Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe has grown exponentially over the last decade, attracting millions of tourists to its ever-growing winery and restaurant community. And one of the valley’s main draws, particularly for American visitors, was Drew Deckman.
The Georgia-born chef cooked around the world in the early 2000s before finally settling in Mexico in 2010 to open three restaurants in Valle de Guadalupe with his wife Paulina, including their flagship, the 12-year-old, all-outdoor Restaurant and farm Deckman’s en el Mogor, named one of the 100 best restaurants in Latin America in 2022 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
After eight years of searching for a restaurant in San Diego, Deckman is now looking to open his first U.S. restaurant in North Park. The Watershed Restaurant will open in the two-story space of the former Hoxton Manor sometime this spring.
The 100-seat restaurant at 3131 University Ave. will include a dining room/bar with a 10-seat chef’s counter and an oyster bar, as well as an upstairs private dining room and a 25-seat rooftop terrace. The 4,200-square-foot project is being designed by Megan Power, principal architect and designer at Workkind Studio in San Diego and formerly of Basile Studio.
Like Deckman’s en el Mogor, Watershed will work with local farmers, fishermen, wineries, breweries and artisan food producers to create a daily-changing menu of about a dozen a la carte items, much of which is prepared on a wood-fired grill.
“The way I cook is the way I cook,” he said in an interview at the Watershed last week. “There is a greater variety of ingredients in San Diego than in the Valle, but the ethics and philosophy and the way we treat people (there) align with the way we run our business here . And I’m excited to actually have a kitchen that I can go in and cook when it rains.”
Deckman said the lack of rain, ingredients and infrastructure in the Valle de Guadalupe has led restaurateurs there to develop a highly sustainable, low-waste, low-carbon ethos that he plans to replicate at the Watershed.
“The name and concept were derived from our desire to preserve the true turning point between Southern California and Northern Baja, but also to mark a turning point in my life, namely to create an inspiring restaurant in the USA that represents the future of sustainable dining defined,” he said.
Just like he did at Valle, Deckman said his daily menu at Watershed will feature only what’s fresh that day from area farms and local fishermen, supplemented by specialty ingredients sourced from Watershed’s own five-acre farm property grown in Ramona. The property is part of a 50-acre winery and sheep farm owned by a Deckman investor and will be planted in early December with ingredients such as artisan carrots grown using low-waste drip irrigation and no chemicals.
To reduce the restaurant’s carbon footprint, Watershed’s animal proteins are sourced exclusively from San Diego County. Aquaculture farms in San Diego and Baja will also provide carbon-reducing plant proteins such as algae and underused species such as mackerel, grondin, hake, as well as farmed oysters, mussels and clams. In addition, wines and beers are only sourced from the region from Santa Barbara south to Baja.
Deckman also plans to donate 1 percent of Watershed’s monthly revenue to support farmers adopting carbon farming projects through grants in collaboration with international nonprofit organization Zero Footprint.
As with the creation of farm-to-table cuisine before it, “sustainable farming” has become the buzzword for most new restaurants in recent years. But Deckman said his goal is to make this style of food preparation more than just a trendy phrase.
“It frustrates me that we even have to have these discussions. For me it is intrinsic. Everyone should do that. It’s the only solution that in 50 or 100 years, if we want to keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to have to take these steps. “Disposable living will simply drive us off the planet,” he said. “If I can get a chef to think the same way I do, or take it to the next level… it will get better and spread more widely.”
Deckman recently completed two years of filming a documentary about seven different regions of Mexico. It was created for PBS in collaboration with Coronado filmmakers Jill Bond and Ajay Sawhney and is scheduled to begin streaming in early 2024.
Deckman said he has rented an apartment in San Diego to oversee construction and will be on site every day for at least Watershed’s first six months. He often commutes the 90 minutes home to his wife and their two young children, but entrusts his Baja restaurants to his wife and extended family while he gets Watershed up and running.
Deckman said he is excited to become part of the San Diego restaurant community after years of driving here three to four times a year to attend food festivals, chef dinners and even some culinary events with his son and fellow chef Sam Deckman , the culinary director for Common Stock Hospitality Restaurants in San Diego.
“I really like San Diego,” he said. “Over the last 10 years, I have watched the offerings and quality of San Diego’s food scene improve exponentially.”
One of the reasons for the rise of San Diego’s culinary scene is the introduction of the Michelin Guide in 2019, which has since awarded Restaurant Addison with three stars and four other local restaurants with individual stars: Jeune et Jolie, Soichi Suchi, Sushi Tadokoro and Most recently, Valle Restaurant in Oceanside, opened in 2021 by Deckman’s colleague and Valle de Guadalupe restaurant chef Roberto Alcocer.
Deckman received his own Michelin star in 2003 while managing the Vitus restaurant in Reinstorf, Germany. However, he said it wasn’t the Michelin Guide that lured him to San Diego (the Michelin Guide will award its first stars in Mexico in 2024).
“I think it’s a mistake to say my goal is to have a star, because you put all your eggs in one basket, and if you don’t get the star, are you a failure?” he said. “Our goal is to have as full a restaurant as possible and have as many happy people as possible. If Michelin thinks what we do is good enough to be included in their guide, then that’s great and what an honor to be in that red book. But that’s not why we come in here.”