic cajeta recipe which I’ve been doing for years. Growing up I remember being covered in sticky cajeta after devouring the wood box that housed the freshly made confections made by the nuns near my aunt’s house. Classic cajeta envinada calls for a great splash of white wine to provide acid. I swapped it for a pineapple vinegar and the complexity changed completely! I discovered a way to move history forward with dishes that are hundreds of years old.

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