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The Life of Failed Umpire Drew Deckman

Baja’s wildly intelligent chef talks about life and the precarious future of Valle de Guadalupe

His kitchen is under or near a tree. Lots of them. He’s got goggles on because of the smoke. The first time you see Drew Deckman weidling his giant tongs over live fire at Deckman’s en El Mogor, it feels like you’re in some sort of movie. His bed and car and clothes and family must also smell like smoke.“The minute I first drove into Valle de Guadalupe, I knew I was home, I felt like I’d been there my whole life,” he says of Baja, Mexico’s wine region, which started humble and has now grown into an international destination 90-minutes south of the US-Mexico border. Years after starting his life there, he’d give up his U.S. citizenship to become a Mexican national. It is home.Drew is one of the chefs cooking at the Del Mar Wine + Food Festival. He’ll be at the Grand Tasting (Sept. 10 & 11). He’ll also be cooking with fellow Mexican star Benito Molina (who owns iconic restaurant Manzanilla with his chef wife, Solange Muris), Lodge at Torrey Pines exec chef Kelli Crosson, and Food Network friend (Guy’s Grocery Games, Iron Chef), Beau MacMillan. Actors Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston are also hosting the dinner with their mezcal brand, Dos Hombres.Drew is one of the funniest, most articulate, humblest and give-a-damn people I’ve ever met. Let alone chefs. After you hear him talk for any amount of time, his college degree in philosophy from Rhodes College makes so much sense. He applies that multi-layered thinking to food, agriculture, ecology, hospitality, and wine.He was only supposed to go to Europe for a summer and ended up staying for 10 years, cooking under Paul Bocuse, Jacques Maximin, and other icons. He was chef at Restaurant Vitus in Germany when it earned its first Michelin star. After becoming executive chef for the Four Seasons in Berlin, the hotel group transferred him to Cancun.He comes into the San Diego Magazine offices. He opens his wine that he’s made—a cloudy low-intervention white he specifically made to go well with oysters (he’s a chef-partner in Baja Shellfish Farms), a deep, hearty red. He then rips into tales of a boy from the south who wanted to be a major league umpire but found his way into the kitchen and fell in love with people and the culture of Baja.

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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