Wednesday, June 3, 2015

CCKS Takes Yucatan

CCKS takes Yucatan!                                                                                               By Liz Bernier aka "Liz-tastic'"

In March 2015, we set off on our very first CCKS Culinary Tour to Mexico. We met at the airport in Cancun and then set off on our adventure. After stopping to get some chips in flavors that can only be found in Mexico, we arrived at Casa Marlene in Valladolid, where Rosalini, the daughter of the owner, greeted us.  We settled in and then sat by the pool to enjoy some fresh guacamole, watermelon juice (one of our favorites, we drank it every day), and some cold beer. We relaxed for a bit before getting ready to walk to the town center for dinner. 

We walked into the center of town, where there is a beautiful park surrounded by a yellow wall and has benches and couples’ chairs throughout where you can stop and watch the other park-goers. The park was speckled with vendors selling various treats, mostly sweets. 

We enjoyed a delicious dinner at a local restaurant with chaya (the Yucatan version of spinach or kale, but with a much sweeter flavor) margaritas and refreshers. We then took a walk back through the park and stopped for marquesitas, which are crepes filled with nutella, caramel, cheese, or a combination. They are rolled up into a cigar shape and they harden, so they are crunchy and the perfect after dinner treat! 
The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast at Casa Marlene. Breakfast always started with Mayan coffee, a plate of fresh fruit, and some sort of fresh fruit juice (it was melon juice this time). They would then make us a delicious savory breakfast, this usually consisted of a variation of eggs with some beans, tortillas, vegetables and hot sauce.  
After breakfast we packed up the car and started on our way to Hacienda Temozon, part of the Starwood Luxury Resort Collection. We stopped for lunch at Haceinda Teya, which is an event space with a restaurant attached. With stunning grounds, it wasn’t difficult to see why it is such a popular location for weddings and parties. While eating lunch we were able to see a few of the many peacocks they have on the property, they would roam around outside of the windows of the dining room. After lunch we explored the grounds a little more before getting back on the road towards Merida. 

Ice cold hibiscus tea.
The entrance to Hacienda Temozon. 
A great place to play backgammon. 

Chef Contos with Cesar the general manager of Hacienda Temozon.
A taste of the luxury accommodations at Hacienda Temozon. 
Hacienda Temozon
We arrived at Hacienda Temozon, where we were greeted by hibiscus tea and massages from the staff.  We were then shown to our rooms, which were decorated with beautiful fresh flowers (they put fresh ones out each morning) and each had a hammock. We relaxed for afternoon, before getting dinner. We then took a moonlit swim in the private presidential pool and enjoyed some margaritas while playing dominoes. 

The next morning we got an early start towards the capital city Merida for our cooking class at Los Dos. We were greeted by David Sterling, the wonderful owner, instructor and host of the school, (whose book Yucatan just won two James Beard Awards).  We were served a breakfast of fresh fruit and pastries as we got to know the other class attendees. The class began after breakfast with David teaching us all about the history of the Yucatan and how food fits into that history. It was incredible the amount of knowledge David has and it was so interesting to learn about the history and customs around the popular foods there. After our history lesson we got our shopping lists and we walked to the market with David. He showed us around the market and we picked up some ingredients for the recipes we would be making in class. I would have to say that the market was one of the biggest culture shocks of the trip for a lot of us. It is very strange to see meat sitting out on a tile counter in an open-air market on a hot day, with cats roaming around and musicians playing in the same space. 

Fish market in Merida. 

Local cinnamon at the Merida market. 

Guess what this is??? LARD!

Garlic at Los Dos
Chef Contos on break at Los Dos.
After the market we made our way back to David’s and began the food prep. With the help of a group of locals, he taught us how to prepare many traditional Yucatecan recipes. The class was very hands on, and he would feed us more of the wealth of knowledge he has learned through his many years of living in the Yucatan. We finished preparing the food, then we sat down to enjoy what we had prepared. Once we finished our meal, we went out into the courtyard of David’s house and soaked in the pool while digesting. 
Liz-Tastic, David Sterling, and Chef Contos at Los Dos. 
The dining room at Los Dos. 

Liz-tastic making panchos at Los Dos. 

We made our way back to Hacienda Temozon just as the sun was setting. We ended the night with a moonlit swim before we snuggled into bed after a long day of cooking and eating. 

In the morning we relaxed by the pool, had time to take a run/walk around the grounds, and visit the spa (located in a cenote). In the afternoon we left to make our way to Hacienda Santa Rosa, another Starwood Luxury Collection Resort. Santa Rosa is a beautiful property located deep in the country, when we arrived we were greeted with tamarind refreshers. We were then lead through the gardens to our rooms. The rooms opened out to a beautiful backyard pool, where we swam and enjoyed some snacks before our cooking class. 

Checking in at Hacienda Santa Rosa.

Liz-tastic making handmade tortillas for us. 

That evening we took a class with the chef of the Starwood Resort Collection, he taught us how to cook in a pib, which is an underground pit where they slow-roast meat. We prepared a whole pig to put in the pib, when we finished preparing it they had one that had been cooking overnight for us. In the Yucatan, it is a tradition to prepare this dish on a Saturday night to enjoy after church on Sunday morning. We prepared it fresh out of the pib with homemade tortillas. 

We then made our way to the dining room where we were served an incredible meal, which was topped off by the signature chili ice cream of the Haciendas. Sundown meant it was time for another moonlit swim and playing dominoes. 

We woke up the next morning and packed our things to continue on our journey. We made our way to Hacienda Yaxcopoil for a private lunch. Hacienda Yaxcopoil is a privately owned hacienda, the family that owns it rents it out for us as an event space and it open for tours to the public. We had a private lunch prepared by the family chef, took a tour of the grounds, took in a local baseball game, and swam for hours in the pool that was filled by underground pump system specially for us. 

The pool at Hacienda Yaxcopoil
The original dining room. 

Catching some shade.

We caught a baseball game during our afternoon at Hacienda Yaxcopoil

 After a short drive, we arrived back at Hacienda Temozon were we enjoyed dinner and margaritas before a relaxing evening. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast by the pool and took in some vitamin-D. After packing up our things, we made our way back to Valladolid to Casa Marlene. 

Learning from one of the best tamales makers!
Once we settled in at Casa Marlene, we walked across the street for some cold beer and more spicy chips for our pre-class snack.  We then joined Rosalini for a cooking class. During the class we made a variety of tamales (wrapped in fresh banana leaves) and sauces to accompany them. Rosalini even shared one of her favorite snacks with us, spicy dried crickets and peanuts (almost like a trail-mix!).  
Working with fresh picked banana leaves was amazing!
Making chaya tamales.
 The last full day was reserved for touring an agave distillery and exploring the city of Valladolid. The distillery was located just outside the city,  it was a small operation where much of the work was done by hand and the help of donkeys. We took the tour and then we were able to taste the different types the age. The city is full of wonderful shops featuring locally made, traditional Mayan goods as well as high end luxury goods made from the materials and ingredients native to the area (some of which have become well known in the states and beyond).  We had a group lunch at an outdoor restaurant, before making it back to our hotel for some afternoon relaxing. We walked back to the city square for dinner and more marquesitas. 

The next morning we had our last breakfast at Casa Marlene before we made our trip back to the Cancun airport to fly back to Vermont after a whirlwind, dreamlike trip to Mexico. Until next time.

2015 10/27 - 11/2

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