by Jimmy Im
It’s not all about tacos and margaritas anymore.
Last week in Cancun, spring-break revelers flooded the bars and clubs for a Mexican-style St. Patrick’s Day, while Jersey Shore‘s Snooki and JWoww filmed scenes for a new show at Beach Palace Resort. But while nightlife remains an iconic fixture of the destination, Cancun has been luring a new type of traveler: foodies. From March 15 to 18, hundreds of visitors participated in the inauguration of the region’s first food and wine festival, a boon for Cancun’s growing culinary scene.
The Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival proved that Mexican gastronomy is no joke — in fact, traditional Mexican cuisine has been named to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list — as almost 30 world-renowned chefs from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the US brought their culinary flair to the region to celebrate the local cuisine and introduce their own techniques to an emerging culinary destination.
Headlining the event was Ferran Adria from the highly touted elBulli restaurant, universally known as the world’s best restaurant for several years. (It closed in 2009.) While the festival honored Ferran at a gala reception and dinner, more than 30 culinary events were also open to the public.
Locals and visitors alike sampled signature dishes from 24-star chefs — including Jerome Ferrer and Jacques Pepin — at the oceanfront pool terrace of Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach for Tastes of the New World. Celebrity chef cooking demos and wine tastings at the new Sandos resort proved popular, with daily interactive demonstrations for foodies, plus lectures with top names like Paulina Abascal and Robert Mondavi present.
Even local restaurants in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, as well as international wine vendors, promoted their best dishes and varietals at the American Express Gourmet Tasting Village at Iberostar hotel. The festival could not have ended on a better note with celebrity mixologist Junior Merino serving up his innovative cocktails at ME Cancun‘s popular Rose Bar.
The Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival is the latest indication that the culinary scene is getting much stronger in Cancun — and will help lure travelers as a foodie destination. Popular Argentine chef Cristian Morales opened one of the first destination restaurants outside the hotel zone in a posh home, serving Mexican-Argentine fusion. In 2009, El Dorado Royale by Karisma built a 100,000-square-foot greenhouse (the first hotel greenhouse in the region) providing hydroponic produce for its guests. And 2 new molecular gastronomy restaurants (Le Chique at Azul Sensatori and Seasons at Sandos) now offer an innovative dining experience. Meanwhile Passion by Martin Berasategui, a 7-Michelin star chef, opened at Paradisus Playa del Carmen in January.