It is where the Mayan people once came to pay tribute to the sun, where green turtles have nested year after year, and where beach lovers from around the world discover a sandy slice of heaven. Contributor KIM GREEN embarks for the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun: a luxury resort that embodies the vibrant yet quaint charm of one of the finest beaches in Mexico.
Ritz Carlton Cancun. Photograph: Ritz-Carlton
We have all used the saying “mi casa es su casa” at one time or another. But the Ritz-Carlton Cancun has taken this universal saying to an entirely new level by literally opening their kitchen doors to guests, fabulous food, and to fellowship and instruction for the culinary inclined. They offer a wide variety of activities that would appeal to foodies at all levels. I participated in “Dine with the Chef” during my recent visit because, after all, cuisine is the keynote of any culture.
Instructed to report to the Main Lobby to start my experience, the Ritz Carlton Cancun suggests you "wear something comfortable," as the Culinary Center is a residential-style kitchen designed for real, hands-on instruction. I sent my mother off to “Turtle Camp" where she'd participate in releasing hatchlings that come ashore every night to lay their eggs. Whether Dining with the Chef, Swimming with the Turtles, or enjoying the Kayantá Spa, Ritz Carlton invites you to discover something unique about the Maya's culture.
Chef Rory Dunaway in the Culinary Center. Photograph: Ritz-Carlton
In the lobby, we were greeted by Chef Rory Dunaway. Gourmets and social enthusiasts alike will take pleasure in the most amusing dining experience and food show. The Chef’s Table at the Viking® Culinary Center allows 12 guests exclusively the privilege to dine with Chef Rory Dunaway at his luxurious oceanfront kitchen. Each mouthwatering experience includes a five course menu prepared a la minute with specially designed wine pairings.
Chef Rory flung open the doors in delight and encouraged us to go exploring. "Touch all you want, look in drawers, and sample the New England clam chowder as you browse," he said, seemingly as animated and excited about the adventure as were we. A massive oceanfront kitchen presides over the spirit of the Yucatán Peninsula, and this dream kitchen is furnished with state of the art Viking appliances—everything from the built-in refrigerators to induction cooktops—designed for serious instruction.
Chef Rory created a Mediterranean menu reminiscent of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Our class was full, and the group dynamic was as interesting as the menu. The atmosphere was intimate, casual, and relaxed. It almost felt like a private dinner party with new friends.
Sea Scallops, Cauliflower Puree. Photograph: Recipe Hub
We started off with a watermelon and cantaloupe salad with a goat cheese mousse and classic vinaigrette. The goat cheese was creamy and smooth, and with the addition of olive oil and whipping cream, it achieved a perfect balance for the sweet and juicy fruit. This was paired with a French Chardonnay. He believes that the recipe is a roadmap, while the actual cooking is the true journey and craft. Next, were seared scallops with a cauliflower puree coupled with a prosciutto and tomato salad. And the scallops were seared to perfection! As Chef went over the two types of scallops (sea and bay), he stressed the importance of form: a hot pan, no overcrowding, and very dry scallops—secrets of the Aztecs. Otherwise, you risk steaming the meat. He recommends buying scallops that are vacuum packed when fresh, versus ones that have been injected with water to ensure their shelf life. The only seasoning he used on the scallops was salt. Emphasizing salt as simply an additive he says “save the good stuff for something else.” The puree was a wonderful partner to the scallops made with chicken stock and fat free milk, and he suggested sneaking this puree into your macaroni and cheese rue if you have a hard time getting the kids to eat vegetables saying “They'll never know it’s in there.”
Tequila Tasting at Ritz-Carlton Cancun. Photograph: Ritz Carlton
The Third course was Sea Bass in papillote with provencal vegetable, and paired with a French Pinot Noir. En papillote is nothing more than a French cooking technique which means “in parchment.” By cooking the fish in these individual parchment pouches, the sea bass came out moist, flakey, and delicious. This technique is also popular on the grill with aluminum foil. Our Forth course consisted of seared Rack of Lamb with herb polenta and mint demi paired with an Italian Chianti. By this time in the evening, Chef Rory hung up his apron and joined us to mingle and enjoy. We ended the evening with a lovely chocolate soufflé with Grand Marnier.
It seemed a shame to shut down the fun so early in the evening, so my new friends & I headed off to the hotel lounge to sample the Ritz Carlton's Tequila Tasting. The Aztec people originally made a fermented beverage from the agave plant, long before the Spanish arrived in 1521, but when the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill agave to produce one of North America's first indigenous distilled spirits. You know you’ve had great fun when you wake up the next morning in your new friend’s flip-flops.
Trade Winds - Isla Mujeres, Mexico (Near Cancun) Photograph: Patrick Smith
Located on the Caribbean Sea, on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Cancun is considered a renowned tourist destination in Mexico. Originally known to its Maya inhabitants as Nizuc meaning "promontory" or "point of grass" in the years after the Conquest, much of the Maya population vanished as a result of disease, warfare, piracy and famine. The Ritz Carlton Cancun draws the world back to her shores to swim with the turtles, re-join their festivals on endless white sand beaches, and to partake of and celebrate their world class traditions of cuisine.
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