PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN GALLOWAY
Top Chef contestant Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins spent her childhood on both sides of the California-Mexico border. At her new San Diego restaurant, El Jardín, she serves gussied-up takes on regional dishes, such as this octopus tikin xic, using ingredients from as far away as the Yucatán and as nearby as her own garden.
The restaurant’s namesake 2,000-square-foot garden provides fresh herbs, such as cilantro and parsley.
“Octopus is one of those dishes that I order anyplace I go,” says Zepeda-Wilkins. She glazes hers in recado, a red adobo paste she sources from a fourth-generation Yucatecan artisan: “It packs a very big punch.”
Zepeda-Wilkins quick-pickles red onions in sour orange juice and then uses the pickling liquid to dress the accompanying herb salad.
Zepeda-Wilkins garnishes the dish with salted roasted pumpkin seeds and crispy longaniza, a chorizo-style sausage sourced from the Yucatán.
Bite-size chunks of romanesco add texture and visual flair. “It reminds me of a Tibetan crown,” the chef says.
While octopus is often served with potatoes, Zepeda-Wilkins instead makes a puree of celery root, carrots, and caramelized onions and then aerates it into a foam so it’s “light and fluffy.”