My Mexican Culinary Vacation
Rather than my traditional small-group tour, this trip was a one-week culinary vacation at La Villa Bonita in Tepoztlán, Mexico. Tepoztlán is about an hour and a half drive south of Mexico City. The town has a population of about 36,000 people and sits at an elevation of 5,600’. I was joined on this trip by my long-time travel friend Pam from Wisconsin.
The culinary school at La Villa Bonita is run by Chef Ana Morales and her husband Robb Anderson. The Villa is less than a mile north of the old city center, though the walk back and forth to town is a bit hilly with cobblestone streets most of the way. The package included transfers to/from the Mexico City airport.
Once we arrive we were assigned our rooms and soon gathered to meet the others who would join us for some snacks and a welcome margarita. Later we enjoyed a wonderful dinner together. There are 6 rooms with a maximum of 12 guests. For our week there were 8 of us in total which was a perfect size. The rooms were originally part of a home and each faced out into a beautiful courtyard with views of the mountains and valley below.
They offer various “theme” weeks throughout the year including whole hog (all about pork from butchering to eating), wild mushrooms, etc. We had hoped to go on the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) week, but it was unavailable. The next best thing was the week after, Day of the Dead – The Departure. In Tepoztlán not only do they celebrate on the “official” Day of the Dead, they have local traditions that take place the week after as well.
Each morning started with breakfast: Coffee, fresh juice, yoghurt, fresh fruit, homemade granola, local honey, homemade jams, various breads and biscuits and some kind of traditional Mexican breakfast dish. If desired you could have eggs freshly laid in the Villa’s chicken coop. They have a nice expresso machine in the kitchen or you can have Americano coffee made with a French press. Breakfast never disappointed.
On our first full day we headed down the hill to the Mercado to shop for some ingredients we would use during the week. We picked up vegetables, fruits, herbs, chicken, pork and beef for various local vendors. The meat was fresh having just been butchered. Fortunately we didn’t have to carry everything back up the hill as Ana hired a taxi to take all the food back to the Villa.
Once our shopping was finished we were ready to start cooking! All of the cooking was done in an open air kitchen with great views and a wonderful light breeze.
Each cooking session was different. Ana had selected a menu and then we were each assigned various tasks required for the dishes we were cooking. Slicing, dicing, roasting, blending, etc. Several days we made corn tortillas which takes a while to master.
One couple in the group were farmers from Northern California. One of their main crops was walnuts and they brought a big bag for Ana. With fresh walnuts in hand one day’s menu included Chiles en nogada, a dish of stuffed poblano chiles topped with a walnut-based cream sauce called nogada, pomegranate seeds and parsley. It is typically served at room temperature and is widely considered a national dish of Mexico.
We made some wonderful desserts including rice pudding, flan, tres leches cake and a guava mousse. All were fantastic.
Each dinner was served with a “signature cocktail” as well as beer, wine or your beverage of choice. Some days we ate off the kitchen on the main level and other times on the covered terrace above.
One day we took a short walk to the tortilla mill to grind our nixtamalized corn into masa. I never really knew that a traditional corn tortilla was 100% corn with nothing added.
Like during the “official” Día de los Muertos the week prior we also created our own Ofrenda (Altar) to commemorate the souls of loved ones and lighted and decorated the walkway from the main gate up to our ofrenda.
We also each carved a calavera (skull) from green squash. That evening we took our lighted calavera and walked in the old city center. Children and parents go from house to house to “pedir calavera” or ask for a treat for your calavera, much like trick-or-treating in the U.S. During our walk we visited several churches decorated for Día de los Muertos. While candies were passed out to the children one family invited the adults, including us, for a warm “adult beverage” made with grain alcohol. It was really a unique experience.
Ana has a dog named Maco who was in and out of the kitchen and around the property when we were there. At times he was a bit mischievous. One evening we were enjoying margarita and Maco decided he wanted the napkin under Pam’s drink. Needless to say there was broken glass and a mess to clean. Poor Maco!
The trip ran Sunday to Sunday. On four days we had hands-on cooking classes. One day we had a “day in the life” excursion to the small town of Hueyapan that included making bread with a home-hosted lunch. Our final Saturday was a free day to do as we wanted in town.
For the Saturday we were there we actually had a treat in that we all got back together and cooked carne asada with grilled vegetables, various sides and finished off with leftover desserts from the week. The grilling was done on Ana’s repurposed wheelbarrow grill.
If you are ever looking for something different to do on a vacation I would highly recommend spending a week with Chef Ana at La Villa Bonita. Ana is the best! You will learn to cook traditional Mexican food and certainly won’t ever be hungry. And the best part, Ana’s staff cleans all the dishes.
Dates: Nov 6 – 13, 2023
Operator: La Villa Bonita Culinary Vacations
Recipes from our culinary adventure:
Below I’ve included some additional photos of the La Villa Bonita property, cooking classes and the town of Tepoztlán. I must admit it’s difficult to prepare Mexican food and try to photograph at the same time.