When chef Eric Celaya heard that Pechanga Resort Casino’s first Tacos & Tequila Festival was happening on Saturday, Sept. 16, he immediately thought of throwing a big party.
“It’s Mexican Independence Day, and that day is a party, where a lot of the Hispanic communities go out, drink a little bit of tequila, taste good food, dance around and enjoy good company,” Celaya said. “It’s exciting to bring the Latin American community together to enjoy something like this.”
Celaya, now the chef de cuisine of 1882 Cantina, will participate in the first Tacos & Tequila Festival at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula. The single-day event is the newest of the venue’s food and beverage festivals, that also include the Wine Festival & Chocolate Decadence Festival, Sushi and Sake Festival and the Microbrew Craft Beer and Chili Cook Off Festival, all of which are hosted in partnership with Habitat For Humanity Inland Valley.
This festival will feature a live banda, specialty tacos cooked by Pechanga’s restaurant chefs and more than 40 booths serving samples of tequila, mezcal, Mexican beers, margaritas and micheladas.
During a press sampling event last month, some of the taco highlights include a fried potato and shrimp taco by Journey’s End, birria and quesabirria tacos by Catering and Banquets, Taiwanese beef tacos by Blazing Noodles and stuffed crab and squash blossom crispy tacos by Pechanga Café.
Each guest will get to vote for the best taco and award the winning restaurant a trophy.
“All of the different restaurants get to create the tacos according to them,” Celaya said. “It’s about being creative, and it doesn’t have to be a traditional taco, you can make a taco out of anything, and that’s what makes this all so fun.”
Celaya has been at Pechanga Resort Casino for five years, including his position as sous chef at the Great Oak Steakhouse. When 1882 Cantina opened in 2021, he took his cooking skills to the restaurant to experiment with different Mexican flavors and winning any skeptics over with his spin on traditional Mexican dishes.
He credits his cooking style to his grandmother, who sometimes offered words of wisdom with each hot plate. Her advice consisted of not cooking when you’re angry (with the exception of salsa because anger adds more of a kick); otherwise, your food will come out bad. Like many Latin cooks, she never wrote down her recipes or measured the ingredients formally, but thanks to years of experience, she managed to estimate the ingredients with precision every time.
“She was always like ‘un poquito de esto y un poquito de aquello,” Celaya said, which in English translates to “a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” “I believe that if you cook something with your heart and that you put love into it, the food is going to speak for itself. When I cook something, I’m doing it because I enjoy it and am happy, and it reflects in my dishes that people try.”
Celaya is spearheading the 1882 Cantina team and cooked a beef cheek taco, braised and marinated with several spices, including coriander, chili ancho and guajillo peppers. The beef cheek is marinated for four hours, which allows the beef to become extra tender and flavorful. It is then served on a warm flour tortilla topped with cilantro, onions, and a sweet and savory salsa made with jalapenos and onions.
“Pour yourself a little shot of tequila with my tacos, and I’m sure you’ll be happy,” Celaya said.
Ryan Sharpe, director of beverage at Pechanga Resort Casino, said silver and tequilas blancos make a good pairing for enhancing the flavors of certain tacos. He also suggests that guests who have yet to dabble in tequila start with that flavor of tequila because they are cleaner and not aged. For the festival, he made sure to include popular suppliers such as Don Julio and Patron and showcase tequila products like the clear distilled Cristalino that’s been growing in popularity.
“We’ll have a lot of educators there, so guests shouldn’t be afraid to ask any questions,” Sharpe said. “People who may not know anything about tequila can walk out with a really good understanding and passion for it.”
Tammy Marine, chief executive officer of Habitat For Humanity Inland Valley, will also present since the charity organization is the main beneficiary of proceeds from the festival to help with housing in Southwest Riverside County. Items such as Kobe Bryant memorabilia, art, jewelry and purses will be part of a silent auction to raise money. Other tickets to local experiences, such as a wine tasting and balloon ride in Temecula, will also be raffled.
“These events are outstanding, vibrant, creative and fun with entertainment that is always top-notch,” Marine said. “We’re really looking forward to the first Tacos & Tequila Festival because we know it will represent that excellent experience that Pechanga Resort Casino puts forward, and it’s going to provide a really fun time for everyone involved and also raise money for a good cause at the same time.”
Tacos & Tequila Festival
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16
Where: Pechanga Summit, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula
Price: $100 for general admission; $150 per person for VIP. Tickets can be purchased at 877-711-2946 or pechanga.com.
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