Thursday, January 28, 2010

Culinary Tour to Isla Mujeres, Mexico


It started out as a thought, a small whim no bigger than a speck of sand, or maybe a shell, and the opportunity for a much-needed vacation.

I would design a culinary tour to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and the Yucutan. Combining delicious food and travel—what could be better than that?

But I have to back up. My friend Lori moved to Isla Mujeres, Mexico about 4 years ago. She is one of those people that makes you wonder what the hell you’ve done with your own life. Driven is an understatement. Anyway, Lori set off for Isla Mujeres with her husband, daughter and a small trailer, and visions of all sorts—making mango wine to sell on the beach, managing property, landscaping. What she ended up doing—very successfully—is opening a restaurant, Mango Café, just over a year ago. And long story short, she just opened her second eatery last week.

I love traveling, and I love food, as you know. Combing the two in such a culturally and culinarily (um, is that a word?) rich place is as natural as putting chipotle peppers in raspberry sauce (believe me, it is beyond delicious!!). I knew if anyone could help me set this tour up, it was Lori. Not only is she a great chef—just wait until I post about her food, you will drool on your keyboard—she is a wonderful people person and knows everyone on the island.

Isla Mujeres lies just off the coast of Cancun, offering the beauty of the Caribbean coast without all of the drunken tourists and hubbub. Isla Mujeres is about seven miles long, and reminds me of my hometown, where everyone knows each other. There are plenty of tourists there, but you can still feel the quaintness of the small neighborhoods that dot the island.

Scouting for this tour was hard work. I had to check out the beaches, eat great food, drink daquiris on the beach, tour guest accommodations and survey other local attractions. The more I saw, the more I knew that Isla Mujeres could be a great destination for a culinary tour. The details and possibilities just fell into place, and all of the sudden the reality of the tour washed over me like a wave. So here it is:

DATES and ACCOMMODATIONS:

The tour will run for seven days and six nights, April 10-17. Participants will stay at Casa de Las Palmas on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It is an incredible, luxurious villa that looks out over the ocean. Each room has a private bath, and guess what? My friend Lori helped to design and decorate the villa. It is beautiful and includes a kitchen and large dining table so we can have cooking classes on premises. But take a look for yourself….

DAILY SCHEDULE:

Each day, except when we tour Merida and Isla Contoy (see below), we will start with a delicious breakfast catered by Chef Lori Dumm who owns Mango Café and Blue Iguana Deli. Lori puts together flavors in ways that will surprise you, and leave you wanting more. Breakfasts might include bagels with chipotle cream cheese, or her famous Concha bread French toast with orange-rosemary syrup. Organic Oaxacan coffee will be provided.

Every day, you will have one cooking class in the morning or afternoon, and a chance to explore the island with an optional group activity. The cooking classes will be taught by Lori Dumm and Oscar Flores. Oscar comes from a family of chefs, and cooks traditional Mexican recipes, such as enchiladas, seafood soup, and mole. Just tasting his homemade Guajillo chile enchilada sauce felt like pure indulgence. Lori makes the most amazing “fusion” food. Some of my favorite items on her menu include a chile relleno stuffed with cream cheese, eggs, and bacon and her Korean pork barbeque sandwich with jicama slaw and pickled jalapenos. Mmmm.

You will definitely have time to do more than eat— that is, if you want to. There will be optional group activities each day—they might include sailing, snorkeling, hitting the beach or discovering the zoo or turtle sanctuary. You can certainly check out the small island on your own, or head into Cancun if you desire. The island is only 7 miles long and is very easy to get around!

The meal that we DON”T cook will be on your own, or feel free to stop by the market and cook something up in the huge kitchen at Casa de Las Palmas.

TRIPS:

During this tour we will have the opportunity to explore some of the beautiful places in that area.

We will take a day trip to Isla Contoy, a national park/island that is teeming with birds, and very few people. We reach the peaceful island by boat, and enjoy the pristine beaches, clear water, snorkeling and/or birdwatching. We will enjoy a cooking class on the beach and learn to make a traditional Mayan grilled fish dish called tik n chix. This trip depends on the weather.

We will spend Tuesday and Wednesday traveling to Merida, a beautiful colonial city, and the capital of Yucutan. Tuesday morning we will leave Cancun and head to the ruins of Ek Balam and cenote Dzinup, both near the town of Valladolid. Ek Balam is thought to have been the longest continually inhabited Mayan city in the Yucutan, and lies about 100 miles from Cancun en route to Merida. Cenote Dzinup (a freshwater pool formed by collapsed limestone) is one of the most beautiful cenotes in the Yucutan, and great for a refreshing swim! We will spend the night in Merida, and wake up to explore the markets with chef Lori Dumm. After gathering some ingredients, Lori will help us create a delicious lunch before heading back to Isla Mujeres.

All in all, I guarantee you will have a fabulous, relaxing and delicious time. Please check out some photos from my recent trip on Flickr.

COST:

Since this is my first year running the tour, I am asking a reduced rate of $1500/person. $400 extra for single occupancy, $150 less for non-cooking companion.

Cost includes: breakfast and meal cooked during class each day on Isla Mujeres, a daily cooking class, a daily yoga class, trip to Isla Contoy and Merida, and all fees associated with those trips, and lodging, golf cart rental for getting around the island (shared).

Cost does NOT include: round trip airfare to Cancun, ground transport to/from Isla Mujeres from airport, entrance fees to optional group activities on Isla Mujeres (range from $3 to $50), lunch or dinner (whichever one we don’t cook during the class), and any personal spending money.

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