Long Beach Couple to Host Famed Baja Chef for Popup Dinner

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Chef Roberto Alcocer. Photo courtesy of Erin-Lee Skilton.

Foodies and Long Beach residents Erin-Lee and Darren Skilton noticed something amiss in the LBC’s culinary scene: popup dinners.

Massively popular in Los Angeles, popup dinners allow access to high-end chefs and food without the hustle’n’bustle of waiting to get into a place like Bestia or Providence. The Skiltons have decided to take their love of Mexico and Long Beach to bring us the inaugural Alta Cocina, a popup dinner in a residential backyard that will act as the kitchen for famed Baja cuisine master Roberto Alcocer.

Alcocer01If you don’t know of Alcocer, we’re talking the man behind Malva Cocina de Baja California (at the Mina Penélope Winery) and the Executive Chef of Tahal (at the Baron Balche Winery), both in the Valle de Guadalupe. Unafraid of the unconventional—think beef heart, salicornia, and Mexican craft beer—Alcocer is classically trained and follows what is now the norm with Baja chefs: a mix of European and Mexican styles to elevate Mexican cuisine into otherworldliness. Alcocer has become part of the exploding culinary scene bursting out of our neighbors to the south.

The pairing of Long Beach and Alcocer’s talents is a logical one given the Skiltons love of and obsession with Mexican culture. For Darren, the (tall?) tale of his great great uncle being involved with Pancho Villa prompted him to look beyond his then-un-homely home of Irvine and into the south, where he immediately fell for the people, history, and gastronomical wonders of Mexico. For Erin-Lee, her father had been carting her to the sand dunes of Baja for some motor buggy-ing and deep sea fishing in San Quintin since she was a child.

“I vividly remember my senses being alive—even at that young age,” Erin-Lee said. “My first tamale, the taste of limes on everything, the genuine warmth of the local people… I think I was 4 or 5 and I remember it like it was yesterday; that feeling still exists for me today.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 2.16.35 PMThe two have spent extensive time in Baja, eventually buying home in the “pueblos magicos” town of Alamos, Sonora after getting married last year in Ojos Negros. It was through this Mexico-as-a-second-home process (in addition to Erin-Lee’s work on shows like Top Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen) that the Skiltons slowly but surely learned the intricacies of Baja cuisine (beyond the famed Caesar salad, birthed in Baja but rarely recognized for it).

“We find that when you share local food experiences with people form a culture other than your own, your perspective changes and you start to understand their histories becoming more aware of their life experiences and hopefully more appreciative or empathic to their ideas and opinions and ideologies,” Erin-Lee said. “This has always been important to us when traveling.”

They are now bringing 48 individuals the special privilege of enjoying that experience as they host Alcocer at an undisclosed Long Beach residence for two nights (24 people per night).

The menu? Up-in-the-air, as Chef Roberto “is an adventurous chef, who pushes the envelope—so whatever the 7-course meal consists of, it will be amazing,” Erin-Lee said.


Borrego birrioso. Photo by Fernando G. Carbajal.

The vibe? Relaxed but classy under the stars at a private garden.

The cost? A suggested donation of $100 that covers food cost, travel for Alcocer, the purchasing or renting tables, table ware, and so forth.

More importantly, the couple hopes the event is a success because they want to do more.

“I was also a theater producer for many years with Greenway Arts Alliance in LA and I look at this project in the same way as we looked at shows: goals of provoking thought and conversations about life,” Erin-Lee said. “We just happen to have a chef as the lead role, rather than an actor… We hope to continue these dinners throughout the year, bringing different chefs from around the world—Africa, South America—embracing different cultures through food and drink, continuing to provoke thought and conversation around cultures other than our own.”

The Baja dinners will be held in Long Beach (specifics upon reservation) and will take place Tuesday and Wednesday, September 23 and 24. Tickets for the dinner are a suggested $100 donation. To RSVP please email [email protected].

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.