The Saints of Todos Santos: La Casita Chef Sergio Rivera

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

You may have noticed a certain remarkable phenomenon that occurs when you take visitors to dine at La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar in Todos Santos: Chef Sergio comes over to greet you; he politely inquires where your guests are from; then, seemingly no matter what place your guests claim as home, Chef Sergio tells them how much he enjoyed his time in their city. And in more cases then not, he’ll tell them about the time he lived in their city, describing neighborhoods, restaurants and, claro, girls he dated.  We’ve heard this happen with visitors from all points of the compass in the USA: from Phoenix, AZ to St. Paul, MN; from New York, NY to San Francisco, CA. Never fails! But how could such a thing be? How could a poor boy from Mazatlan have visited – let alone lived in – so many places on and around the American continent? Surely it must be some sort of charming restauranteur’s parlor trick? Some sort of travel magazine savant’s tomfoolery?

Turns out it’s no trick at all. “The boats I worked on got progressively larger. I started off on an 87-footer, then moved to a 95-footer, a 106-footer and finally a 180-foot yacht. That thing had a $40,000 stove. When I finished the contract they gave me a week on St. Martin, a week in Panama, a week in the Dominican Republic and a week in Mexico City. Very nice people.”

And that’s just the last four years before he moved to Todos Santos. Sergio Antonio Rivera Velazquez has been cooking up one side of the Americas, down the other and at points in between for years. And like many a Todos Santeño before him, the drive to ride the waves was behind his choice of careers. “My main goal when I was in high school was to be a doctor. But then I did the entrance exam for medical school, and let’s just say that the results indicated that I was far better suited to traveling and surfing than practicing medicine.  And the only industry I had skills in that would let me do that was the restaurant business.”

So in 1990 the 20-year old left his home in Mazatlan and headed to Cabo where he landed a job at the Hotel Cabo San Lucas – the kind of place where guests arrived in their private jets. He’d surf El Tule each morning then go to work each afternoon. Nice joint, but couldn’t stick around long. He returned to Mazatlan where he met an American family from Bend, Oregon. He took them up on their invitation to come visit for a while. A year and many great memories later, they finally decided to drive him back down to Mazatlan – stopping in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and many other points of interest along the way. Once back in Mazatlan he promptly met a girl in a restaurant and moved with her to St. Paul, Minnesota where he worked, naturally enough, in an Irish pub. A year and many great memories later, the Bend, Oregon family decided to move to Cabo so Sergio joined them. He surfed in the morning and worked in the evening at a restaurant called the Giggling Marlin. A year and many great memories later he returned to Mazatlan where he met a girl – but stayed in Mazatlan anyway.

The years in New York left Sergio a die hard   Yankees fan

Now when Sergio was a kid growing up in Mazatlan his mother ran a small restaurant on the weekends and he had always enjoyed helping around the kitchen and entertaining the customers.  So when he returned to Mazatlan in 1996 he’d literally spent a lifetime working in and around restaurants, but he’d never actually learned to cook. He decided that needed to change. He was working in a restaurant called Jungle Juice, and asked the owner/chef to teach him to cook on the job – for no pay. It was an offer the owner couldn’t refuse and Sergio was put in charge of the outdoor barbeque. His skills improved so dramatically that before long an entrepreneur visiting from New York invited him to move to the U.S. to design, build and manage a Mexican restaurant. So at the age of 27 Sergio moved to Suffern, NY and Olé! was born. He ran the kitchen for 6 years and loved the work, but he missed the spirituality of being close to the ocean. So when friends from Santa Cruz, CA invited him out, he bid good-bye to New York and moved to California, where he surfed in the morning and worked in the evening at the Paradise Beach Bar and Grill. Stints in Arizona, Iowa, Mazatlan and New York (again) followed until 2004 when a friend started introducing him to the 1%, many of whom – you won’t be surprised to learn – own remarkable yachts. A four-year career as the private chef on some incredible boats ensued, with Sergio running the kitchen on boats such as the Flying Dutchman, the Adventure More, the Illegal and the Boardwalk, all while exploring ports of call throughout Mexico, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Aruba, Curacao, the Dominican Republic… a much broader education than medical school could ever have provided!

Sergio and Aury with Baby on the Way

In 2008 Sergio was vacationing in La Paz when he met a woman named Kim Gianotti-Keltto who had a dream of opening a restaurant in Todos Santos. Todos Santos – a surfer’s paradise, a food lover’s haven. In short, heaven for a surfin’ chef like Sergio.  Sergio and Kim pooled their resources and on November 23, 2010 La Casita Tapas and Wine Bar opened and began serving up the fabulous food for which it has won a truly devoted following. In fact, almost every Todos Santos Eco Adventures adventure week includes a meal at La Casita. And seemingly no matter where our guests are from, Chef Sergio has spent some time in their town…

When Sergio leased the building for La Casita everyone told him that the place was cursed and that he no doubt would be too.  If this is what being cursed looks like then Sergio is ready for more.  He bought Kim’s share of the business when she decided to return to the States, so at the age of 42 the peripatetic boy from Mazatlan finds himself the owner of a thriving business, stepfather to a beautiful 4-year old girl, and father to a son to be born in October. “I’m living such a happy life here, and can’t imagine a better place to be. The tranquility, the weather, the spirituality of Todos Santos. I am so thankful to the community of Todos Santos for showing such great support and loyalty to us. It really is heaven here.” Another little slice of magic in our pueblo magico.

© Copyright Sergio and Bryan Jauregui, Casa Payaso S de RL de CV, 2012