Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Master Chefs of Mexico Sparked Passion at Pueblo Bonito

The new wave of Mexico’s master chefs stormed the beaches of Los Cabos recently, planting the culinary flag firmly in place at Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas. Eighteen of the country’s most renowned chefs came together as colleagues and “amigos” to demonstrate their culinary artistry and showcase their talent as part of PacifiCooks 2010, which has become the “place to be” in summer for those serious and passionate about food – and the complete dining experience.

“The goal of PacifiCooks is to help elevate the cooking we all do. Being here for one week gives us the opportunity to learn from each other,” says Pueblo Bonito’s award-winning Chef Antonio de Livier who organized and hosted the event.

Each day, five of the invited chefs took the lead to create customized menus from scratch, working with all the chef colleagues, to play with and interpret the five-course menu, emphasizing local and regional ingredients and foods.

The inventive menus are served by Pueblo Bonito’s knowledgeable wait staff, providing diners with detail after detail about the flavors and ingredients used in each dish. It is no small feat since each day’s menu is a surprise. The chefs do informational training sessions with the staff so they can be well-versed when they bring the dishes to the eager diners. The chefs, too, come out of the kitchen to talk about the inspiration for the dishes, how they prepared them, and how to adapt them for cooking at home.

Sergio Comacho, executive chef at the St. Regis, Mexico City, felt it is important to talk about how the chefs are using new techniques along with traditional practice. “We try to blend the simple with new techniques such as molecular fusion in our cooking. Respecting a product’s core ingredients is of the essence,” he commented.

“Today’s consumers are more aware and knowledgeable about what’s going on with cuisine. They have many information sources to go to these days, and they are definitely seeking out the information,” added de Livier.

This was definitely the case for Daniel and Cristina Novoa, down from Los Angeles last week to enjoy all Los Cabos has to offer and to celebrate their first anniversary. They were sitting on the terrace of La Frida, Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach’s highly-acclaimed restaurant under a full moon waiting to be surprised.

They planned their trip to Los Cabos, but what they didn’t plan for was to take part in the PacifiCooks 2010 dinner experience, a culinary extravaganza they said they would never forget. The couple, who are of Cuban and Mexican ancestry, were truly amazed and ecstatic about their dining adventure. “This is a new age for Mexican cuisine. Tonight’s meal is definitely not the typical Mexican food people think about,” said Christina Novoa. Her husband, Daniel, added: “You feel proud for what they are accomplishing.”

How did the status of Mexican cuisine begin to change so dramatically? The chefs definitely had some strong opinions:

Guillermo Gonzalez Berestain, chef/owner of Grupo Pangea, believes an important factor is that today’s chefs have trained at better schools and have traveled abroad. “This gives them the opportunity to work, see and appreciate what others are doing and to interpret, but not copy, what they learn, so they create dishes that become special here in Mexico.”

For Aquiles Chavez, chef/owner, Lo, Villehermosa, Tabasco, Mexico, and television personality, it is major events like PacifiCooks that help to elevate and showcase what is going on in Mexico’s culinary world today. “A big plus of this event is that we chefs can freely exchange ideas, try new recipes and immediately go back to our respective restaurants and apply new concepts in our menus.”

Federico Lopez, chef/owner of Gourmands and Gourmets, believes another important aspect of the event is that the chefs—“amigos” one and all--feel and have a responsibility to help train the next wave of chefs, providing inspiration, showing them new techniques and serving as mentors. “We are a melting pot of knowledge, talent and ideas.”

The menus are now tucked away. The extra wines have been stored and made ready for other Pueblo Bonito events, and the pots, pans, dishes and cutlery are all back in place. Now it is time for Chef de Livier to take a well-deserved rest from his “conductor” duties at this grand event.

“Not so,” says Chef Tonio, as he likes to be called, who is already thinking about next year’s meeting of the “amigos.” In summing up the impact of PacifiCooks, the chef paused ever so briefly and said thoughtfully, “People need to come and taste the country.”

Short Vignettes:

Culinary Love Fest. Staring starry-eyed at each other, Christina and Daniel Novoa toasted their first anniversary throughout the PacifiCooks 2010 five-course meal, sponsored by Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas. The meal was accompanied by wine pairings from vineyards across Mexico, under the watchful guidance of Juan Carlos Flores, Pueblo Bonito’s award-winning master sommelier.

The couple, who live in Los Angeles, were inspired by the creative menu presented to them at LaFrida Restaurant, Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach. “Seeing and experiencing a meal like this inspires me to get back into the kitchen at home – to experiment with different chilés and to play with different ingredients,” said Cristina Novoa, who admits that she is a bit of a “foodie” herself. She has been training at L.A.’s Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and is currently serving an externship at Rivera, a new restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.

For Daniel Novoa, who feels he is “still developing my food vocabulary,” the most amazing part of the dinner was seeing and tasting the inventive ways in which the chefs brought the ingredients together. “I loved experiencing the different tastes. What wowed me was the use of garlic. It’s something so basic. My favorite was the ‘Paradito de lengua, ensalada mixta y papa fingerling’ – the beef tongue reminded me of my childhood,” he said and then added, “This meal takes dining to a different level.”

Holy Cow! No, Holy Goat! Chef Juan Ramón Cárdenas of Saltillo, Mexico, prepared baby goat (Cabrito) over an open pit mesquite wood fire, turning it slowly but constantly for four hours in preparation for the PacifiCooks dinner last week at Pueblo Bonito Pacifica's Siempre Restaurant. The charcoal roasted baby goat, a specialty of Monterrey, Mexico, was served with a hearty San Rafael Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 from Valle de Ojos Negros.

For the same dinner, a "surprise" dish and chef appeared for the sumptuous five-course meal -- where actually every course embraced the palates of diners. The dish was Sea Bass with X-Catic Sauce, with a splash of lemon puree outlining the fish, poised on bok choy and red potato, prepared by Chef Arturo Fernández, who has cooked for top dignitaries around the world.

Pastry Explosion. Watch out when Mexico's superstar pastry chef Paulína Abascal ( and her colleagues take over a kitchen as they did last week at Siempre, Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spa's restaurant at its Pacifica Resort. Hotel guests and local visitors were treated to a panoply of mouth-watering and bite-sized desserts --a blend of sweets inspired by classic European style with Mexican accents. Abascal perfected her techniques across Europe, from Belgium to France to Spain, and has published an award-winning encyclopedic guide to pastry, Larousse de los Postres.

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