Chef Carlos Valdez: El Rey del Baja California Sur
Chef Carlos Valdez
For decades Baja California Sur has been defined--unfairly-- by the OC on the Sea of Cortez tourist spot: Cabo San Lucas, where American spring breakers go to suck down margaritas, eat nachos until they burst, perform graceless acts at wet t-shirt contests, and develop pre-melanoma lesions under the warmth of the Baja sun. During the 3-year media blitz that has descended upon Baja California, the southern half of the peninsula has stayed on the sidelines, or so it would seem.
I first visited Buffalo BBQ in La Paz back in 2009 and was impressed by the thick cuts of Sonoran beef cooked on a Santa Maria style grill, and the excellent hamburgers, but the menu lacked depth--most of the interesting items were off menu. In the years since my initial visit, Sonoran-born Chef Carlos Valdez has has come up in a major way. On a recent visit to Buffalo BBQ I was surprised by an expanded restaurant and a revitalized master chef of the Sonoran grill and Baja cuisine, a style he calls BajaSon. Chef Carlos Valdez is the best Baja chef you haven't heard of, and is set to reign in Baja California Sur.
Chef Carlos Valdez comes from Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, where carne asada is as serious as mole in el Valle de Oaxaca, carnitas in Quiroga, Michoacan; or barbacoa in Tulancingo, Hidalgo. Sonora also has the distinction of being the greatest surf and turf culture in Mexico, which a huge cattle industry of healthy Angus steer, and the seafood treasures from the Sea of Cortez.
Valdez began a Sonoran style surf and turf restaurant 10 years as a frustrated civil engineer longing to be a professional grill man in La Paz, which is the most exciting food destination in Southern Baja California. He has never had any formal training--he's completely self taught.
Santa Maria style grill at Buffalo BBQ
He mans his custom Santa Maria style grill like a ship's captain orchestrating a daring maneuver at sea, dramatically adjusting the heavy grate. With stern vigilance, he breaks away from socializing frequently to give his young chef instructions as a massive 2 kilo cabreria(bone-in, beef tenderloin) is set down, one of his favorite Sonoran cuts of steak. Valdez's beef comes from a small family ranch in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora called Rancho Los Olvidados, where natural Angus steaks are cut to Valdez's specifications.
Yellow fin tuna roe pâté at Buffalo BBQ
Valdez' modern version of
Tostada de atun at Buffalo BBQ
There have always been Japanese and Chinese flavors in Baja cuisine, mostly in respect to condiments, but Chef Valdez's love for Japanese cuisine and culture goes a step further--he travels there often. His tostada de atun, or tuna tostada is served on a wonton-style toast with algae, tobiko(flying fish roe), black and white sesame, wasabi mayo, and sliced avocado.
La Paz is the perfect Mexican town to visit in B.C.S--all of the necessary tourist comforts, while retaining a Mexican character, and a bold taste of Baja at Buffalo BBQ . Chef Carlos Valdez will be opening a Buffalo BBQ's in Hermosillo later this year, and has future plans to expand his kingdom with branch in the Valle de Guadalupe. Long live the king!
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.