by Joaquin Sanz

It has been three years since Mexican restaurant La Jolla took on the challenge of cultivating organic peppers such as jalapeños and habaneros here in Japan. The team at La Jolla wanted to incorporate these delicious peppers from Mexico into the menu, but wanted them to be served fresh and organically and locally grown.

The owner and management at La Jolla take great pride in knowing that their cuisine has the authentic taste of true Mexican food. Not only are customers able to enjoy spicy peppers just like those grown in Mexico, but they can also dine knowing that these same peppers were grown organically, free from pesticides used in commercially grown peppers.

Through the La Jolla Project, the restaurant works with non-profit programs authorized by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Hikari no Mura Jyusan En is situated in Chiba, roughly two hours’ drive away from Tokyo. Here, La Jolla contributes to a continuing education and employment program for people with development disabilities. The age of these students ranges from teenagers to men and women in their 30s. They are taught to master skills such as makeup box assembly, bread baking, and vegetable cultivation at a farm near the facilities.

Since the beginning of this year, at La Jolla’s request, Hikari no Mura Jyusan En started cultivating the tomatillo plant. Tomatillo is a green fruit resembling an unripe tomato, and is the primary ingredient in the Mexican sauce called salsa verde. Salsa verde is one of the more common sauces found on the tables of households and restaurants all over Mexico. The tomatillo plant is rarely found cultivated in Japan, and it is likely that La Jolla is the very first restaurant in the country to serve fresh salsa verde.

The delicate yellow flowers of the tomatillo plants are in bloom, and the bees are busy pollinating the blossoms. Soon these same blossoms will turn into fragile little green, lantern-like bulbs holding the tomatillo fruit, ready to be harvested. The next step is to simply enjoy the sweet, stimulating yet delicate flavor of tomatillo in the cuisine served at La Jolla.