When he was 17 years old, Salvador de la Tejera Alcalde was looking for a vocation that would connect with many other fields of study. He found it in gastronomy, the study of the relationship between food and culture and the art of preparing and serving food.
Some nine years later, he is the coordinator of the School of Gastronomy and Tourism at the University of Santa Fe in Guanajuato, Mexico, the Sister City of Ashland for nearly 48 years. The gastronomy school has 25 students with a faculty of four chefs, including De La Tejera.
This Saturday De La Tejera will prepare a full-course meal for more than 120 guests at the Ashland Amigo Club’s second annual Guanajuato Nights dinner/auction, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Elks Lodge dining room. The evening’s proceeds will go toward the Amigo Club Endowed Scholarship Fund, administered by the Southern Oregon University Foundation to promote the Amistad exchange of students between Southern Oregon University and the University of Guanajuato.
Other Guanajuato guests arriving this week for the dinner/auction include Frances “Faffie” Siekman, wife of Mexican Sen. Juan Carlos Romero Hicks and two high-ranking University of Guanajuato administrators, Dr. Raúl Arias Lovillo, newly appointed academic provost, and Dr. Sergio Silva Muñoz, director of Academic Collaboration and International Affairs. Siekman is a major benefactor of the Amigo Club’s endowment, matching the club’s fundraising dollar-for-dollar.
Since graduating in 2011 with a gastronomy degree from the Guanajuato Polytechnic College, Tejera has become owner of the Mandala Pedir restaurant in Guanajuato.
“When I joined the School of Gastronomy (at the University of Santa Fe), I wanted to do more research, something that I could put my whole heart into,” chef De La Tejera said in an interview Wednesday. He started a gastronomic investigation department where his students have already produced two manuals on culinary techniques.
He takes a historical approach to gastronomic teaching.
“Students (at first) tend to accept a recipe without knowing where it comes from,” he said. “They learn that our (Mexican) recipes have medieval roots.”
He said Saturday’s dinner will feature culinary dishes resulting from 300 years of the adaptation of Mexican indigenous ingredients to Spanish cooking technology and medieval-rooted recipes brought to the New World, including by the noted Franciscan friar and missionary, Friar Bernardino de Sahagún.
It will include a broth of traditional chiles from the Guanajuato region; an ensemble of tamales; and an “Adobo Ashland,” a creation “inspired by the traditional birria,” which is a stew traditionally made from goat meat or mutton. De La Terra’s guided his gastronomy students in modifying the Ashland version to feature chicken instead of the stronger flavored meats.
For dessert, the chef will offer a “very modern take” on a Mexican rice pudding, accompanied by “café de olla,” a spiced coffee.
De La Tejera will be assisted in the kitchen by two of his department’s gastronomy students, Gloria Isabel Pérez Jacinto and Rodrigo Puente Lastiri, who accompanied him to Ashland with photography student Daniel Greenwell Petrány.
The chef’s long list of accomplishments includes organizing this year’s Guanajuato State “Paella Walk” festival, judging the “Guanajuato Christmas Desserts” contest in 2015, and many other competitions, including one called “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.”
When he’s not in the kitchen, Tejera teaches English and French at the university and does translations in both languages. Spanish is his first language, but he also speaks Italian and basic German, Mandarin and Russian.
Amigo Club’s Entre Amigos (Between Friends) column about Ashland ties to its sister city Guanajuato, Mexico, appears on the third Tuesday of each month. Longtime AP reporter and bureau chief Kernan Turner is an Ashland resident and Amigo Club member.