La Villa Bonita

I soaked the walnuts in milk and spent the next hour carefully peeling them, all the meanwhile thinking, “do people really go through this much trouble to make a sauce?”  It was the moment I came to appreciate the intensity and work spent on preparing traditional sauces.  But I was not at a fancy French cooking school: I was in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at a week-long cooking school called La Villa Bonita.  The walnuts would provide the base for the incredibly rich walnut cream sauce for the traditional Mexican dish, Chiles En Nogada

Let me back up a bit.  My husband and I met in Mexico.  It was 1992 and we had both recently graduated from college.  I was working in San Antonio, and knew that I needed to hone my Spanish.  So, I took a leap of faith and enrolled in Spanish immersion classes in Cuernavaca, an hour outside of Mexico City and a hub for Spanish language schools.  I was to live with a Mexican family for four weeks and attend classes 8 hours a day.  When I walked into class, I was seated next to a cute boy from Arizona who had recently graduated from Harvard.  The rest is history.

Mexico has thus always held a special place in our hearts.  We returned every year to visit friends and to see new sights.  Hubby’s Mexican “brother”, knowing I loved to cook and loved food, said to me, “You have to meet Ana and Rob Anderson and take cooking classes at their school”.  The year was 2001 when we met Ana and Rob, and they owned a restaurant and bar in downtown Cuernavaca on Netzahualcoyotl called Reposado.  They were starting a week-long cooking school called La Villa Bonita Mexican Culinary Vacations®.  

My experience at La Villa Bonita was one of those pivotal moments in life.  Years later, I still recall the experiences that have taken me down the path to eventually enrolling at Arizona Culinary Institute and becoming a chef myself.  Days began at the market, buying all the ingredients needed for the day.  We cooked for about 3-4 hours, having lunch at 2 around the pool.  I learned the basics: tortillas, salsas, sauces, and some elaborate dishes that are still in my repertoire today, like the aforementioned Chiles En Nogada and Cochinita Pibil.  

As if the experience wasn’t amazing enough, Ana and Rob are two of the greatest people you will ever meet.  They have a lovely story themselves, starting in Monterrey, Mexico, with Rob as a law student asking Ana to dance at a local disco.  He is about as grass-fed Iowa gringo as you can get.  Chef Ana Garcia is from Monterrey, Mexico, and has been passionate about cooking since childhood.  Her recipes were passed down throughout many generations, as Ana and Rob became inspired to write them down and make a living showcasing them to aspiring cooks.

Chef Ana Garcia of La Villa Bonita.

They moved from downtown Cuernavaca to neighboring Tepoztlan, running La Villa Bonita out of a house overlooking the magical hills of Tepozteco.  The school runs year-round with some experiences highlighting health and yoga, and others, like the Whole Hog Week, highlighting the glorious pig.  Plus, they have added special weeks in Puebla and Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.  With each experience, participants will keep a similar schedule, visiting the markets in the mornings, cooking 3-4 hours, and then eating the fruits of their labor for lunch.  If you are looking for a truly unique cooking experience in Mexico, with some of the finest people I have met in my lifetime, then this is for you.

Chef Ana and her students in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.

As if my recommendation alone were not enough to convince you to sign up, The Food Network has named La Villa Bonita one of the Five Best Culinary Vacations Worldwide, and National Geographic Books has labeled it one of the 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life.  I am going to throw it out to Hubby that we need to take a week out of our lives and get ourselves to Puerto Escondido because I need a refresher.

La Villa Bonita gives you the opportunity to attend cooking school in paradise for a week in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico.

It sounds incredible: a week-long, all-inclusive luxury vacation in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, cooking and living in a villa on the beach.  All tours, drinks, meals, and 4 cooking classes are included in the Puerto Escondido package, plus opportunities to learn nouvelle cuisine with Chef Ana in the evening for those who can’t get enough cooking.  Ana will teach you to prepare some unique Oaxacan and coastal dishes such as a fabulous tamal stuffed with tiny freshwater mussels that grow in the local freshwater lagoons…the mussels open up while cooking and flavor the tamal

Ana and Rob are offering a special sale that is going on right now on their website, (http://www.lavillabonita.com/puertocooks), to extend to my followers with an additional $100 USD off their current sale price, or $100 off any Tepoztlan package.  Just mention my name (Marci Symington) or texAZtaste in the contact form under Give Us More Info.
The Puerto Escondido package was just named by Coastal Living Magazine as one of 22 vacations “that will change your life.”  So, are you ready to change your life?  Just check out the photos of the property on this picture-perfect unpopulated beach. 

This beautiful villa has 5 bedrooms and is right on the beach.

I don’t think you could tear me away from this view!

Imagine drinking sunset margaritas under this palapa.

You will find all information on http://www.lavillabonita.com/puertocooks.  The itinerary can also be found here – http://www.lavillabonita.com/puertoitinerary.
Follow La Villa Bonita on on Facebook: @lavillabonita, or on Instagram: @therealchefana.  To call, dial +1-323-285-3588 from the US.

All this writing has made me very hungry.  I am off to the store to buy the ingredients for Chiles En Nogada which I make every year around Christmas.  The kids love it and I love the memories making the dish evokes.  But to be totally honest, I no longer have the patience to peel the walnuts.  XoM

To leave you with an taste of Chef Ana’s Mexico, enjoy the following recipe for Tuna Tostadas:

Tostadas de Atun
Tuna:
1 pound fresh yellowfin tuna, cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
Put all the ingredients in a bowl and allow to macerate for no more than 15 minutes
Dressing:
½ cup mayonnaise
1 chipotle chile, chopped finely
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl or if you prefer you can mix with a blender or food processor so it can turn out a smooth chipotle mayonnaise.
To assemble:
½ cup leeks, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup canola oil
Avocado, thinly sliced
Tostada shells, 6
Cover leeks with 3 tablespoons flour.  Place in a colander to get rid of excess flour.  In a sauté pan, heat up 1 cup canola oil to high.  Fry the leeks in the hot oil until crispy and place on a rack or paper towel.
Assemble 6 corn tortilla tostadas.  Cover the tostada with one tablespoon of chipotle mayonnaise.  Add a thin layer of avocado slices.  Place on top a mound of tuna and finish with the fried leeks.  Serve and enjoy.
All photos by Rob Anderson.  Recipe by Ana Garcia.  Photos and recipe were posted with permission of La Villa Bonita Culinary Vacations®.  

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4 Comments

  • Kim Symington

    As I sit in Punta Mita reading your blog, I admit this one may be my favorite to read! I love your stories about food. It makes me appreciate food in a new and special way. 🙂

    • TexazTaste

      Thank you, Kim. This was a lot of fun for me to write as it brought back many happy memories. A trip like this adds a whole new dimension to discovering Mexico. xoxo

  • John Finley

    I hope Fife takes you up on your suggestion!
    🙂

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