Finding Gold On The Yucatan
Chef Cam joins Cook It Raw’s Allesandro Porcelli in an exploration of food, culture and a little Mescal on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
There are a few things in life I think you should jump on when you have the chance. One is escaping cold weather. Another is exploring a different culture’s food, food production and local drink. When the stars aligned for me a few weeks back and these things came together, I was all in.
With snow already on the ground at home, it was off to Merida on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The agenda included drinking Mescal, visiting an off-the-grid restaurant and checking out a biodynamic farm and cocoa plantation. I also wanted to explore Merida, which for me was a virtually unknown destination
We were invited down by Cook It Raw’s Allesandro Porcelli to have a look at his new venture. It’s the next generation of Cook It Raw, focused on bringing local food to the forefront in Mexico, and helping chefs better understand the bounty in their own backyard. Allesandro also hopes to expose the region’s rich culture and food to visitors from other parts of Mexico and abroad.
Having participated in one of Allesandro’s Cook It Raw events in the past, I knew what I was getting into touring the area with him. We were going to dig in and explore the region’s undiscovered gems. This is Cook It Raw’s area of expertise and I was looking forward to it.
On our first day in Mexico we drove three hours to visit Chef Eric Werner at Hartwood. This unique restaurant is down a jungle road on the Caribbean Sea in Tulum. It’s a beautiful outdoor palace featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients, fish and meats. Hartwood is 100% solar-powered and the only heat for cooking comes from a wood-fired oven.
Chef Werner is an expat from upstate New York who decided to build his dream restaurant here in Tulum. We were blown away by the flavours and freshness of everything. Of course, we ate the whole menu and had a few cocktails inspired by local ingredients. Mescal may also have been involved. I recommend you search out this amazing place if you find yourself in the area.
The next day consisted of relaxing on the beach and driving back to Merida later in the afternoon, as we had to get ready for our trip next day to the fishing village of Sisal.
Sisal is about an hour from Merida on the Gulf of Mexico. The weather was not the greatest, with the winter weather starting to roll in, but it was still amazing and warm by my northern standards.
Our goal was to eat freshly caught fish for lunch and to generally relax. We tried three different types of ceviche – local blue crab, conch and octopus – while our main course was a whole fried Hog Fish that we made into tacos. It was another amazing meal to put in to the books.
The fish was all caught fresh and the octopus season was just starting, so we were in the right place at the right time. We spent a lazy afternoon checking out the cool little village and then headed back to Merida to gear up for the next stop on our tour.
On day three, we hit an organic/biodynamic farm called Ad Naturam, located in the middle of the Yucatan. It was a chance to see a farm trying to do it right.
Oscar, one of the guys behind it all, showed us around. He’s one of three partners, all with backgrounds in things like microbiology and civil engineering. In addition to farming using natural methods to control pests and make their own soil, they’re also raising Tilapia and planning on adding a pool to raise fresh water shrimp.
On our visit the farm was focused on producing Habanero peppers, but it was also growing citrus fruit, pineapple, papaya, hibiscus, herbs and many other things. Lots going on, including harvesting during certain moons. This place was special.
Merida itself seems to be something of an untouched city. Of course there is a modern part, which could be anywhere in the world, but the old town has character. The brick buildings and narrow streets give it it’s own personality, with a classic Mexican feel that drew me in. You can see a real opportunity here for greatness as a culinary destination.
Back home now my mind keeps drifting back the amazing food and the chill vibe of the Yucatan. I’m already scheming up an excuse for another visit.