Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cuisineist Editors Visit The Mexican Riviera at Rosewood Mayakoba For A Luxurious Mayan Experinece.


How do you combine the exotic and authenticity of the Mayan culture and the mystery and beauty of the rainforest with modern luxury travel? There is a place that has done this very well, Rosewood Mayakoba. Although the Mayan civilization lasted from A.D.250 to 900 A.D., the essence of their culture infiltrates the very fiber of the Mayakoba. The Mayakoba was founded almost 20 years ago, which continues to be dedicated to the preservation of the mangroves and living waterways, along with the burgeoning plant and animal life. Given this respect for the environment, visitors can revel in the beauty of flora and fauna while enjoying world class hotels, shopping and outdoor activities. Mayakoba is a 2 hour flight from many of the U.S. southern cities, and is convenient travel destination and yet a step back in time from the frantic pace of everyday life in the U.S.

 
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The Rivera Maya is a square mile of undulation steamy tropical rainforest that is now adorned with a several resorts under the Mayakoba umbrella, among those is the Rosewood Mayakoba. This unique resort has embraced and enhanced the quality of upscale amenities while upholding the sacredness of the culture and the people that make your stay at the resort so memorable. Located along the mile long stretch of the Yucatan Peninsula, Rosewood Mayakoba is dedicated to “luxury tourism with a conscience.” As a Winner of the “Sustainable Standard Setter Award”, by the Rainforest Alliance and the “Ulysses Award for sustainable and responsible tourism development by the United Nations”, Rosewood Mayakoba is a leader in creating and maintaining a Sense of Place philosophy and environmental responsibility.



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Upon arrival, amid a torrential downpour, my driver escorted me through the palatial stone gate, which was surrounded by swaying palm trees and windswept landscape. I was then greeted by my host and butler for the weekend, Pavel Rivero. His warm smile and charming manner put me at ease, as he led me to the awaiting golf cart off. Raindrops pattered on plastic window of the golf cart as we meandered through a forest of mangroves, tropical plants and palm trees to bungalow suite which would serve as my own private residence for the weekend visit.



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The suite was more of an upscale second story apartment, lined with quarried marble, cool beiges, and wood accents. Fine linens adorned the bed, and soft lightening and music, brought a sense of calmness and tranquility. The spacious suite had a lovely sitting room and outdoor patio that led to a second story outdoor terrace overlooking the River Maya and the Pacific Ocean. The private plunge pool quickly became my favorite place to relax and unwind as I gazed upon nature’s grandeur that indeed surrounds every facet of Rosewood Mayakoba. The luxury suite also offered a large, soaking tub, and an outdoor rain shower for bathing in comfort and again embracing the space of nature and nurture. After a day of travel, I felt a sense of awe and a spirit of relaxation sweep over me as I nestled down for a restful sleep.



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After awaking, I headed to Casa del Lago the main restaurant on the property that features Mediterranean upscale cuisine. While sipping on my cappuccino, I relished the warm sunshine streaming down upon the lovely swimming pool, verdant courtyard and the meandering River Maya that created a window of succulent scenery to start my day.



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Casa del Lago is also the place that offers an astounding breakfast buffet of luscious fruits, cheeses, egg dishes, and a bevy of baked goods, from bagels to buttery croissants,. Rosewood Mayakoba offers several dining options for their guests, including the more casual lunch and dinner spot on the beach, Punta Bonita and the lovely sushi bar and tequila bar, Agave Azul. And now with the advent of their new town square El Pueblito, the La Fondita, offers signatures tostadas with the freshest local ingredients. “La Fondita is a place where you can try authentic Mexican food like a snack or a small bite, using the freshest of ingredients”, exclaimed Karin Salinas, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing. Whether choosing the fresh cerviche or duck tostada each bite will have you returning for more.


My agenda did include a visit to all the above but I was anticipating my cooking class at La Ceiba the outdoor cooking venue and gardens, hosted by executive Chef Juan Pablo, in particular. Interactive venues are my favorite, and cooking with others is a great way to learn about the ingredients and culture of a place.


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After dining, Pavel promptly brought me to the Sense Spa for a day of pampering as an introduction to a new spa feature for the guests at Rosewood Mayakoba. Sense, the Rosewood Spa, has dedicated its services to, “stimulating the fine balance between life, nature, and spirit by integrating spiritual well being into traditional spa experience.” The Apothecary Spa treatment was inspired by the Mayan’s culture close relations with nature, as it elevates wellness as it first introduces one to the nuances of nature as it seeks to enliven the spirit and the senses.



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By first relaxing in the outdoor veranda, surrounded by the mystical greens of the rainforest, I embrace the sounds of the nearby cascading waterfall. A lovely Hispanic woman, Cecila, greeted me with her effervescent smile and gentle manner. Cordially, she ushered me along the white pebbled path into the wood-planked door building that would serve as a window into the “apothecary” aspect of this spa offering.



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While a person trained in apothecary is one who is an expert in the use of medicine and herbs in healing, my trained massage therapist turned out to know this is the. Today Cecila, lead me along the plant and flower lined walls, explaining the importance of the use of plants and herbs in the healing practices of the Mayans. She encouraged me to close my eyes and breathe in the fragrances, to let go and live in the present moment within this special rainforest garden.




As I tuned into the plants and flowers surrounding me, Cecilia encouraged me to select one that stood out me. My selection of lavender seemed a perfect fit to be use as the main fragrance in my spa treatment. After our apothecary journey, we again continued towards the nearby Cenote.


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Many of these historic Cenotes, or natural sinkholes, were considered sacred and were believe to be gateways to the afterlife by the ancient Mayans. After a few minutes of contemplation, I was lead to my final destination; my outdoor spa bungalow. Tranquil soothing music filled the warm space as I prepared for several hours of exfoliation and massage. Starting with a cleansing scrub, followed by the detoxifying lavender infused Mayan clay; I was gently stripped of all the dead skin cells. As I stepped into my steamy private shower, I felt like a butterfly stepping away from a scaly chrysalis. The final massage was a welcome end to a day of rejuvenation and restoration.


With much gratitude for the thoughtful and integrative aspects of this new spa package, I left feeling more connected to the surrounding culture and more aware of the goodness of my present life. As I bid farewell to my new friend, Cecilia, I was in awe of the experience that made me more aware of how important it is to take time to stop, observe, and reflect on what is really important in life. Rosewood Mayakoba’s mission rings true as a special place that,” invites guests to integrate spiritual well-being through services that honor the local Mayan traditions in healing and highlights indigenous natural elements of its locale and region.”


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Only after a very short time on this stunning property of white sandy beaches, and spectacular rainforest surroundings, I began to understand the very essence of this property and it had to do with the intuitive nature of the culture. My butler, Pavel, went above and beyond to make my stay comfortable and memorable. I noted that everyone who worked on the property was so friendly and happy. He replied with a beaming smile, “The owners are happy people and that makes everyone working for them happy also.” I was glad to hear of symbiotic relationship of genuine mutual respect and it resonated through the smiles all who graced the property. Pavel listened intently as I told him I was very interested in the animals that live in the rainforest on the property. He told me of the Coati that is considered the “Guardian of the forest in the Yucatan region.



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The Coati look similar to a raccoon, and are seen quite frequently walking in family groups. I really had hoped to see one of the creatures, but as the day progressed, I did not happen to see any of these native creatures. When I returned to my room that evening, Pavel had a book about the Flora and fauna of the area, and a miniature Oaxacan statue of the Coati waiting for me in my room. I was so touched by his attentiveness and thoughtfulness. This type of customer service is above and beyond anything I ever recalled at a normal resort stay, and I was not alone in this observation.
I met a couple from New Jersey which praised the resort for this very aspect.

This was their second trip to Rosewood Mayakoba and they continue to be in awe of the special care and attention to detail that they received and continue to encounter at the resort. I also felt the same way throughout my entire stay. Rosewood Mayakoba also takes special care for families with children, offering the Rosebud* program that offers many interactive activities for children of all ages. So whether you are planning a family vacation, or an anniversary getaway, Rosewood Mayakoba, is a must for those who want to indulge in the best of all worlds, including the inner world of the spirit and culture.


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My final night has arrived and off we go to our special dinner with the food we learned to prepare with executive Chef Juan Pablo. Tonight the warm night air is alive with the sounds of the Mariachi band playing. Twinkling lights adorn the entrance to La Ceiba, the outdoor dinner venue and working kitchen gardens, that now have been transformed into a formal dining area for our last communal meal of our stay. Being able to interact with the Chef and the other guests make this a memorable event. The mighty Ceiba tree is the center of attraction and rightly so, in that it is a grand shade three that has a mystical meaning in the Mayan culture.



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The Ceiba tree is thought to bridge the gap between the earthly realm and the spirit realm, and tonight it graces the background of our dining experience, adorned with brightly lit hand crafted lanterns. As we make our way to our seats, plates of food start to make their way to the table, mounds of succulent lamb chops, and plates of fine filets doused in Mexican spices and cooked to perfection in banana leaves and of course, all this is accompanied by many assorted salsas and freshly made tortillas.

 The wines, served with pride by our Sommelier, are described as unique wines from tropical growing regions of Mexico. Spain’s influence on the wine growing regions of Mexico has secured international attention, especially as the wine industry which has flourished and grown over the years. With each glass of wine and bite of the best in authentic Mexican cuisine, each guest remarked with delight at the abundant feast before us.


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As guest happily engaged in eating and conversation, Chef Juan Pablo Loza stopped by to see how we were doing and I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about this lovely feast.


Chef Juan Pablo Loza
Chef Juan Pablo Loza
Chef it looks like you love this place. What is it that truly inspires you?
“I love using the unique ingredients that are not well-know but are reflective of this area, such as the many Mayan spices.” “However, I do love using, chocolate and banana leaves.” “We can customize a meal to your liking using the fresh ingredients that are available to us.” “We can take a big group and do a cooking class and then we can turn what you have learned into a splendid dinner such as this one.”

Do you have a guilty pleasure aside from the regional cuisine offerings?

“Yes, I love hot dogs, and good Middle eastern food, such a authentic Greek cuisine.”

Well, there were no hot dogs at this dinner and I thanked him for his sumptuous fare, and bid him a heartfelt Gracias and Adios, for the evening as we did our final cheers with a “bit” of tequila.
Laughter and joyous conversations filled the air, as we reminisced of our adventures with the other guests who made their stay at Rosewood Mayakoba. La Ceiba gives guests the opportunity to join in this very interactive venue; a truly communal way to engage with other travelers and to enjoy the bounty and beauty of this Yucat√°n paradise.

As more people move into a sense of using their money in a more conscious manner, including where to spend precious time and funds, Rosewood Mayakoba has earned the respect and the accolades to become the place to vacation every year and as a place to continue to recapture lovely memories. From the El Camaleon golf course to the white sandy beaches, this resort will capture your heart, spirit and soul. For more information: mayakoba@rosewoodhotels.com

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Omni Montelucia Resort and Spa In Scottsdale Hosts The Inaugural James Beard Foundation Desert to Dish Weekend.




Many people think of Arizona as a western state that is mostly desert, few mountains, sparsely populated and no home gown protein and produce. Those who think that are wrong, very wrong. Recently we explored Arizona with our boots literally on the ground. Arizona is a very abundant state with large certified organic farms, dairies, distilleries, breweries and yes, wineries. 


 What brought us to Arizona you may ask? That question is easy! The lovely Omni Montelucia Resort in Scottsdale hosted the James Beard Foundation and five renowned Chefs from all over the nation for the inaugural Desert to Dish culinary event. 



Our car arrived at this resort nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain, in the exclusive enclave of Paradise Valley. The Omni Scottsdale Resort &Spa at Montelucia is your own oasis inspired by Spain’s Andalusia region. 



Walking the property, it is very reminiscent of a picturesque Andalusian village featuring arching entryways, tranquil fountains and floral walkways. If its pampering you desire, we found an array of rejuvenating experiences at the award-winning Joya Spa, where we relaxed and decompressed in Scottsdale's only Hammam spa. It didn’t take long until we dove into one of the three pools, where stunning mountain views got us in the right mood to explore the restaurants and libation offerings for us to sip and savor. The Montelucia shows off its critically acclaimed restaurants including Prado or you can retreat to an elegantly appointed guest room perfect for stargazing on your private patio. No matter what brings you to Scottsdale, the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia is perfect premier destination for luxury and romance, relaxation and recreation. In our case, it was the James Beard Foundation and Desert to Dish. 



The sun was setting just behind the mountain and it was time for us to meet the Chefs for the first time. Underneath a sky blanketed in stars we arrived at the reception in Chefs Kitchen & Herb Garden. Resort Executive Chef Michael Cairns welcomed us with a lovely evening of chef tastings, wine pairings handcrafted cocktails and craft breweries all sourced from Arizona. Enjoying the night on the lawn we mingled with the Desert to Dish chefs and local purveyors who we would become very close with over the next few days.

Mornings at this world class resort bring us a feeling of peace and rejuvenation. This morning however will begin an experience that we will remember for a very long time. We would spend the day teamed up with an incredible chef as we scoured the countryside sourcing ingredients for a dinner with the James Beard Foundation.

Chef Michale Carins Executive Chef at the Omni Montelucia introduced us to our Chef partners for the weekend. Chef Brain Luscher, The Grape Restaurant Dallas Tx, Chef Jason Porter, Seven Glaciers Anchorage Ak, Chef Joe Magnanelli , CUCINA Urbana + Enoteca San Diego Ca, Chef Joey Beato, Community Tavern, The Portage Chicago Il, and Chef Brandon Foster, Vesta Dipping Grill Denver Co. Introductions over, we joined a chef and headed out to find the best products available from the local purveyors.




Scott teamed up with Chef Brandon Foster and headed out to the first stop, Crows Goat Dairy. Wendell Crow  and his wife Rhonda  has partnered with their daughter Mary and her husband Erik to start Crow’s Dairy in Buckeye, AZ where they make a variety of products from the milk of their large herd of purebred Nubian goats. This was a true educational experience where we learned “the ladies” all know their names and come when called. These “ladies” are protected by two layers of security against predators. The first level are Turkeys, yes they kill and eat rattlesnakes! Yes, we all knew that right? Of course the great overseer of protecting the “ladies” is a beautiful large Great Pyrenees, this large canine greets guests with a big smile and a lick unless you’re a coyote. Having milked a goat, tasted some of the best cheese and goat milk paired with Arizona craft beer (it’s very good!); we loaded up our ingredients and moved on to the next stop. 



Across the valley, Elaine teamed up with Chef Brain Luscher where they made at stop at George B. Brooks Community School Greenhouse and Arizona Microgreens. Arizona Microgreens was founded by brothers Joseph Martinez and David Redwood and produce organic microgreens for restaurants, retail, throughout Arizona. It was interesting to see their special relationship with a school. They are located within the greenhouse at the George B. Brooks Sr. Community School and operate as a social enterprise that creates employment opportunities for the local community and contributes to the financial sustainability of the Community School. Choosing just the right mix, it was time to continue the afternoon’s mission of finding locally produced products.



Chef Brandon Foster and Scott stopped into Cancer Treatment Center of America to meet Executive Chef Frank Caputo and tour his certified organic farm. After a wonderful lunch prepared by Chef Caputo with ingredients literally sourced from right outside the kitchen, it was time to roll up the sleeves and get to work on the farm. While walking the farm, Chef Caputo explained that the patients at his center do better by enjoying fresh organic products produced and sourced on the campus. Walking an organic farm picking produce on our knees with two chefs brought home what this whole experience was really all about.

Elaine and Chef Brain Luscher stopped into Blue Sky Organic Farms and Arizona Cheese.
The first stop was the Blue Sky Organic Farms, a family farm located in Litchfield AZ. Blue Sky Organic farm been producing some of the finest certified organic produce in the Valley. They can also be found at the Scottsdale Farmers Market on Saturday and are now bringing a new CSA program, (Community Supported Agriculture), where neighbors can support the farm in exchange for a weekly share of the harvest. R. J. Johnson, the vocal advocate for the Farm and representative of Chef turned farmer, David Vose’s farming techniques, gave us an extensive tour of the Farm, including providing for us a lovely lunch, with produce from the fields.  During lunch he told us how he has seen the results of eating certified organic foods and how this has helped many people.



 Although coming from a restaurant management background, he had no real understanding three years ago of the power of food in creating and maintaining your health. He now travels throughout the Valley teaching others of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle that includes eating whole foods. “I starting meeting people that where profoundly affected by their food, including three women, who were diagnosed with terminal cancer, to the point where they could not take anything else to help their situation, went on a 100% organic juice diet and they are now cancer free.” “So, I have seen it and I believe and I preach it.” “I have spent tens of thousands of dollars to be certified organic, and we farm for flavor not just for yields.”

 We were glad to have the opportunity to visit a place that exudes passion and some of the best produce in Arizona. For those who want to venture to the farm, there is a well stocked store open to the public and they their products are available at Whole Foods stores also. David Vose’s produce is sold across the country and can be found in some of the best restaurants in the nation.
 We took our gifts from our dedicated host and looked forward to see what Chef Luscher was going to create with the bounty of the earth.




This tasty stop was just that, lovely and rich, in some of the best cheese around.  Nearly two-and-a-half years after discussions began, the Arizona Cheese Company made its first vat of Blue Cheese and Cheddar Cheese on Monday, July 20, 2009. Manufacturing and packaging has continued during typical five-day weeks while volumes are gradually increased. Plan designs enable processing eventually of around 500,000 pounds of milk per day. Arizona has become second only to Wisconsin in the total number of pounds produced of Blue-veined cheeses, and is now the largest producer of private-label Blue-veined cheeses in the United States. For Hand-Crafted Artisan cheese made from All Natural, 100% Fresh Cultured Grade A Arizona Milk, Salt & Enzymes, this is the only place to go. Having gathered the bounty of the day it was time to put it to good use.


What is a dinner without a protein? With a Cheshire Cat smile Chef Brandon Foster visited The Meat Shop where he found a variety of beef, pork, chicken and lamb are sourced from Arizona farms and ranches. Coolers full, dreams of the dinner yet to come, excited all involved in the harvest.

This gastronomic weekend, kept our palates constantly at work with a variety of master culinary classes taught by the five visiting chefs, all unique in their own way. As oenophiles and sommeliers ourselves it was a pleasure and honor to taste and compare Chilean and Arizona wines with Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer as the afternoon began to turn to evening.   



Sitting in the cozy Mbar at the Omni Montelucia, we reflected on the experience that we have participated in over the last several days. This experience had us in organic farms, dairies, wineries, breweries and butcher shops collecting the best Arizona had to offer with renowned chefs. We saw all of our work sourcing ingredients with the chefs come together on a perfectly prepared plate of Arizona goodness. 






The inaugural James Beard Foundation desert to dish was a huge success and look forward to next year’s event.  Looking back over the weekend and the whole experience gave us a feeling that we know a whole lot more about Arizona and its diverse purveyors bringing healthy products to your plate.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Oak Restaurant in Dallas Is The Next Jewel In Chef John Tesar's Crown.






In Henry Van Dyke poem, Trees, he gives his homage to “A pillar of power, a dome of delight, a shrine of song and a joy of sight”.  Just as Van Dyke was inspired to pen  those words so many years ago, perhaps it was this affiliation to the large Oak tree outside the bustling restaurant that bears its name that created the inspiration of delight and deliciousness into the very fabric of this innovated and chic Dallas eatery. Partnering with acclaimed twice nominated James Beard Chef John Tesar, the Apheleia Restaurant Group, continues to bring innovation and vision to the burgeoning Dallas restaurant scene. Chef de cuisine, Ross Demers, and executive pastry chef, David Collier are at the helm in  creating a menu that is highly creative using the best available ingredients to ensure freshness and superb taste and texture on every  plate that emerges from the kitchen. On a recent trip to Dallas, we had the opportunity to discover “Oak” and engage in some of the lovely and thoughtful menu items. 



The inviting open space is awash in browns and beiges accented with silver-toned lighting that gravitates the eye to the unique holographic tree that changes color, seasons and foliage throughout the dining experience. The bar area is shrouded with rendering of a mighty oak etched into the glass wall, sweeping you into the moment.  As trees provide shelter from the elements, you have that sense of comfort and tranquility as you sip on one of the many hand-crafted cocktails. We started with the “Antoinette”, a luscious libation that really accented the fragrant dark muddled blackberries, impressing us with the freshness of ingredients. One may want to try the “Mighty Oak”, as it is the namesake and has the refreshing hints of lemon, ginger, and mint all perfectly intermingled with the George Dickle Rye and topped with club soda.





After a few relaxing moments at the bar, we were cordially escorted to our table to be greeted by our lively waiter, who proceeded to make sure that we are informed on all specials, offering any answers to questions we may have.  We took a look at the well-crafted wine list, and decided to enjoy a glass of the Lemelson, Thea’s selection, pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.  Pinot noir is usually a good choice in pairing with seafood and some beef dishes, and this seemed to be the best choice for our dining excursion. We began our meal with the Heirloom tomato salad accented with refreshing tiny slices of watermelon, olive oil powder and black olive oil. The combination of the unique forms of olive oil gave this salad an elevated kiss of creativity. 


We also were immensely impressed with the tiny cones of Hamachi Tartare, with green curry and wasabi tobeko. Each miniature cone, was filled with the delight of the ocean, as we gleefully indulged in this playful rendition.  The main dish of Alaskan Halibut, studded with woody chantrelle mushrooms , added brightness of acidity from the cabernet tomato,  and accented with summer truffles and maderia port invoked a chorus of om’s and ahh’s with each forkful. The moniker of all the dishes rang true of the freshness of the ingredients and the artful creativities of the Chefs as they brought an abundance of flavors and passion to our plates. 




We were not at our fini, although well satiated, when we knew that a master was guiding the delivery of our desserts.  James Beard “Best Pastry Chef” semifinalist, David Collier, is the Executive Pastry Chef that loves to bring innovation and expertise to the sweet part of the meal.  The Strawberry Pistachio with pistachio sucree, mousseline, sponge cake, and strawberry sorbet was a spectacular way to end the meal.  This take on the familiar strawberry shortcake was incredibly whimsical and lovely to behold, but better yet the strawberry mousseline gave a delicateness to the flavor, and played well with the other elements.  We walked away beaming with yet another great find in the Dallas area.

Whether in Dallas on business or pleasure a meal at any the restaurants that Chef Tesar has been pouring his culinary magic into including Knife, El Bolero, and Oak. He and his partners continue to come up with more culinary outlets and we are excited to see what is on the horizon as the leaves of the organization continue to spread.