The Washington Times - May 24, 2009, 12:05AM

by Linda Mensinga

Cabo San Lucas …Mexican food is coming of age with practitioners who honor their culinary heritage as well as elaborating and stretching it into world class cooking. A notable group of Mexican chefs gathered to prepare dinners for PacifiCooks held in the Cabo San Lucas resort of Pueblo Bonito.

“Everyone is so busy but they love the simple joy and pleasure of being with colleagues they  know and respect; they make the time if possible to be here to spend time together,” said Chef Frederico Pacific ChefsLopez about PacifiCooks, held recently at Pueblo Bonito in Cabo San Lucas.


The dishes, every one memorable, were created on the spot á la Top Chef, as some of Mexico’s best chefs gathered just a day or two before the first event.

Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort and Spa in Cabo San Lucas hosted PacifiCooks Master Chefs of Mexico for a meeting of minds and spatulas. 

Nine different chefs, including host chef Antonio de Livier, participated in preparing dishes that were inventive yet respectful of tradition. Fortunate guests and food writers gathered to enjoy the results at LaFrida, at Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach.

Chefs were paired for one dinner course per evening with a partner by lottery. Several brought specialties and signature items from their regions.

Chef Benito Molina lives and works in coastal Ensenada, Baja California, about  2 hours south of San Diego. Grapes, fresh seafood and wine flourish in the region.  His ceviche made great use of the scallops, clams and sea urchins from the Pacific.  

Chef Molina’s twist was the addition of sangrita, usually a cocktail  with tequila, made with spices, tomato and mescal; giving a delicious spicy kick to an already delicious cold appetizer.

Chef Margarita de Salinas brought mushrooms to the kitchen,  abundantly available due to the rainy season’s concurrence with the festival. Their earthy flavors enhanced her quail course.

However, many of the chefs simply looked in the walk-ins, worked with partner chefs and made use of what they found.   Collaboration and learning took place, according to all participants.

“We see ourselves as young explorers, constantly pushing the traditions and evolving our knowledge,” said Chef De Livier. 
De Livier’s own staff were very happy to assist the celebrity chefs in the kitchen.

One young cook had her jacket signed by every guest chef. 

“They see and learn a lot.  They’re excited to be with best chefs in the country,” he said about his cooks.

Many of the chefs, fluent English speakers all, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. All are successful in whichever city they work, many own their own restaurants. They cook with local, seasonal and organic ingredients but are also global in their preparation and approach to food.

Egos aside, each team created memorable dishes.  Pan seared scallops with parsnip puree, guajillo chile ravioli with chorizo and potato, Yucatan ink; a pork belly filled taco made from potatoes, paired with a rich, reduced beefy broth;  sous vide watermelon with spices and chilies, heat and sweetness paired nicely; or a more familiar chicken mole are just  a few of the menu items created for one dinner. Chile oil confit quail with Mexican rainfall mushrooms, huitlacoche tamal and cotija crisp; and Tartaleta Alberto, sweet corn tart, chocolate fondant and mango mousse were served another evening.

Every course was expertly paired with wine or beer by Master Sommelier Juan Carlos Flores. Named the 2004 Champion Sommelier of Mexico at the age of 27, he was the youngest to have won that title. He was also recently chosen Sommelier of the Year by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.

What you could not find were fajitas, enchiladas and burritos. Missing also were standard preparations of lobster, steak or seafood. Those who have not traveled to Cabo in the last 5 or 6 years will be impressed and delighted by the sophistication of the cuisine and chefs. The ever-growing upscale market driving Cabo San Lucas hotels, homes and time-shares also supports the same level of fine dining found in the US and Europe. 

Owners with long-term vision and resources are building resorts with the same service and amenities found in high-end hotels everywhere. They also understand the importance of meeting or exceeding guest expectations for food and wine. The changing culinary landscape designed by Mexico’s leading chefs provides the way to meet that guest market.

Bringing Mexico’s finest chefs together during PacifiCooks allowed them to prepare their native cuisine with some new interpretations. The pleasure of such food is the flavor and products, familiar but also in part completely new, for American palates at least. Lacking fussy garnishes and multiple sauces, the presentations were beautifully simple, allowing great fresh ingredients to speak for themselves. 

Plans to expand, grow, visions for the future

Ladder Walk to the BeachPueblo Bonito Pacifica is growing  in huge undeveloped area just east of Cabo San Lucas. Most of the newer resorts have been built along the coastline between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas.   Cabo San Luscas, specifically developed for American tourists, is replete with requisite bars, shopping and restaurants. Private second homes grow in number and most are located in the Cabo San Lucas area.

Just east of the city itself was little development.  No one, until visionary owner Ernesto Coppel, saw possibilities  for growth in the  area, just as geographically beautiful, with sandy beaches, hills and the oldest building in Cabo: The 300-year-old lighthouse on a peak visible exclusively from the property.

The last several years in numerous locations but especially Cabo, companies are seeking profit by  meeting the market demand for the finest new resorts. Millionaires and billionaires want to enjoy their resources in ways similar to the rest of us. While on vacation or vacation/business trips, they seek comfort, service, cuisine at the level to which they are accustomed and they may want that vacation in shorts and flip-flops inside their own space.

For those with the means to choose anywhere to spend their time, fractional ownership and home ownership offer a convenient  and time-saving way to achieve their goals. 

Pueblo Bonito seeks to meet those desires and exceed them with their new development Quivira.

Much has already been accomplished. One semi-private and another private golf course were planned and breaking ground in 2008. Jose Luis Mogollón explained, “Both  were designed by Jack Nicklaus  who believes in their vision enough to contribute as an investor  as well as with his name.”

Another participant carefully chosen for reputation and experience and prior branding is the Ritz-Carlton. Besides years of running luxury hotels, they’ve done home ownership for 10 years.

Project Director José Luis Mogollón heads the overall operation of Quivira Los Cabos and plays an important role in relationships with key business partners such as Ritz-Carlton.

He explained. “We know there are inevitable mistakes,  but they’ve made them, learned from them and we’ll benefit.” He and his staff also keep hire and keep local staff, knowing and follow local regulations and generally keep the project moving efficiently forward.

Jose Luis explained some of the small touches that will enhance guest experience. “The two-way road into the resort will be on two levels so that the ocean view is never blocked,” he said. “We’ll have separate trails for walking, biking and carts.”

And recreation opportunities for everyone in the family abound.

Pacific Pool“We don’t want grandchildren to be bored when they visit,” he commented. Surf and fishing club, kid’s club, coffee bar with wireless internet, landscaped labyrinth, telescope for stars and whale watching, pools and beach club” said Jose Luis. “We want to deliver a lifestyle and community that is worry-free. By offering numerous activities we encourage owners to get to know each other. It would be easy to simply have things delivered and never leave the house because each offers ocean view, pool, patio,  and fireplace.” he added.

Golf, village center, cooking classes, butler service, dog walkers, in-house chef, tennis, spa and more.

“A botanical garden with endangered species will be located here. Guests can work with gardener if they desire,” Jose Luis added.

Sales have been made already. Fractional ownerships start at $350,000 and homes at $5 million.

The project director outlined other amenities that guests may never notice. Part of the $1.5 billion investment is water desalinization.

“We did sustainable before it was trendy. Now the city requires desalinization from other resorts,” Jose Luis said.

A water treatment  plant, energy conservation and recycling are already part of each resort. The company also takes care of graffiti found in parts of the city not always seen by tourists but a positive in the community.

Staff, who already number over 4,000 for the four properties in Los Cabos, have access to clinics and schools.

“Our turnover is less than half of any other resort,” Jose Luis reported.

Linda Mensinga is editor of Culinary Trends Magazine and a frequent contributor to Donne Tempo Magazine

Photo Captions

1) From left to right: Chef Guillermo González Beristáin of Grupo Pangea, Chef Paulina Abascal of Trico Pastry Shops, Chef Margarita de Salinas of Don Emiliano Restaurant, host Chef Antonio de Livier of Pueblo Bonito, Chef Federico López of Event Solutions Cancun, Chef Benito Molina of La Manzanilla Restaurant, and Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita of Café Azul y Oro.

2) Walking paths have ocean views and lush landscaping.

3) Pacifica Pool is just one of several pools for guests and visiting chefs to enjoy