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Culture Report: Pearls of Wisdom From a Cross-Border Oyster Chef

Kensington Video says another goodbye, arts advocates aren’t satisfied with Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s budget revise, the city’s food fight with small businesses and more in our weekly roundup of the region’s arts and culture news.

It was love at first bite.

Soon after Melissa Mayer had her first oyster, she became obsessed.

“When I wake up I think about oysters, when I go to bed I think about oysters and in between I think about oysters,” she said.

Mayer said she loves the flavor and the sustainability of the seafood. Now, the artist, onetime “Food Network Challenge” contestant and former head chef at the defunct The Guild Restaurant and Lounge in Barrio Logan is ready to turn her oyster obsession into a full-time job. After a stint running an oyster bar in Portland, Ore., she’s back in San Diego and gearing up to open a new Oyster Bar in Rosarito, Mexico, in July.

Called Viaje, the restaurant will serve oysters farmed in nearby waters, and Mayer hopes to work with a local oyster farmer to cultivate a new variety of Pacific oysters.

Once Viaje opens, she wants to make the restaurant more than just a place to eat oysters. She plans to become more of an active border ambassador and join the chorus of voices rising up to protest the Trump administration’s proposed border wall. She said she’s glad the mayors of Tijuana and San Diego have pledged their continued binational collaboration, but that more people and businesses need to talk publicly about how important a fluid border is to the San Diego-Tijuana region.

“I know that there’s a lot of people who really, really care about the integrity of our relationship with Mexico,” Mayer said. “We should be finding ways to grow this amazing relationship. I mean, imagine if we sealed up the San Diego-Tijuana border … just imagine if we didn’t have that commerce – that vitality.”

Mayer said she’ll be organizing or participating in community events focused on San Diego’s connection to Mexico, using the new oyster bar as a tool for promoting international travel and otherwise promoting Mexico as a safe and beautiful place to visit.

“I’m really excited to be celebrating Mexican oyster farms and Mexican culture … I think it’s more timely than ever,” she said. “I feel that we should be building bridges, not walls.”

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Internet Killed the Video Store

Kensington Video, one of the city’s last remaining video rental stores, closed its doors for good at the end of April. Last week, owner Guy Hanford sent out a goodbye email to longtime customers and fans.

Photo courtesy of Kensington Video

Photo courtesy of Kensington Video

“My mom and I would like to thank all of you for your patronage,” wrote Hanford. “I hope that you will continue to enjoy the Kensington Video website. It will serve as an information database and blog for movies. … We hope that you will also enjoy the column Winnie’s Picks that my mom continues to write.”

Kensington Video opened in 1984, closed in February 2015 then reopened to a lot of fanfare at the end of 2015, this time as a shared storefront with a juice shop.

But neither the juice shop nor videos rentals took off. Online video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are stiff competition, and Guy told the Union-Tribune he estimated rentals fell 75 percent from their peak.

Opening in the video shop’s place will be Kensington Brewing Company.

In response to Hanford’s email, which I posted on Facebook, a few folks were stoked about the brewery, but others expressed disappointment over the longtime video store’s replacement.

“A freaking brewery?!” Scott Nielsen wrote. “We don’t need another brewery. That makes it even more awful than it is.”

“I guess San Diego has nothing better to do than to drink all the time,” wrote Markel Tumlin.

Immortalizing Jahja Ling, Protest Concert Must Stay in Mexico and Other Arts and Culture News

• Arts advocates are still pushing to stem proposed cuts in this year’s city budget. Mayor Kevin Faulconer originally proposed deep cuts to arts funding, but offered up less severe slashes in his revised budget last week. Advocates say the proposed cuts are still too deep. 

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

On May 28, Jahja Ling will conduct the San Diego Symphony for the last time. As the symphony’s music director for 13 years, Ling accomplished so many things that the organization’s CEO Martha Gilmer said she thinks he deserves a statue somewhere in the city. (U-T)

• More than 30 pieces of art by renowned artist and designer James Hubbell are showing in La Jolla. (U-T)

• The June 3 protest concert that was planned to take place on both sides of the Tijuana-San Diego border was shut down by both the U.S. Border Patrol and California State Parks — it will now take place entirely on the Mexican side of the border. (U-T)

• If you see a bunch of giant rabbits downtown, don’t be alarmed. The Gaslamp Quarter Association and Downtown Partnership Clean and Safe are behind the new public art pieces, which are big fiberglass rabbit sculptures that have been painted by San Diego artists.

Watch a short video documentary about artist Enrique Chiu’s border mural project.

This story about how downtown Tijuana is now a hip urban center has been written and rewritten about 100 times since 2010. So has this article about guided tours that show outsiders the cool sides of Tijuana. (Bosnow, The Globe and Mail)

• Starting Friday, Balboa Park After Dark keeps most of the park institutions open until 8 p.m. And starting next week, food trucks will line up in Balboa Park on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. (U-T)

• Speaking of Balboa Park, on Saturday there’s a spring festival and wagon parade happening at 10 a.m.

U-T theater critic James Hebert says Fiasco Theater’s Globe-commissioned staging of Molière’s “The Imaginary Invalid” is timely and ambitious.

• Over the weekend, teams of local filmmakers set out to make movies in just 48 hours. See the results at a film festival the first week of June. (KPBS)

Learn more about students who live and study between Tijuana and San Diego and the ongoing art project documenting their experiences.

• Five renowned dancer-choreographers worked with students at San Diego’s School of Creative and Performing Arts. I got an email from the school telling me this weekend’s performance is a must-see.

• San Diego Magazine delved into downtown culture, businesses and restaurants.

Oceanside photographer Travis Burke is living his dream. (U-T)

• Jeff Berkley has worked with some of the most famous magicians to come out of San Diego. Finally, the musician and producer found the time to make his own solo album. (U-T)

A new music and entertainment venue could be coming to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. (KPBS)

Local 20-year-old filmmaker Tanner J. Perry is taking his short film to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. (CityBeat)

San Diego artist and illustrator Susie Ghahremani is out with a new children’s book about stacking cats.

• A local chamber choir is performing a special Memorial Day concert to help raise funds for an ongoing recording project centered on combating gun violence. (CityBeat)

Food, Beer and Booze News

I wrote about a food fight happening between the city and a few small local businesses that charge restaurants to pick up leftover and spoiled food. A new city policy set to take effect July 1 will put the small companies out of business.

Photo courtesy of Closing the Loop

Photo courtesy of Closing the Loop

• Three San Diego restaurants are acknowledging that plastic straws suck (read: They’re bad for the environment so they are no longer providing them to customers). (U-T)

• The 10 Barrel brewery is holding its grand opening party this weekend and The Reader has more on why many folks in the San Diego craft beer community aren’t happy about the new East Village’s brewpub, which is owned by a big corporation.

Check out Eater’s big spread on the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, a fresh fish market that sets up Saturdays near Seaport Village. The future of the market is in question as the Port of San Diego moves forward with redevelopment plans. For background on how the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market came to be, read this piece from the VOSD archives.

San Diego’s Jake & Eggs restaurant has added an 18 percent service charge instead of standard tipping, and food writer Troy Johnson says, “Every American restaurant should do this. Pay cooks.”

The San Diego County Fair is around the corner, which means it’s time for writers to preview some of the wildest deep-fried foods of the year.

Who knew sea cucumbers were in such high demand? (Associated Press)

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

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