Getting seduced by food is an occupational hazard when you write about it, especially when the food is incredibly fresh and the chef is incredibly handsome. I had a great time working with Chef Yvan Mucharrez, Exec Chef at Auberge Resort’s Chileno Bay on this post. Yvan is very passionate and serious about his craft and using sustainable, fresh, local ingredients for his five-star cuisine. As I was getting to know the chef, we discovered that he opened Rosewood Mayakoba in April 2008 when I was also the global PR Director for Rosewood. Though I didn’t meet Yvan during my many trips there, we share many mutual friends and memories of the resort. In fact, he shared with me a story about when legendary chef Thomas Keller dined at Rosewood Mayakoba.
Though only an except appears on the Chileno Bay website, here is the article I wrote in its entirety. Enjoy.
The Mexican Chef Who Made Thomas Keller Happy by Kersten Rettig for ARC
I don’t cook for words, I don’t cook for any other reason than to make people happy. A few years ago, before arriving at Chileno Bay, I cooked for Thomas Keller. I knew he was staying at the resort where I worked at the time, so I prepared a menu for him and waited . . . I didn’t know if he would show up in the restaurant, but he did. I was so nervous, but just took a deep breath and said, “Let’s do this,” and greeted him and his fiancé at the table. He must have seen something in me because after dinner he asked me to come visit him at The French Laundry which turned into a job.
My days start early and end late but allow me the opportunity to experience the resort unaccompanied and when it’s quiet. It’s as if the solitude amplifies the radiance of the Cabo sunrises I see in the morning and the stars that guide me home at the end of the day. My title is Executive Chef at Chileno Bay, but I don’t consider it my job. For me it’s fun, it’s not work. I’ve worked in the kitchens of Michelin-starred chefs and days blurred together in a montage of sights, smells and sounds – brightly colored produce, bone stocks and the repetitive clapping of knives prepping vegetables. Here in Cabo I live at a different pace.
The land and waters surrounding Cabo San Lucas are abundant with super fresh ingredients I can use in the kitchen and they all have the unique taste of the area – a little minerality from the land and the salty, sweet flavor of the Sea of Cortez. I use only what is in season, organic and sustainable. For example, we source our totoaba from a local fish farmer who is helping to raise and reintroduce it back into the sea. The crudo and ceviche we prepare is made from locally caught kanpachi and shrimp, too. They’re so fresh, we don’t cover up the flavors, we just add a little acidic citrus, a pop of chile or a rich avocado. Sometimes we host barbecues at the resort and, for that, I prefer to use local mesquite or pecan wood for the smoking wood. I have everything I need around me to prepare really good food.
When I was young I liked hanging out in the kitchen and learning from my mom the basics of cooking. I still like hanging out in the kitchen, there’s a lot of camaraderie here, both among the team and suppliers. There’s really nothing that compares to having our suppliers show up each morning with their best seafood and produce. The moment they walk in and start unloading, I feel the creative energy that swells throughout the culinary team. There is a hum in the kitchen as some of the culinary team inspects the product. I see they are as excited as I am about getting their hands on this bounty and make something memorable from it.
As satisfying as it is to be in the resort’s kitchen, visit new suppliers at a local farm or fish market, I do take time to recharge find inspiration. Cabo offers so many personal adventures – fishing, boating, hiking and going into town – but my personal adventures are a bit different. I like to read and immerse myself in history, different cultures, cooking, art, everything. I also like to escape and explore places that are in the middle of nowhere. Baja is a state of contradictions in some ways; the desert is harsh, there are fertile lands here too and, of course, the dramatic coastal areas. On days off I will head out on a scenic drive – one of my favorites is the drive to Todos Santos which is about an hour drive north along the coast.
Spending my days at Chileno Bay is a dream. There is lightness all around and a desire to please running strong. I’m proud of the talent among the culinary team and the positive energy that they put into every bite of food they produce. When our guests leave here, I hope they leave here energized and relaxed, well-nourished and with a sense of well-being, because that’s also how I feel about working here.
Occasionally, my team and I participate in local food festivals such as the Sabor a Cabo, a food and wine festival that takes place in December and is a great showcase for the talented chefs and kitchen staffs here in Cabo. When I travel internationally, to Napa Valley for example, I make a point of trying the best restaurants in the area. There is great fellowship among chefs, I’m offered such warm hospitality and enjoy repaying that generosity in Cabo.