From Baja to the Pacific Northwest and Back: The Culinary Journey of Maylin Chávez - Rancho La Puerta
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From Baja to the Pacific Northwest and Back: The Culinary Journey of Maylin Chávez

Maylin Chávez, a native of Tijuana, Baja California Norte, and an alumna of Rancho la Puerta, infuses her heritage and her love for the sea into every dish she creates. With a background in cooking with diverse ingredients, Maylin’s cuisine bears the direct influence of her experiences.

“My approach to oyster and seafood cookery is to surprise the senses, bringing a fusion of globally inspired flavors to every bite,” she explains.

In 2014, Maylin moved to Portland, Oregon, where she opened her first restaurant. Here, oysters took center stage, blending the bounty of the Pacific Northwest with the vibrant flavors of her Baja roots.

Her culinary talents and establishment have garnered recognition from esteemed publications such as Bon Appétit Magazine’s September 2016 issue, Eater’s 38 Hot List, Sunset Magazine, Food Network’s Best Oyster Bars in America, Northwest Travel & Life, Wine and Spirits Magazine, among others. Maylin has also appeared on popular food shows, including Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games and Chopped. While her restaurant Olympia Oyster Bar on N. Mississippi Ave in Portland closed its doors in 2020, Maylin continues to showcase her culinary prowess through a series of pop-ups across Oregon under her new venture, Nácar.

We look forward to welcoming her and other amazing women back to The Ranch for Culinary week starting July 13.

How has your upbringing in Tijuana influenced your approach to seafood and the flavors you incorporate into your dishes?

Maylin: Growing up in Baja, we were surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, which heavily influenced our cuisine, predominantly focused on seafood. My grandparents and I often walked along the beaches, foraging for ingredients like clams, mussels, and oysters. This experience ingrained in me a deep connection to the flavors of Baja and a Mediterranean-style approach to seafood.

You grew up foraging in Baja?

Yes, indeed. Being immersed in such flavors with my grandparents, who hailed from Ecuador and Sinaloa, instilled in me a passion for cooking and a desire to bring those Baja flavors to my cuisine professionally.

How do you balance creativity and tradition in your cooking?

I find inspiration in both the culture and environment around me. While my foundation lies in traditional Baja cuisine, I incorporate local ingredients from the Pacific Northwest, where I currently reside. For instance, I fuse traditional Baja dishes with locally foraged mushrooms or indigenous ingredients, creating a fusion that honors my roots while embracing new flavors.

Have you faced any unique challenges as a female chef in the culinary industry?

Absolutely. Despite progress, there’s still a pervasive stereotype that women aren’t chefs. Even in my own restaurant, people would ask, “Where’s the chef?” and I’d be right in front of them. But they’d assume I wasn’t the chef; instead, they’d look to my male cooks or sous chef, thinking they must be in charge. It’s this persistent mentality even though women have been running kitchens for ages, often as the matriarchs of their homes. Finding a balance in response to this challenge is crucial. Sometimes, there’s a temptation to overcompensate by being tougher or louder than the guys, even if it goes against your natural demeanor. But I always encourage my fellow women chefs to simply be themselves.

We don’t need to conform to stereotypes of how men or women “should” act. Instead, we should use our own voices, advocate for other women, and raise awareness about these assumptions. Whenever someone assumed I wasn’t the chef or owner of my restaurant, I’d gently question their assumption, leading them to realize their unconscious bias. It’s often not intentional malice; it’s just a deeply ingrained mindset that needs to be challenged and changed.

How important is collaboration and teamwork in a kitchen environment?

Collaboration is everything. My mother-in-law says a team is like a well-balanced salad; a kitchen team requires diverse talents and energies to succeed. You need the texture of the greens, spice in the dressing, and crunch of a seed or topping to make a beautiful salad work and taste and have that perfect bite. Recognizing and valuing each team member’s contribution fosters a cohesive environment where creativity thrives, ultimately enhancing the dining experience for guests.

What should we look forward to from you during the Culinary Festival?

Expect a celebration of shellfish and seaweed, showcasing the flavors I love to cook. These flavors are primarily rooted in my Baja heritage and the fresh vegetables from The Ranch’s farm, which is usually where my cooking migrates to.

What brings you joy?

Joy, for me, is found in the shared experience of food, laughter, and camaraderie. Whether at home with family or in a professional kitchen, creating moments of connection and warmth through food is where I find true happiness.

As you think ahead to cooking with other amazing women chefs at The Ranch, what are your thoughts?

I’m thrilled to collaborate with these incredible women pioneers in the culinary world. Their unique stories and experiences will undoubtedly enrich our culinary journey together. I look forward to sharing and learning from each other in this magical setting.

Learn more about Baja Culinary week and the all star cast of Chefs and Vintners who will make the week so special.