A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of being invited down to Tecate to spend the day at fitness resort/spa Rancho La Puerta and their associated cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta. We met up with other local food bloggers and some folks from Slow Food Urban at the Old Town Trolley Station - the point of departure for their new one-day Saturday program.
On the way down, Marketing Director Peter Jensen gave us an overview of the rich history of the Ranch. In operation since 1940, Rancho La Puerta was founded by Edmond Szekely and his wife Deborah (pictured below). Szekely, who had been holding health camps all over the world, settled on Tecate as a permanent location.
The impression you get from hearing Peter talk about the Szekely's is that the division of responsibilities was pretty clear from the beginning - Edmond was the visionary and would lecture the guests in his philosophy of healthy living while Deborah managed everything else. Now in her late 80's, she seems to still be very much the driving force behind Rancho La Puerta.
Located on a sprawling 3000 acre property (most of it undeveloped), the Ranch is a very appealingly peaceful place. Following a tour of the facilities (which include swimming pools, gymnasiums, hiking trails and, of course, the spa) we had a light lunch. The food is health conscious and vegetable-focused, but was vibrant and flavorful. Most of the produce they use comes from their own garden.
Following lunch, with everyone else scattered to their various massages, pedicures and what have you, I happily relaxed with a book in a shady, outdoor seating area and passed a very pleasant couple of hours.
When we regrouped, we headed off for a short drive to the Ranch's cooking school. La Cocina Que Canta ("the kitchen that sings") has only been operating for a short while (about a year, if I recall correctly).
The space is beautiful and welcoming.
I was a bit taken aback as we entered the kitchen and were greeted by the chef who was... Belgian! Not exactly what I was expecting from a cooking class in Mexico, but it turns out that they often have guest chefs giving their classes. In this case, the chef was Michel Stroot, who had been the chef at The Golden Door (founded by, but no longer owned by the Szekely family).
After a brief introduction, we were whisked out into the garden to collect a few remaining ingredients for the meal. The 6-acre organic farm is managed by Deborah's daughter. There was a huge variety of produce and herbs, all at various stages of maturity. As we toured through the garden, we picked celery, parsley and chives.
Back in the kitchen, it was time to divide into groups, pick a recipe and start cooking. Sherry and I worked on the appetizer - Quinoa Papaya Mold with Crab Meat and Citrus Dressing. I don't tend to be a big quinoa fan, so I was surprised at how much I liked this dish. Ribbons of red pepper (painstakingly, and expertly julienned by Sherry) added visual appeal, bits of celery (painstakingly, if not expertly chopped by yours truly) added a nice texture, and the acid bite of the dressing brought everything together.
The soup - Chilled Cream of Corn Soup with Avocado, Lime and Red Pepper Coulis was also very good. The coulis, in addition to being quite pretty, added a nice flavor contrast to the sweet corn base. We liked it so much we've since made it at home, and it was great a second time as well.
The main dish was grilled tilapia with two sauces - a tomatillo salsa and a chipotle cream sauce, both of which had fantastic depth of flavor. Sides were green beans with toasted sesame seeds, fingerling potatoes with parsley, and very nicely handmade corn tortillas. Dessert was a Plum Apple Compote with Orange Meringue (garnished with edible flowers from the garden).
All in all, a lovely meal, a fantastic setting and good company. What more could you ask for?
Churros, of course!
Yep, there is always room left for churros. On the brief drive back to the border, we lobbied heavily to stop at a churro vendor whose praises Peter had convincingly sung earlier in the day.
Churros, when freshly and expertly made, are a perfect thing - hot, crispy morsels of finger food composed purely of delicious carbs and fat with nothing else in the way to detract from them.
These particular churros were absolutely fresh and expertly made, and provided the perfect ending to a very nice day.