Benito Molina is a seminal name when it comes to the current fever surrounding Baja’s culinary advance. Raised in Mexico City, Molina attended boarding school in The Alps and high school in Ojai, hooked into a chef’s life over a summer job at Maxim’s back in Mexico, observing chef Jean Yves Ferrer and later taking a role in his kitchen as fishmonger, his obsession with seafood solidified through extensive fishing jaunts around Baja. Molina studied under Michel LeBorgne at Vermont’s New England Culinary Institute before his tenure with Todd English at Olives. Fortuitously, he would later be Baja-bound, leading the kitchen as head chef of La Embotelladora Vieja before establishing his own harbor-side fine-dining legend, Manzanilla with his wife, chef Solange Muris in 2000. Molina’s cooking shines in the sum of his travels and an inward beam pointed at the intrinsic treasures of Baja, using its stunning seafood, native flora, spices and olive oils, along with the wines emerging from Ensenada’s surrounding valleys to meld Mediterranean, European, and Mexican influences into a fertile cooking style that’s made him a star across Latin America.
Molina now has his own television show, wears laurels from international competitions, has cooked aside Rene Redzepi and for Juan Mari Arzak, and is persistently labeled as a “rockstar chef” of Baja.
Tonight will mark the final night of the chef’s three-day appearance at John Sedler’s Playa, where Molina is currently preparing a nine-item a la carte menu, including lengua tiradito with pickled nopales, menudo-inspired orecchiette, and pork loin with vanilla apples and Mayan chimole. Take a look at what we ate last night in our slide show look back at Molina’s Manzanilla pop-up at Playa.