The Wonder that is Mexico

The flight wasn’t too bad only 10 or eleven hours and I was on my adventures again, with 29 colleagues, all top performers, and the destination was Mexico.Photo 08-12-2019, 15 08 41The Banyan Tree at Mayakoba on the Maya Riviera is a luxury hotel, everyone gets a villa with private pool, lots of outside seating to chill and listen to the birds talking to each other, it was paradise. Each villa gets a bicycle for each occupant, or alternatively pick up the phone and an eco friendly buggy will come and pick you up!Photo 05-12-2019, 10 26 53A welcome dinner had been prepared for us, interesting were the bread rolls filled with a cream cheese, unusual but tasty. The fish was very fresh and cooked perfectly, it looked like Stone Bass but whatever it was, it was damn good,

These trips are full on, the itinerary is jam packed and on this one, I had added a couple of extra’s, a cookery course that I have already posted about, and a trip to the ancient site at Tulum, an important historical port which was on my bucket list, and now ticked off.

Breakfast at the Banyan Tree was nuts but in a positive way as the choice was endless. I opted to go local and was glad I did, a cookery station prepared various options each morning, if you wanted Sausage, Bacon and Eggs that was available on the buffet station. The fruit was delicious, fresh, nicely prepared and extremely tasty with lots of variety. Unusual, but very good was the Bacon Wrapped…………Banana with the Eggs. Nice!Photo 05-12-2019, 18 20 35The first activity was ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicles), followed by some history on the Mayan Civilisation and a dip in a Cenote. The morning flew by and it as soon time for lunch, hurray.

Lunch was at La Fondita, part of the Mayakoba complex where we were staying and was to be a real treat. We were presented with numerous ‘Tostadas’ laden with delicious toppings such as Ceviche Mixto (Mixed Seafood, Tomato, Onion, Avocado, and Black Habanero Salsa) and Atún con Chicharrón (Tuna, Habanero, Avocado, Lime, Red Onion, Crispy Pork Rinds) which was particularly good and I managed more than one! There were Meat, Chicken and Vegetarian options and they were all FAB.

A ‘nice swim at my villa’ was just what was needed after the mornings activity as I had not dipped completely in the Cenote, but just dangled my feet. Those little fish that nibble your toes in the various resorts around the Med were a natural phenomena in the pool of water so I got my feet tickled by their nibbling instead! The evenings activity was to be a ‘meal in a cave’ and ‘Chaak’ the Water God was one of the statues that were to great us as we walked up to our evening venue, Rio Secreto.Photo 06-12-2019, 01 34 39I have never eaten in a cave before, we were 50 metres below the surface in a beautiful cavern, and entertained by a Mayan ritual dance which was extremely energetic, as we were served a combination of Mexican and International Cuisine.

The main course was fine but for me the standout dishes were the starter, a Tamale, filled with Cream Cheese and served with a mild Pepper Sauce and the take on a Cheesecake which was delightful, a crisp shell with a sweet cheese filling, very tasty and a beautiful light finish. Time for bed, #Stuffed.Photo 06-12-2019, 17 28 07The following day was free time, I had booked on a cookery course, it was awesome, see the previous post for details as I learned the proper techniques to prepare Mexican cuisine and was taught by the lovely Karla, who really knew her beans 🙂 Photo 06-12-2019, 18 05 04After a welcome rest we were off to Cancun to Rosa Negra, a ‘hip’ goto restaurant with a reputation for food and entertainment.

They must have been having a very off night, there are loads of reviews saying this is the best restaurant in Cancun, oh dear! The beetroot starter was MASSIVE, way too big, ugly in fact. It was completely un-balanced and from what I saw, most plates where sent back with at least 1/2 the food uneaten. The concept was fine, but reduce the Beetroot by 2/3’s and increase the Goats Cheese Mouse by 400% and you would have a fantastic dish. The fish was style over substance, apparently there was Hoisin Sauce but the Salty Soy was so strong you could not taste it. The Carrot Cake was sweet, sweet, too sweet, much too sweet! Sorry this was my worst meal of the whole trip which was a shame as a little attention to detail and it could have been amazing, I guess the head chef had a night off!

The following morning was our last before moving on to Tulum, breakfast was a delicious Blue Corn Quesadilla stuffed with Courgette Flowers and Oaxaca cheese, yumm. After a few hours on a 44 Foot luxury Catamaran and a light lunch we were ready for dinner again! This time it was ‘CATCH’ in Playa del Carmen.

Catch was amazing, the food was amazing, the views over the town were also very good, fireworks kicking off as we ate course after course after course! Standout dishes were the ‘Hellfire Rolls’ (spicy Tuna Two ways, Green Apple and Balsamic), ‘Catch Ceviche’ (Crab, Caribbean Lobster, Shrimp, Scallop, Mango and Orange Ponzu), ‘Wagyu Short Rib Taco’s (Huitlacoche Aioli, Guacamole, Mango & Serrano Relish), in fact, it was all bloody delicious! Next Stop Tulum.Photo 08-12-2019, 22 23 41

What can I say about Tulum………traffic jams, slow traffic, building, Taboo Beach Club, Casa Malca and some historic ruins (about 30 of them just down from Mayakoba) 🙂 Its a hip place and our stop before reaching our hotel was the beach club. It was slow, lazy, relaxing and just the thing after a few busy days. Lunch was fantastic, probably the best Seabass (Branzino) I have ever eaten, it was beautiful. The Ceviche starter was delish as was the Ricotta Orange Cheesecake.

We all relaxed for a few hours, taking in the atmosphere, the DJ was amazing and the Saxophone player, walking around and amongst the guests was extremely good, it was a really delightful afternoon and it was soon time to book into our hotel, Pablo Escobars’ old hideaway, now a boutique hotel Casa Malca, about 20 mins away

Almost done, phew, I’m nearly full up. Casa Malca has a style of its own, eclectic, eccentric and hip. Previously Pablo Escobars hideaway it’s now a boutique hotel owned by an America art dealer which makes for some interesting items spread around the property. This was our last location before flying back to the UK.

Evening dinner was very pleasant, the restaurant has a new chef and the food was exemplary if not that Mexican. After getting up early to go to the ruins and feeling somewhat hungry (I have no idea why, after the previous few days), breakfast called and a interesting cup of tea (which was very nice) and a freshly cooked Omelette, which was the tastiest I have ever eaten and beautifully presented. This was not quite the finale to this epic adventure. We had one last stop for lunch at Mina, another Beach Club, Burritos and Pizza which were nicely cooked, the kitchen very open plan.Photo 09-12-2019, 18 20 00


…………………………..Until next time…………….L8ers……………………

I should quickly mention that on our return journey we spent a few hours at a school for disadvantaged children, donating a load of food for breakfast, for some the only meal they get each day. We also played and watched them smile with beams of happiness, that we would spend time with them, it was a wonderful end to the trip.Photo 09-12-2019, 19 59 24


A Mexican Dream – El Pueblito Cookery School, learning to cook Mexican food in Mexico, from a Mexican chef!

So I am in Mexico at the moment, enjoying some sun and culture. Did you know the Mayans invented Bubblegum! Nor did I until yesterday, but as often happens synthetics and mass production take over and what was an organic by product of the Manilkara Chicle tree is now artificial,  and full of all sorts of ‘stuff’.Photo 06-12-2019, 10 27 59Having spent a few hours with the delightful Executive Chef/Tutor Karla Enciso, at the El Pueblito Cookery School at Mayakoba my senses have been kick started, I am now of the firm belief that Mexican food has been much maligned by mass production and marketing by multi-national brands, I am sure you know who I mean.

Being extremely fortunate to be awarded a ‘prize’ for hard graft again, I found myself the holder of a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Mexico, and this included some spare time to enjoy the resort we are staying at, in between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on the ‘Riviera Maya’.IMG_1173Mayakoba is a ‘complex’ with a number of hotels, a championship golf course, and a small ‘village’ where the cookery school resides. I had booked 3 hours of 1-2-1 cooking, just me and the lovely Karla.

On arrival a ‘station’ had been prepared for me with various ingredients, and a couple of ‘Molcajete’  which are rough stone pestle and mortar type implements. As I used them it struck me that they were much more effective than the version I had a home, and generally seen available in the U.K., the surface was much rougher due to the use of stone rather than a smoother marble like has a couple of assistants that do a very fine job of supporting the session, washing and cleaning and putting together the ingredients for each of the dishes, after a quick cup of coffee which they also supplied on demand, we set to start the first dish, a Green Tomatillo Salsa.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a food processor, set it to maximum ‘whizz’ and pour out some green ‘Kermit sludge’ a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

There IS a skill and element of precision to making Green Tomatillo Salsa properly, its takes time, and a great deal of precision. Yes, you DO whizz, but not after some careful attention to the process, but for that you are going to have to come to Mexico and learn for yourself. Oh, I should mention I personally paid for this course and received no discounts etc. so this is a honest view of what I experienced.IMG_E1191Being a 1-2-1 session we were able to interact a lot and I was frequently asking questions and getting to the ‘why’s’ and ‘where’s’ of each dish which was very interesting. 

One thing that really struck me was the detail around getting to the right taste which you cannot learn from a cookery book. Ingredients are different so one Tomatillo contains more or less water than the next, is riper or less ripe so the flavour can change significantly, this was the ‘magic’ of this session jointly debating more Salt, more Lime, more Chilli, lets add some Black Pepper and the result was really next was a simple Molcajete Salsa, yeah right. You might recognise the next paragraphs context.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a pestle and mortar, smash them to bits and pour out some multi-coloured stuff a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

This time we were going to ‘roast’ the ingredients within various seconds of their individual lives on this planet, why, because we were developing some serious intense smokey pungent flavours and this was the way it should be this stage we are about half way through making the Molcajete Salsa, who’s name comes from the Mexican pestle and mortar I was going to use to complete the dish. More notes, another cup of coffee, further debate etc.  As an aside, at the beginning of the session I was asked what music I liked and during our cooking we had RUSH, and Yes playing which being a couple of my favourite groups added to the atmosphere!IMG_1202This Salsa was a massive surprise, it had a deep intense flavour and was something I had never tasted before, when combined with the Guacamole we made next, on top of a thin Tortilla crisp, wow, awesome. I will be definitely making this when I get home.

Having made various important and tasty side dishes we set to work on the Tacos Dorades, and Sopes which involved more techniques for me to learn, which was great.IMG_1177The ‘Masa’ had already been prepared, a dough made from processed corn which is a staple of Mexico and used to make a variety of dishes including ‘Tamales’ which we had last night, 50m down in an amazing ‘cave experience! I will be publishing a separate post on the overall trip with an obvious food focus when I get back to the U.K. next week.IMG_1220If you remember that multi-national comment I made earlier, well I made (pressed) the fresh Masa into Tortillas, they then got a quick fry on both sides before being stuffed with Chicken boiled in Chicken Stock (adds more flavour and keeps the meat moist), and rolled. IMG_1241These are then fried again to crisp up, and topped with whatever you fancy, they were bl@@dy good! I went with the spicy and rich Molcajete Salsa on top of Lettuce and some Cream, and a little Mexican Cheese.IMG_1229Next was ‘Sopes’ these are like shallow cups made using a similar principle, but a bit different! You know where to come to learn how to make them. It was really good fun and having nibbled and munched through Tortillas and the numerous Salsa’s and Guacamole I was ready to sit down for a light lunch, and the Sopes do need eating as soon as possible after they are cooked so that was what we did.

You can see in the pictures above the process of layering re-fried Beans, Chicken, Lettuce etc. into the Masa cup and finishing with a Mexican Cheese called ‘Cotija’.

I have to say that the few hours with Karla went too quickly but I learnt absolutely loads and for the money it was well worth it.

If ever you find yourself anywhere near Mayakoba and fancy a go a authentic Mexican cooking the El Pueblito Cookery School comes highly recommended, the session is long enough to learn loads but to too long that your start to get distracted. Before joining you have a choice of a number of ‘menus’ to pick so there are lots of different techniques available to learn.


…………………………………Until next time………………………..L8ers……………………


Foodie Memories of 2013, Puglia & The Pukka Pakistani

As the new year starts, some thoughts on what happened in my foodie life during 2013, and the culinary skills learnt and food eaten seems appropriate.

It all started in May, and my weeks ‘vacation’ to Masseria Montenapoleone in Puglia, Southern Italy. Learning to cook with a local traditional Mama, on an Organic Farm, loads of new skills and techniques were learnt, including how to create Orcchiette by hand, NO pasta machine in site.


This was followed by Strascinate, Braciole, Foccacia, Risotto & Polpettie di Carne,  the week flew by but much was learnt about how to get the best from simple ingredients.


I have always been a bit of a foodie, but the week in Italy only encouraged me to be more adventurous and experiment with new tastes, flavours and recipes. You can find the start of the original posting here

June, July and August was influenced by a number of chefs, the awesome Bethany Kehdy, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tomasina Miers and William Harcourt-Cooze  to name a few! The direction of travel was mainly the Middle East and South America.


One of my favourite dishes was the one above, care of Bethany, Aubergine Veal and Yoghurt Crumble and was served with Bejewelled Rice.


The Middle Eastern Chicken on Flatbread with Fattoush was also a delicious venture into the Middle East, a truly delightful meal.

The next venture was Spain, care of Omar Allibhoy and his book, ‘The Tapas Revolution’. Various dished were prepared including Pinchos, Tortilla, Braised Pork Cheeks, Mackerel Escabeche and Padron Peppers.


During 2013 I started a new job and it became a bit of an excuse to try some baking, cakes at team meetings became quite popular! There were a couple of particular favourites, but the one that seemed to create the greatest impact was my variation on a Chocolate Brownie, but layered with Fresh Raspberries.


This is before the final layer of cake mix was put over the top. Despite it seeming to weigh quite heavy, it was extremely light, thanks to the Balloon Whisk attachment on the Kenwood Chef which was used to whip the cake mix to a frenzy.


On the dessert and pie front practise and guidance from Richard Bertinet’s book ‘Pastry’, enabled the delivery of some classic dishes such as the Frangipane and Apple Tart above, and the Chicken Pie below!


I have only made Rough Puff Pastry once, so the first attempt at proper Puff Pastry, whilst time consuming was well worth it, the results were awesome (even if I say so myself!). The Pie which was made from scratch was the best I have ever made, and I will be repeating the exercise sometime in 2014, but with a different filling.


After a fantastic meal in a Thai Restaurant on business, I was keen to recreate a particular favourite dish of mine, Massamam Curry. Having an Oriental Store no more than 45 minutes away enabled authentic and fresh ingredients to be sourced and the flavours were truly delicious.

2013-11-23 15.39.00Then we ventured to Pakistan, I was booked on a course with the amazing cook Sumayya Jamil and learnt some more skills around making Massala’s and got to cook a genuine Biryani from scratch (amongst other amazing dishes).  I really recommend her courses, SJ has a breadth of knowledge passed down the family, and its a really great way to learn new skills, and get to better understand a lesser known cuisine.

So my whistle stop tour of the year is complete, food inspirations in no particular order from Bethany Kehdy, Ren Behan, Yotam Otolenghi, Richard Bertinet, Maria Elia, Rachel Khoo, Omar Allibhoy, Stephane Renaud, Sumayya Jamil and many others, with various visits to restaurants has inspired me to continue the adventure.

It goes without saying that my foodie adventure is only possible thanks to some fantastic suppliers, Caseys Farm Shop where the protein comes from, Riverfords for Organic Fruit & Veg, the BEST Spices and specialist products like Freekeh and Mograbieh, from Steenbergs and Ottolenghi’s online stores.

Here’s to more foodie life in 2014, thanks for following.