It’s hard to cook like a chef. Most have advantages the rest of us don’t: training, skills, talent and passion. They usually have access to better ingredients. Chef Gonzalo Mendoza of the Hacienda de San Antonio in Colima, Mexico,exploits all his advantages to create fresh, flavorful culinary masterpieces. The Cordon Bleu–trained Mendoza delivers finished products from the Hacienda de San Antonio team. Crops are grown using biodynamic farming techniques, livestock is raised free-range and fish are taken straight from the sea. They harvest just enough produce, meat, eggs and dairy products to supply the small, posh resort. Dinner is made from the current harvest. The Chef’s kitchen has pots slowly bubbling with fresh soups and sauces as I look around the large room. He’s agreed to share some culinary secrets and give me some insight on how he parlays the great ingredients into world-class cuisine.The meal plan below is representative of what the Chef taught. When recreating the dishes, I had to bridge some gaps, make some assumptions and use ingredients from local stores. I hope I stayed true to the soul of his recipes. H
ARUGULA SALAD WITH SEARED FENNEL
This light salad uses wintry ingredients like
arugula and fennel, which can be picked up
at the farmer’s market!
1. Make the dressing: Whisk the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
2. Make the salad: Slice the fennel bulbs into 1⁄8-inch thick slices and place them in cold water. Toss the pecans and pine nuts over medium heat until toasted, then set aside. Place the arugula on a plate, sprinkle with the cheese and toasted nuts, and place tangerine slices around the plate. Drizzle with the prepared dressing.
3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, remove the fennel from the water and place it in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cook until it begins to brown, flip, season again and cook until the second side browns. Place 1 fennel slice on each salad and serve warm.
You’ll probably need a mandolin to make this dish—it
requires a lot of veggies to be sliced thinly and evenly.
1. Make the balsamic reduction: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let bubble uncovered until the mixture reduces by half.
2. Make the yellow pepper sauce: Sauté the onions in the oil until caramelized. Add the peppers, garlic, herb marinade, potato and wine. Cook over medium heat until the liquid reduces by half. Add the stock. Bring to a boil,
reduce the heat and simmer over medium until the mixture reduces by about 20 percent. Pour the mixture into a blender, puree and strain through a sieve.
3. Make the lasagna: Slice the potatoes, zucchini and squash into large, even slices, about 1⁄10 of an inch thick. Blanch the vegetables in salted water—work in small batches, about 3 minutes each.
4. Pan-sear the eggplant in olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
5. Grill the bell peppers over high heat, turning frequently until the skins have charred. Seal them in a paper
bag for 10 minutes. Remove the skins, seeds and stems; season with salt and pepper.
6. Whisk the eggs with the cream; season with salt and pepper.
7. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Assemble the lasagna: Spray a 3-quart (9-x-13- inch) glass pan with cooking spray.
Line the bottom of the pan with the potato slices, then cover with ¼ of the spinach. Sprinkle 1⁄5 of the cheese over
the spinach. Smooth 3–3½ tablespoons of the cream-egg mixture across the dish and season with salt and pepper.
Cover with a layer of blanched zucchini, followed by spinach, cheese, cream, salt and pepper.
8. Next layer the chayote squash, followed by kale, cheese, cream, salt and pepper. Red peppers are next, followed by spinach, cream, cheese, salt and pepper. Do a second layer of potatoes, a second layer of kale, followed by a second layer of zucchini and salt and pepper. Add layers of spinach, cheese, cream, salt and pepper. Finally, top with seared
eggplant and spray with cooking spray. Cover with nonstick aluminum foil and bake for 60–70 minutes. Let
rest for 1 hour before serving.
9. Make the potatoes: Slice the potatoes into shoestrings; use a mandolin to make 1⁄10-inch slabs, then slice the slabs into shoestrings with a knife. Drop them into cold water. Heat the oil over medium heat, and cook the potatoes in batches until golden brown; season with salt and pepper.
Slice the lasagna and place on a plate. (We used a circle cookie cutter!) Cover with the yellow pepper sauce and top with the fries. Garnish with balsamic reduction and finish it all off with the pork chops.
PORK CHOPS WITH HERB MARINADE
I chose pork chops because the owner of Hacienda de San Antonio likes the organic, free-range pork raised there better than anything else produced on the farm. This recipe works with other cuts of pork as well as veal, steaks and lamb. Just adjust the cooking time to achieve the desired internal temperature. Chef Mendoza’s go-to ingredient is a mixture of herbs and olive oil. He uses whatever herbs are ready to be picked, staying a little leery of rosemary because it can overpower very quickly. During my stay at the Hacienda, he used this blend, which varies slightly
according to the herbs used, on beef, fish and chicken. My version uses leaves from basil, sage, thyme and marjoram.
1. Make the marinade: Mix the ingredients in a glass bowl, cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.
2. Make the pork chops: Wipe the chops with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper. Spread a layer of
the marinade on a baking sheet. Place the chops on the marinade and spoon another layer of marinade over the
top. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1–2 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F Heat a heavy, oven-proof skillet over high heat. Add the chops and sear for 2–3
minutes, until golden brown. Flip and put the pan with the chops into the oven.
4. Bake until the center meat temperature is 150°F, about 12 minutes. (Cooking time varies based on thickness of meat.) Remove from the pan and let rest for 5 minutes.
SIGNATURE DRINK: MEXI-GRIA
This sweet and citrusy cocktail is an excellent pairing with the
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and serve over ice.
Warm up with this thick, Mexican hot chocolate—it’s satisfying
without being cloyingly sweet.
Add the hot water and masa flour to a large saucepan; mix until smooth. Add the milk and Abuelita chocolate. Heat
over medium, stirring constantly until boiling. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring constantly, for 1–3 minutes, or until
thickened to desired consistency. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon, if desired. Serve immediately.
These cinnamon-sugar fried dough balls are South America’s
doughnut. They’re a revelation when paired with champurrado!
1. In a large bowl, mix 1 cup of the flour, along with the sugar, baking powder and salt.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk and egg, then add the butter. Add this to the dry mixture and stir to blend well.
3. Place the dough on a lightly floured board. Add flour if necessary to make a soft dough. Knead and divide into 8 balls, then place them in a bowl; cover for about 20 minutes.
4. In another bowl, mix ½ cup sugar and the cinnamon. Next, press the dough out in a circle on the floured board. Roll out until the dough is as thin as possible without tearing. Let it rest about 5 minutes.
5. In a skillet, add oil to a depth of 1 inch. Heat to medium-high. Add one buñuelo at a time. When the bottom side is brown, flip and continue cooking until the dough is crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mix. Can be kept in an airtight container