Sol Cocina: Authentic Baja flavor

Bold Baja flavors in airy space alongside the Newport Beach Harbor draw a local dining crowd hungry for fresh, tongue-tingling Mexican food. Photo: Linda Mensinga

NEWPORT BEACH, Ca, June 30, 2011 – Authentic Mexican flavor with some twists sets Sol Cocina apart from the fare served in most restaurants. What executive chef/partner Deborah Schneider calls “the death hubcap of sludge” refers to the deep-fried, cheese-covered, red sauce-loaded dishes of tacos, burritos, fajitas and enchiladas served everywhere. “You never see it in Mexico. That’s not how they eat down there,” she said. 

Chef Deborah Schneider

Chef Deborah Schneider

She describes her food at Sol Cocina as Cabo or Sinaloan style. Although it’s become a cliché to label food freshly made, the smell alone of the homemade tortillas is a journey to the land of corn.  Her Baja-style street tacos are the biggest sellers on her menu.

The long time Mexican food enthusiast has published four books on the subject and will soon begin a fifth.

The petite chef, author, teacher, 55, was executive editor for a publishing house in Toronto. However, “I hate office work and love food,” she said about switching to cooking. She did six months of intense hands-on training at a Cordon Bleu school in Toronto. And, “I taught myself to cook through Julia (Child). One sweetbread recipe took me three days. I had to make stock, pastry shells and more. But the dish was incredible.”

Her first cooking jobs were on luxury yachts. “My boyfriend was a marine electrician,” Schneider recalled and he got her into cooking for owners and guests sailing around Europe. She also explored France, Spain, Italy, Greece and North Africa between jobs on a BMW motorcycle. She stayed on the water as a yacht chef in Florida and the Caribbean before moving to San Diego.

San Diego is conveniently close to Mexico and Schneider’s work with Mexicans led her to travel there. She discovered the food at street stands and continues to visit Tijuana, just over the border, to shop and eat. The food in those stands up and down the coast of Baja became the inspiration for her books and food at Sol Cocina.

Schneider cooked at several restaurants and hotels in and around San Diego including the La Jolla Torrey Pines Hilton. There she became executive chef, the only female in the company to hold that position.

Being a female in a male-dominated industry has never bothered Schneider. Women in the kitchen are a common sight now but 30 years ago not so much. “People told me to get the hell out of the business,” Schneider remarked.

Her best advice to others? “Show up, suit up, shut up and do your best.”

Schneider credits her crew as inspiration for new dishes. “I’ve worked with Mexican men since 1985. They’re my best friends. When I make a salsa I take it to them and ask what they think.”

Recently returned from a two-week tour of Mexico sponsored by the Mexican government and led by Patricia Quintana, Schneider found more food to love. “The flavors are real inspiration for me. Going to Mexico is going to the mother lode, experiencing the way salsas are supposed to taste,” she said. “Once you understand how to use chiles, you can mess around with them.”

“They eat a lot of soups and stews, guisados. In the south they eat a ton of fruit, in the north a lot of meat,” Schneider explained.

She expects to see regional Mexican food grow in popularity. “Think about Italy 20 years ago. There was spaghetti and red sauce,” she said. Schneider mentioned the importance of corn and pork in Michoacan, moles from Oaxaca, pibil pork and achiote from Yucatan.

The James Beard Award-nominated author began writing for the Union Tribune, the San Diego daily10 years ago. From there she moved to cookbooks, her first title ¡Baja! Cooking  on the Edge was chose by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the best books of 2006.

In her most recent Amor y Tacos Schneider recreates street food tacos from Baja in new ways along with tequila-based cocktails and antojitos (appetizer-sized snacks).

Future plans?  Another cookbook and another Sol Cocina. “We’re looking in several locations for just the right place!”

Sol Cocina
251 E. Pacific Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA
949-675-9800 

Menu highlights

Guacamole Sol $10.50

our naked guacamole, topped with mango, tequila, creamy goat cheese, toasted pepitas & cilantro, with tostadas

Warmed goat cheese $11

encrusted with salted peanuts, with sweet/hot chipotle syrup & cilantro sprigs, served with tostadas

Panuchos $7

ancho chile empanadas (2) stuffed with locally-made Mexican cheese, roast squash and sweet potatoes, fried and topped with black beans, pico de gallo, crema & lettuce

Taco vampiro $6.75

double tortilla stuffed with melted cheese, Serrano chile and scallions, with carne asada, guacamole, pico, chipotle sauce & cotixa cheese

Shrimp taco dorado $5.75

chipotle-garlic shrimp, cooked on the plancha with jack cheese, mango salsa, guacamole & cilantro $5.75

Halibut taco gobernador  $9.65

alaskan halibut with lemon & garlic ona taco dorado with eaxaca cheese, salsa gobernador, avocado, onion & cilantro, pico de gallo & lettuce

‘Hot & raw’ tropical ceviche  $14.50

¡spicy! Raw fish ceviche with fresh lime & orange, habanero chiles & tropical fruit, avocado, cucumber & pico de galo, served in a tall glass with sweet potato & red beet chips

Kurobuta pork carnitas $19.50

Heirloom pork slow-roasted and shredded, served en cazuela with diced avocado, onion & cilantro, tomatillo salsa & chicarron, warm corn tortillas

Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trends for 15 years, now a contributing writer. If you have a great restaurant, recipe or food you’d like to share please send an email.  You can reach her at mensingabakes@gmail.com or Linda@culinarytrends.net.

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Linda Mensinga

Linda Mensinga was editor of Culinary Trends for 15 years, now a contributing writer. Researching restaurants and hotels, she interviews the best and brightest chefs, not necessarily the most famous, to learn their secrets and recipes. Their talent and dedication never cease to inspire her. 

Mrs. Mensinga is happily food obsessed and fortunate enough to be married to a chef. 

Contact Linda Mensinga

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