by Barbara Barton Sloane
|“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”|
Emerging from a cool plunge in the deep blue sea of Bandaras Bay, I settled back in a little motorboat which gently rocked side to side as it glided towards densely forested cliffs and an intensely blue grotto. The sun was high overhead, its warmth lulling me into a dream-like state of sheer bliss. Bobbing in the bay, I reveled in the fact that I was incommunicado, far away from shore, unavailable, unreachable and suspended in an azure dream.
Bandaras Bay, on the west coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, is considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world, framed by the majestic Sierra Madre mountain range and with 40 miles of pristine coastline. This city, while being home to a popular tourist destination (thank you Taylor and Burton), a plethora of cultural festivals and a thriving art scene, accomplishes the seeming impossible – it retains the character and traditions of the small fishing village it once was.
W.C.Fields famously said: “I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food.” Me too! Always ready to join in on food fun, I came to Puerto Vallarta to experience their renowned gourmet festival - and this year the 23rd festival takes place from November 10-19. It’s a ten day whirlwind of cocktail and after-parties, cheese, wine and tequila tastings, cooking classes, concerts, conferences, chefs’ gala dinners and ends with awards ceremonies for the Chef’s Hall of Fame.
The festival is the brainchild of Thierry Blouet, chef of the city’s famed restaurant Café des Artistes, Heinz Reize of Hotel Krystal and Silvan Muller of Nestle. As the culinary scene here is superior to almost anywhere else in Mexico, their thought was to promote this city’s vibrant restaurants on a world stage and to enrich the profile of its gastronomic scene locally and abroad. Today, the festival attracts the top names in global gastronomy, as well as some of the world’s most promising rising stars.
The first Gourmet Festival took place in 1995 with the participation of six hotels and six independent restaurants. The original format remains unchanged; each one of the participant restaurants invites a celebrity in the culinary scene. In the last twenty three years, changes have been seen in the growth and expansion of nearby Riviera Nayarit and Tepic and over twenty 5-star hotels and restaurants will be participating this year.
This haute cuisine culture exchange has been advantageous to everyone - to the local chefs, to the guest master chefs, and to Puerto Vallarta visitors – a truly win-win happening.
Besides eating, there’s much to keep one busy in Puerto Vallarta. During my visit I did some deep sea fishing (no luck but thank goodness for Dramamine!), rode a lovely Palomino named Daisy along the beach, and had the opportunity to do some whale watching. Actually, I prefer to call it whale searching as I saw nary a one. I did see a blow spout far out in the distance. Does that count? We strolled through Vallarta’s colorful, historic downtown where we found the famous icons - The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the famed Malecon Boardwalk.
This walk is lined with sculptures by well-known local and international artists, a veritable open-air gallery. One of my favorite artworks was by an artist from Jalisco – Rafael Zamarripa, a sculpture of a boy riding a seahorse. It is much loved by locals and has become the symbol of Puerto Vallarta. Our walk ended at Los Arcos, a beautiful open-air amphitheatre overlooking the sea that hosts dance, music, theatre, and folkloric presentations.
Shall we do a little cooking right now? Let’s pair together this glorious destination by the sea with salt water, sugar, sand, island spice and Mariachi music. Pepper with the world’s finest chefs, preheat to 85 degrees and what do you have? The perfect recipe for a vacation. You’ll leave with some wonderful and very tasty memories.