Los Dos

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

On the last day of our trip to the Yucatan, my group was fortunate enough to receive audience with the unbelievably knowledgeable (and gracious!) David Sterling. We learned so much in an hour long talk by David, who is an engaging and witty teacher. As a student of the ice age, I was fascinated to learn that many indigenous species are unique to the land because millions of years ago, when sea levels were much higher than they are now, Yucatan was an island.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Wood smoke and ash meet brightness and heat in the cuisine of the Yucatan, and not only did David give us the history, he made it come alive in his kitchen serving up the best food we had eaten the entire trip. We were spoiled with delicacies and did not want to leave (also contributing to our group’s reluctance to go is that Los Dos is BEAUTIFUL and the strongest AC I had felt in Mexico.)

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Thank you David for being an incredible host to our group of chefs and managers and sharing your years of accumulated research and deliciousness!

Mercado Lucas de Gálvez

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Some of the chefs in the group posted beautiful photos of this market when we got back to Chicago. I was in pure survival mode, trying to make it through the heat and crowds. There was a lot to see, much in the way of native fruit and vegetables.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

This is a great market to buy the indigenous spice rubs known as recados. In the fish section, a small group of young men was playing badass, rowdy music. It fit the market perfectly I only wish I’d heard it on the way in, to psych myself up!

Manjar Blanco

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Miriam Peraza welcomed our group with open arms for breakfast on the last day of our trip to the Yucatan. First thing at the table was a smoothie of chaya, to give us the good energy. Panuchos and motulenos arrived shortly thereafter. I have never had huevos motulenos as good as this, and Miriam went the extra mile to give us the background of the dish.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Miriam went above and beyond making us a brasso de reina (“arm of the queen,”) a giant tamal traditional cooked buried under coal and earth. It was unreal. Chef Rick met with the local press and announced that the next season of Mexico: One Plate at a Time will be focused entirely on the cuisine of the Yucatan, and will begin filming in 2016.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

I had to read about it on the internet later on: at that moment all I cared about was Chef Miriam’s delicious breakfast!

Culinaria del Sureste

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

My group of chefs and restaurant managers from Chicago got a private cooking class by one of the instructors at Culinaria del Sureste. The chef used hot rocks to finish cooking a traditional Mayan seafood soup.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

It was an unbelievable technique and made for a delicious dinner. It was great visiting a culinary school in the Yucatan and seeing the passion of these young cooks!

Uxmal

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

This was my first time seeing Mayan ruins, and beyond the structures themselves, what really grabbed me was the mathematics undergirding it all. We had a very talented guide who not only spoke in great detail, but was also able to map out with ballpoint pen many of the concepts embedded in the construction of this amazing city.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

My friend Jim, a chef from Chicago, often gets made fun of as he bares more than a passing resemblance to the lead character “Jaguar Paw” from the Mel Gibson film, Apocalypto. No one made fun of my friend at Uxmal, and in fact we did a photoshoot where Jim was able to bring 100% Mayan realness.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Unfortunately, we had to head back to Merida before the nightly laser show.

Museo del Chocolate

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

I am a guide for chocolate tours in the US, so every time I get to Mexico my favorite part is learning more about the native cacao. On this trip to the Yucatan (where my restaurant sources our cacao) we visited the Chocolate Museum for a guided tour.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

There were many neat stories I learned from this beautiful, brand new museum. For example, damp, shaded, partially dried up cenotes make the perfect habitat for cacao trees in the Yucatan. And in the days of the Mayan empire, when cacao was currency, ten cacao beans would buy a hare.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

The highlights of the visit were the ancient Mayan rain ceremony, where the priest individually blessed everyone in our group. He lingered extra long over my boss Carlos, who filled up with energy, and in that moment was given his eagle name: Jaguar Paw.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

My favorite part came at the end, with the chocolate talk and tasting. I had never tasted cacao brewed with achiote and no sugar. This chocolate was red as my blood, and as soon as it pumped to my heart, I was ready for the ruins at Uxmal.

Tutul Xiu

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Tutul Xiu is one of the most delicious restaurants I have visited in Mexico.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

In the peaceful, beautiful small town of Mani, they are making traditional Yucatecan cuisine unlike anything I have had before.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Papazdules, recado negro and blanco, panuchos… the various flavors, tastes of earth, smoke, grilled wood are irresistible.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

This is authentic Mayan, and the main event, not to be missed, is poc chuc.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Pork cured in lime and wood grilled served with juicy brightly acidic tomato, pickled onion and a salsa of green habanero. It was unbelievable!

K’u’uk

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Wow Kuuk was one of the meals I will remember for the rest of my life. It was the third time I have ever had a tasting menu and I really enjoyed the originality and creativity of the chefs’ storytelling.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

The first course was described as what happened to the sea when the meteor that killed off the dinosaurs arrived in Yucatan: ash, fish, fossilized leaves. I loved the care of the plating and impeccable service.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

The final savory course was venison and really brought home how unique the style of cooking in Kuuk is: this traditional ingredient was elevated beyond the level of a Michelin star kitchen to a deliciousness that no deer has ever held for me.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Amazing chefs, spotless kitchen and spot on service. Kuuk is that rare meal that is a complete experience, better than a film, and I would recommend for any American visiting Merida check out the theater of the palate these madmen have created.

Cochinita Pibil

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

We had the unbelievable opportunity to head out to a small village for cochinita pibil – the traditional way.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Maya men dressed up in all white unearthed the pig buried in coal.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Miriam lead us into a shady Maya dwelling set with a large table for the feast.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Maybe it was the green habanero, the local heritage breed pigs or maybe just the slow and low cooking in the earth, but these were the best tacos I’ve ever had!

La Tradición

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Folks in the Yucatan think of themselves as a people apart from the rest of Mexico. There are restaurants that serve Mexican food, and restaurants that serve Yucatecan food.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

La Tradicion is all about the distinctive dishes of the Yucatan, the heritage of the Maya. We had a three course breakfast for the ages.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

Ripe Mexican dragonfruit with melon got the taste buds going (helped along with some strong coffee!) We enjoyed conchas and other freshly baked pastries.

3rdarm rick bayless frontera grill staff trip xoco yucatan merida maya uxmal cochinita pibil poc chuc arthur mullen manager

For the day’s power, our group had scrambled eggs with chaya, the Mayan miracle plant. Eggs, coffee, chaya and habanero are the essential ingredients for Yucatecan rocket fuel!

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