Talk about “gilding the lily.” The food and drink offerings at the world-class Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort are turning out to be the main attraction at a luxury resort best known for its incredible views of the Sea of Cortez, and the panoply of organic pursuits such as cooking classes, golf, spa, yoga, and whale-watching. Yet, the local, seasonal menus that its award-winning Executive Chef Mauricio Lopez has created and manages at the property’s six-plus restaurants and dining venues is nothing short of Mexican magic.
While it’s true that perception all too often drives reality, the very essence of travel — and culinary adventure — is to discover; experience; celebrate. So forget the pre-conceived notion of “Mexican” food as that crazy American invention of sloppy, Cinco di Mayo interpretations – (much as chop suey served as a de facto “Chinese” food for far too long). Experience the very nuanced, layered, cultural cuisine of Mexico at the Hilton Los Cabos. Can’t schedule a trip at the moment? You would’ve been in luck to experience a sampling of chef’s Hilton Los Cabos Resort menu right here in Gotham; however before this Examiner could finish the news post, the dinner event was declared a sell-out! Chef Mauricio and three of his kitchen team of cooks, including the pastry chef, will be serving up their extraordinary cultural cuisine at James Beard House Restaurant – New York, NY tonight. So two culinary options remain (a long-shot/long-term, third option remains. More on that later). Be sure to log in to the pre-event videos to view Chef Mauricio Lopez and his team on the JBF Kitchen Cam/Camera preparing their “Cavorting in Cabo” menu. The team has been working diligently preparing the dishes since they arrived in New York on Sunday. Most of the ingredients were purchased locally and some were brought from the local farmers they have working relationships with near the Hilton property in the Baja, the end tip of the penninsula.. Like “food poets” they have been working diligently hand making the pickles, sofrito, mole sauce, and adobe chile paste.
This Examiner is a foodie supporter for all things homegrown — from her own Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook to efforts to highlight more local, seasonal, cultural cuisine everywhere. In fact, I just recently worked on menu development and the homegrown garden ingredients in Ecuador, with this same goal. No longer to content to dine on the same ol’ Continental “safe” fare, people will travel to explore their passion of food and drink.
That Chef Mauricio has been at this locavore approach his entire career could be considered surprising if viewed with a New York degree of optics. (Gotham’s French-based haute cuisine was so well entrenched it took something akin to a food tsunami to change dining styles.) Yet Chef Mauricio leans in during an interview to share that while he’s professionally trained, he’s most proud to have been cooking like his mother and grandmother all his life. Plus, when he travels, he seeks out the local street food creations for inspiration. Amen to that. But just as surprising is that he pursues the homegrown, seasonal menu within the infrastructure of a corporate entity. Most often, corporations pray at the food altar of consistency and control – to the loss of taste and excitement. Chef and Gabriela Vanderlee, Director Hilton Los Cabos, explain how the menus at all the restaurants on the property offer a a “wide variety of local, fresh ingredients, and especially a ‘sense of place.’” Chef detailed how relationships matter – including those with his kitchen staff, the guests, his growers and artisans: farmers, butchers and fishermen. And of course the relationship to the environment. The interview conversation highlighted how “Guests come to us for a restorative and cultural experience, and want to commune with nature and with the organic influences found there.”
Lest one think of Mexican culture as rather solid block of dishes, Chef talked about the diversity and regionality found within Mexican cuisine. And he’s worked throughout the country over the course of his award-winning career, learning along the way about the incredibly varied food palette of Mexico. At the Hilton Los Cabos Resort, he aims to show the complete portfolio of “sea to table” cuisine and locally sourced ingredients used their traditional Mexican recipes, in a variety of dining venues and styles: from informal to hi-end, showcasing dishes such as “poached eggs, conch, big, chocolate clams, lots of grilling and mesquite, and artisanal tortilla soup.” They hand make all their tacos and tortillas, by the way.
At the Hilton, chef and his team are sure to provide lots of menu flexibility — meaning if a guest wants to order an item from another of the property’s restaurants – no problem. No rules. While the resort is fast becoming a wedding destination, most guests stay an average of four nights so accommodation and freedom of choice are paramount. All guess are welcomed with a signature pomegranate margarita cocktail, seemingly mixed by the gods, with tamarind and chamoy. Other exotic cocktails screaming to be experienced are ones using local herbs, especially the damiana – the aromatic, herbal leaf that has been used as an aphrodisiac. Hey, it’s a love potion! The property also offers a full suite of Mexican wines and local beers to explore and drink, as well as, tequilas. There are even certified “tequileros” – a kind of sommelier but offering trained expertise in the fine art of tequila preparation and drinking.
Executive Chef Mauricio, formerly of the Hilton Hotel Villahermosa, has been working as an Executive Chef at the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort for ten years. He garnered his talents in his home of Acapulco, the port city established by Cortez in the early 1500’s. That’s a lot of culinary history influence. Today, one of his signature dishes remains fish tacos along with a Baja ceviche and a mescal-charred octopus.
And the long-term/long-shot culinary experience previously mentioned is this: in the future, Chef described how he would like to open a cooking school to help young and up-and-coming would-be cooks and chefs, as it “wasn’t easy for me,” he admitted. Used to multi-tasking, Chef says he also aims to “write a book” that will include the best homegrown Mexican recipes he’s prepared during his successful career, such as “enchiladas, and sopas or soups,” he says with a smile. Not so long ago, this Examiner came to the conclusion that Mexican and Korean cuisines are the most nuanced and challenging -and on a sliding scale – downright difficult to impossible to create – due the myriad ingredients, textures, spices and herbs used throughout the recipes, not to mention the complexity of companion tastes. So best to learn from the masters…
According to the Hilton, Chef Mauricio has “participated in several notable culinary events such as La Chaine de Rotisseurs Dinner. In January 2007, he earned international recognition for his culinary expertise in fusion cooking upon receiving the Hilton Chef Diamond Award. In 2008, he won the Culinary Masters Competition in Miami, Florida where he prevailed over chefs from Hyatt Sarasota, Sofitel Victoria Regia and 3030 Ocean Restaurant of Marriott’s Harbor Beach Resort & Spa.”
Since tonight’s “Cavorting in Cabo” is a sell out, the only other option “on the table” – so to speak – is to book a flight to the resort. There are now direct flights from most major US cities, including a Saturday flight out of JFK. Of course, this Examiner will be reporting on the magical Mexican menu being served tonight, however, one must taste this experience. See you in Cabo.
“Cavorting in Cabo” menu at the James Beard House
Carnitas Sopecitos with Black Beans, Tomatillos, and Cilantro Salsa
Jicama Tostadas with Black Bean Hummus, Pickled Vegetables, and Aged Cotija Cheese
Shrimp Pescadillas with Epazote Pesto, Hoja Santa, and Roasted Habanero Salsa
Rib-Eye Tinga Taquitos with Smoked Chipotles, Piloncillo, and Chicharrones
MONTE XANIC VIÑA KRISTEL SAUVIGNON BLANC 2014
ADOBE GUADALUPE GABRIEL VALLE DE GUADALUPE 2012
Baja Ceviche with Marinated Sea Bass, Mango Pico de Gallo, Compressed Watermelon, and Yellow Citrus Salsa
CASA DE PIEDRA ESPUMA DE PIEDRA BARBERA NV
Pulpo a la Talla > Charred Octopus with Guajillo–Garlic Adobo and Mayan Escabèche
CASA MADERO V. ROSÉ 2015
Tortilla Soup with Duck Pibil Panuchito, Pickled Red Onions, and Queso Fresco
EMEVÉ SHIRAZ 2010
Lamb and Beef Barbacoa with Cactus Tortillas, Guacamole, and Salsa Borracha
ROGANTO PICCOLO CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014
Corn Soufflé Tamal with Mole Ice Cream
DON JULIO 1942 TEQUILA AÑEJO