Story by Jody Robbins
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
PUNTA MITA, MEXICO — “College ruined tequila,” exclaims Alfredo Sanchez, tequila master at Four Seasons Punta Mita. “It isn’t made for shots, it’s made for sipping,” he tells me as a I take a tentative taste from a decade-old bottle of silver tequila. It’s warm and complex, not at all reminiscent of the harsh spring-break spirit I once threw back with alarming frequency. Dipping a slice of jimica into a chili-salt blend makes the taste even richer and before long I’m offering up my shot glass for a refill.
Waiters swirling around with canapes that range from beef empanadas to fresh ahi tuna. Learning the finer points of tequila at a beachfront bar while watching the sun sink into the Pacific. It doesn’t get much better than this. But then, when 75 guests and I are ushered into Bahai restaurant for a five-course tasting menu prepared with precision by River Cafe’s executive chef Andrew Winfield, I realize it can.
Last month, a crew of Calgarians, ex-pats and local foodies from Puerto Vallarta flocked to the Four Seasons Punta Mita to watch Winfield strut his stuff. Capping off a cross-culinary exchange that began last fall, when head chef Jose Salas and my boozy buddy Alfredo Sanchez introduced Albertans to the flavours of the Riviera Nayarit at Calgary’s River Cafe (which claimed the No. 22 spot among the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada), the weekend included a chef tasting menu, interactive cooking class and cocktail party.
“It was a wonderful experience to share in the River Cafe/Punta Mita story — first in Calgary and now hosted at the Four Seasons,” says Calgarian Sharon Siebens, who attended events in both countries. “The chefs all worked so well together, it seemed like a natural partnership, since they have the same values with a focus on seasonal, local and organic.”
From wood-roasted beet salad with Champagne-compressed pear and duck prosciutto (brought south in Winfield’s suitcase and bravely declared at customs) to slow-cooked Angus beef dotted with sea urchin bottarga, each meal revealed an explosion of tastes and textures that melded robust Rocky Mountain flavours with the bounty of Banderas Bay.
“It’s fantastical for our staff (not just the chefs) to get the exposure from a great guest chef like Andrew Winfield. They learn and appreciate it so much,” says Thomas Citterio, director of marketing for the hotel.
Frolicking at the Four Seasons
Besides tucking into gourmet offerings, guests are spoiled for choice at this beachfront resort cradled along Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit. The hotel is less than 10 kilometres from Puerto Vallarta. Charming fishing villages and white-sand beaches perched along the Pacific, some of the world’s best snorkeling, fishing and golf can be found here.
Adventurers can take to the seas and suss out the tropical coastline chartering the resort’s personal three-storey yacht; while spa aficionados flock to the Apuane Spa for traditional Mexican healing techniques such as the Punta Mita massage ($165-$230) — an intoxicating rub-down enhanced by tequila and indigenous sage oil that sinks into the skin.
Being a haven for foodies, one of the more popular activities in Punta Mita is finding the catch of the day. Several times a week fish arrive on the beach by boat and are met by the chefs, who explain to guests the different types of species on display, plus how they are best eaten and prepared.
Disappointed you missed out on this recent weekend of wining and dining? With any luck the exchange between these two culinary leaders will become an annual occurrence. “When you bring in a guest chef they exchange ideas and we all learn something. It’s a fantastic way to cross pollinate,” says Sal Howell, River Cafe proprietor.
And keep April in the back of your mind, as the Gourmet & Golf Classic returns to the resort, and potentially Winfield with it.
MORE ABOUT FOUR SEASONS PUNTA MITA
Location: Punta Mita, Bahía de Banderas, Nayarit, Mexico
Contact: +52-329-291-6019, 1-800-819-5053 (toll-free); www.fourseasons.com/puntamita
Room Rates: From $760/night. All-inclusive packages and free third- or fifth-night promotions are available.