Category Archives: Travel

Getting back into your comfort zone

We’ve all been there – that small panic when utterly lost, a sudden illness in a strange land or after 17 hours of hot, dusty travel an unexpected kindness makes clear why we call ourselves members of the human race.

If you’re a travel journalist, you’ve been in unexpected difficulties numerous times in some of Earth’s iconic locations. If you’re an active traveler, exploring and taking risks, getting out of one’s comfort zone is taken for granted. Getting back in often requires help ­­– unexpected kindness.

Read more in my Hellenic News of America travel column…

When unexpected kindness becomes the travel memory

 

Which path?

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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On destroying collective memory at Casa de Sefarad

“The eagerness of destroying books and libraries has been executed by judges, lawyers, literate and uneducated people, rich and poor and priests of all gods. The peculiar book hatred has been growing in parallel with the desire for knowledge.” (The introduction to the disturbing exhibition on book burning at Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba, Spain.)

In 1817 Heinrich Heine witnessed young German nationalist students burn books in Wartburg and later wrote, “It was only the prelude, where they burn books, at the end they will also burn people.” In 1933 his books were among the thousands destroyed in the infamous Nazi book burning, which was the prelude to the Holocaust. Yet Adolph Hitler was far from the first leader to inspire biblioclasm – the pathological urge to destroy the written word and erase collective memory.

It’s appropriate that the small but exquisite Casa de Sefarad in Cordoba should mount such a disturbing exhibition. From the 8th through the 13th century Cordoba had been Western Europe’s most enlightened and advanced city. As the capital of an Al-Andalus Moorish kingdom it excelled in urban technology, the sciences, arts and religious tolerance.

Casa de Sefarad is the Jewish cultural center in Cordoba preserving the legacy of what was once a thriving Sephardic community protected by the Moorish state. Today the former Jewish Quarter is the heart of Cordoba’s UNESCO World Heritage District abutting the magnificent Mezquita Mosque. Islamic Al-Andalus generally tolerated all beliefs as long as they did not openly denounce Islam although individual rulers interpreted tolerance differently.

The Hamsa is a symbol to ward off evil shared by both Islamic and Sephardic Jewish tradition
All that changed when Cordoba, and eventually all Al-Andalus kingdoms, fell to the feudal Christian lords from what is today the northern Spanish provinces between the 13th and 15th centuries. Fueled by doctrinal certainty, an ethnic cleansing of both people and thought commenced for the next three centuries. Eventually most of Spain’s Jews and Muslims were murdered, expelled from the country, migrated to the New World or granted protection in Morocco and the Ottoman Empire.

Yet intellectual and ethnic persecution has a long history, and Casa de Sefarad presents highlights in a chilling timeline within the walls of this former Jewish merchant family townhouse.

416 BC Athens: The great Greek philosopher and mathematician, Protagoras was condemned by the city of Athens. His book, “On the Gods,” and his belief that “Man is the measure of all things,” prompted his persecution. In 416 his works were burnt and he fled, unfortunately dying on his way to Sicily.

213 BC China: Li Si, Prime Minister for the Qin Dynasty, ordered the burning of all books by Confucius on the grounds that the philosopher favored individual thought preeminent over obeying the State.

170 BC: The Seleucid King Antiochus IV forbade the practice of Judaism. He commanded the destruction of all books in Jerusalem. This act motivated the Maccabean rebellion against the Hellenistic Syrian Kingdom (the festivity of Hanukah)

260 AD Athens: The Goths invaded Athens. One of their generals prevented the burning of the city’s libraries claiming that, “As long as the Greeks are slaves to reading they won’t be good at fighting.” Later the libraries were destroyed.

637 Syria: The library of Ctesiphon in present day Syria was burnt destroying thousands of ancient scientific works by Persians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Babylonians.

Maimonides, Cordoba, Spain, in front of his home
1233 Montpellier, France: The orthodox Jewish community reported the works of Maimonides to the Roman Inquisition. All the works of Maimonides, the towering intellect of Jewish Cordoba, were burnt in the main square of the city.

1530 Tetzcoco, Mexico: thousands of scholarly, literary and religious Aztec books were burned on the orders of Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga – founder of the University of Mexico.

1553 Rome: The Talmud was condemned as blasphemous. Thousands of Jewish books were burnt in the Campo dei Fiori.

1600 Rome: the intellectual Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori. Giordano Bruno was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological theorist who conceptually extended the then novel Copernican model.

Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba, Spain
1826 St. Petersburg: Tsar Nicholas I decreed the Law of Censorship consisting of 220 categories of banned topics.

1873 Washington DC: Congress past the Comstock Law defining obscene literature. Banned books included the Arabian Nights, the Decameron, Canterbury Tales, Lysistrata, and Moll Flanders.

1909 Rome: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) writer, poet and playwright was a promoter of the Futurist Movement. In his 1909 “Futurist Manifesto” he affirmed industrialization and technology as the engine of creativity and that, “we have to tear down the museums and libraries.” Marinetti became a favorite of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

10 May 1933 Nazi Book Burning, Berlin: Three days after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, any book containing “inaccurate information” (aka “fake news”) was forbidden in Germany. With the assistance of the German Students Association and professors of the University of Berlin over 25,000 books were burned including the works of Andre Gide, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Einstein, Jack London, Marcel Proust, Maxim Gorky and Ernest Hemingway.

When Sigmund Freud heard that his books had been burned in the OpernPlatz his reaction was, “How has the world advanced! In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me instead.” Freud fled Austria in 1938 after that country’s union with Germany and died in London the following year escaping the Holocaust.

courtyard of Casa de Sefarad
1961 Munich: The German state of Bavaria banned the broadcast of Aristophanes “Lysistrata” citing that its subject matter – wives withholding sex in order to force their men to stop war – “offends the moral sensibility of the population.” (Hitler started his rise to power in Bavaria).

1978 Buenos Aires: One million books printed by Argentina’s Latin American Publishing Center were burned by the military dictatorship.

Mid-1960s through early1970s China: the Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse-Tung saw the destruction of many libraries and institutions housing the priceless patrimony of over 5,000 years. As a young man Mao had worked as a librarian.

1992 Sarajevo: Literature professor Nicola Koljevic, Vice President of the short lived Republic of Srpska during the former Yugoslav civil war, ordered the fire bombing that destroyed the National and University Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The following day a Serbian sniper murdered Aida, a young librarian trying to save books that remained. The library has since been rebuilt but countless works by scholars from antiquity through the Ottoman Empire were lost.

2017: still reminders of the destruction wrought on Sarajevo 1992-1995
2002 Ramallah: The Israeli Army inflicted massive damage on the library of Al-Bireh Ramla destroying thousands of Palestinian works of art, science and literature. It has since been rebuilt.

And yet not all was horror. There were windows of hope in this timeline.

1775 Leipzig: Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” was banned in Saxony for obscenity. It became an instant, and German literature’s first, bestseller.

1985 Cairo: A Lebanese edition of “The Arabian Nights” was declared obscene – 3,500 copies are burned. The ban was lifted a year later.

2012 Tumbuktu, Mali: Then biblioclasm comes full circle. An Islamic extremist militia attempted to find the collection of thousands of manuscripts on the history of Al-Andalus written by Moorish, Jewish and Christian scholars known as the Kati Collection. They failed since supporters had hid the collection.

Michael Servetus Villeneuve
How did this exhibit affect me? I lost it when I came upon the fate of Michael Servetus Villeneuve. Heinrich Heine had made a historical error in his comment; authors had already been burned for their writing. In Geneva, 1553, Free Thinker philosopher Michael Servetus Villeneuve  was condemned by both Catholic and Protestant leaders including John Calvin. He was burnt to death on a pyre made from his own books.

The curator noticed my reaction and any attempt on my part to explain failed. I left Casa de Sefarad in a fruitless effort to compose myself. Returning I engaged in an emotional conversation with the curator on why, as a writer, I’ll live with this image the rest of my life. Censorship, the attempt to erase collective cultural memory, is the eighth deadly sin.

poster at Casa de Safarad: “Music banned by the Holy Inquisition”

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Have memories and things: four Puerto Vallarta hotels

Puerto Vallarta

With the current penchant for luxury travel flooding the blogosphere promoting budget hotels may seem incongruous. Yet during a life of travel this writer has always budgeted for both memories and things. Not to discount fine luxury properties worldwide, especially in Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta, but one does not have to compromise.

The walls of this travel journalist’s residences became filled with visual reminders of lasting memories through acquiring top quality local art and antiques. The double effect has been to patronize and promote local artists and antique shops while satisfying a desire to glimpse the soul of a destination through its creativity. Not being a wealthy individual it’s difficult to achieve both goals spending in the high hundreds of dollars for accommodations.

For the sake of full disclosure many sponsored trips including luxury accommodations are part of the business of a travel writer. Among those Puerto Vallarta’s superb Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel is close to ideal for this writer – and will not require one to take out a loan – but both professional and private travels have included modest hotels worldwide. Based on three trips to Puerto Vallarta over the past year, Travel with Pen and Palate reviews four price friendly hotels starting with its least favorite.

Courtyard of Posada de Roger

Hotel Posada de Roger

In the heart of the rapidly gentrifying Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta, the Hotel Posada de Roger is top rated on Trip Advisor. (“Why” should become another article on the questionable merits of rating agencies.) From both the exterior and interior court, the hotel looks every inch a throw back to the lazy days of Margaritaville.

That doesn’t have to be an issue; it could be romantic. Unfortunately the song of that name was written in 1977, and the hotel does not seem to have been renovated anytime before or since. The beautiful jungle of the potted plant courtyard and gardens on the upper floors hide the hotel’s flaws.

guest room Posada de Roger

The rooms are air-conditioned but gaps in the ill-fitting windows and doors, whose lock offers little security, requires leaving the air on high and using the ceiling fan as well – Puerto Vallarta is a hot, humid, albeit beautiful, Pacific Ocean city. A charity thrift store appears to have been the source of the small room’s furnishings with a hard bed, musty coverings and, considering the room’s size, an incongruous sofa jammed against an old chest of drawers – the only place to store clothing.

Access to the adequate bathroom required opening the door to the bath before one could step up an 8” rise – remember that at night or bring a night light. Wifi was hit or miss. Breakfast was not included.

Hotel Posada de Roger

The Hotel Posada de Roger has a well-known restaurant for breakfast and lunch that’s popular with tourists. Between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. the restaurant staff begin their daily set-up and that is when you will awaken – no need to set an alarm if you’re an early riser. Given the design of the restaurant the noise level reverberating off the masonry walls and stone courtyard was unacceptable.

The hotel does have a swimming pool. The water was strangely green. That should have raised a flag for this writer, but it was hot. Regrets the following day from ingesting said water while swimming were not pleasant. That was the only personal incidence of illness in the three trips to Puerto Vallarta.

original art in Hotel Belmar lobby

Hotel Belmar Galeria★★

The Hotel Belmar, also in the Romantic Zone, should qualify for three stars, but after two seperate stays in two different rooms inconsistencies prevent given it more than two. The lobby and walls of the hotel are lined with top contemporary works by Puerto Vallarta artists. It’s a smart look for modest accommodations. Yet the quality of the rooms vary, and they’re location will dictate the quality of wifi reception from okay to non-existent.

guest room Hotel Belmar

Both rooms had exterior balconies which sounds romantic if one is not bothered by street noise starting early in the morning. Both beds were adequately comfortable and the second room had a desk. But to turn the air on one had to stand on the mattress and throw the circuit breaker switch.

view of Romantic Zone from balcony at Hotel Belmar

Breakfast was not provided at the Hotel Belmar but coffee and store-bought cookies were available in the lobby. Even with its shortcomings, if being in the center of the Romantic Zone on a budget is important than inspecting rooms ahead of time is advised and, for sound proofing, choosing an interior room may be a good option.

Catedral Vallarta Boutique Hotel

Catedral Vallarta Boutique Hotel★★★

For full disclosure the Catedral Vallarta Boutique Hotel was one of the sponsoring hotels during the second trip to Puerto Vallarta in November to cover the 22nd Festival Gourmet International. It is located in the Centro District a few minutes walk from the Romantic Zone across the Rio Cuele and the “Jungle” – the green oasis and artisan center of Isla del Rio Cuele. It’s central location puts it within blocks of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and, like all four hotels, of the beach and the Malecon.

Efficiency suite Hotel Catedral

Noise level in Puerto Vallarta Centro is radically improved over the Romantic Zone – unless you’re there during Mexican Independence Day when a school marching band decided to practice at 6:00 a.m. The Catedral Hotel offers a wide variety of rooms including the spacious suite provided to this writer. Although the hotel is not 21st century modern, the furnishings were in top shape, the bed comfortable, the kitchen – had this culinary travel writer time to cook – was modern and well equipped and the expansive balcony was a pleasant spot to people watch.

Courtyard of the Hotel Cathedral at night

Both modern and traditional original works of art lined the walls of the hotel and the rooms. Like the Belmar, the hotel was constructed around a large interior courtyard, but it was quiet. Wifi was not available in the suite or in some other rooms according to guests, but was strong in the courtyard, which had several sitting areas. Breakfast was not provided but coffee, tea and cookies were available in a room off the courtyard.

Hotel Porto Allegro

Hotel Porto Allegro★★★★

Hopefully word will not get out too quickly that the Hotel Porto Allegro is a bargain for fear management will raise the rates. Just across the street from the Catedral, this modern cut stone and glass hotel is a hidden gem. Sleek cool stone and marble tile in light grays immediately soften the bright hot sun of beautiful Porto Vallarta. Modern gym facilities are just off the lobby, and an elevator – rare among budget hotels – will carry you and your luggage upwards.

guest room Hotel Porto Allegro

The rooms are simple but well appointed with excellent beds, a desk, ceiling fan and a split air-conditioning system so efficient it needed to be kept low. A spacious closet system stored all  belongings and the bathroom was ultra modern. Best of all for this travel journalist the wifi was excellent!

breakfast at Hotel Porto Allegro
views from the roof top Hotel Porto Allegro

On the rooftop of the Porto Allegro was a large hot tub and the outdoor lounge area from which to survey a vista of Puerto Vallarta, the Catedral and the Bay of Benderas. A glass walled breakfast room served a superb buffet, included in the room rate, of Mexican and American foods that tantalized this chef who desires more than anything non-traditional breakfast items. Eggs and sausages were certainly available but so were spicy sauces to liven them up as well as copious amounts of fresh fruit, waffles with dulce de leche, savory stewed dishes of poultry and/or pork to ladle over rice, fresh squeezed juices, a variety of Mexican sweet breads and excellent coffee.

It is possible to have it all: comfort, memories and fine things that will recall those experiences. The budget does not have to be sacrificed if that is a concern. When that same budget gives you Puerto Vallarta, then, like PV Tourism proudly exclaims, welcome to paradise.

Everyone welcomes you to paradise in Puerto Vallarta

 

Additional Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

So you think you know Mexican food?

Oysters two ways in Puerto Vallarta

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Wagu Tatki and Japanese Mexican Fusion

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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A hundred days of silence

Medieval grotesques, Basilica Saint Nazarius & Celsus, Carcassonne, France. They no longer frighten me into silence.
Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry.  Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.

But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.

Old & new in the Principality of Andorra
Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron.  (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)

on Paros Island, Greece
Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.

French House Party, Carcassonne – a loyal sponsor for 3 trips.
That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.

One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.

Walls of the 9th century Mezquita mosque, Cordoba
By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.

From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.

Basilica Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki ­­­– including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.

Mt. Athos as seen from Sithonia, Halkidiki, Greece
Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.

raw oysters, quail egg, sea urchin & golden caviar in Puerto Vallarta
By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.

After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.

sunset over the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

 

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My Mother taught me everything I know about photography

The only time in my living memory that I know my mother snapped a photo was in 1979. It was with an Instamatic camera on the shore of our summer home in Nova Scotia with my not-yet two-year-old son, Damian. Yet my Mother taught me everything I know about photography.

Grace Berst d’Entremont was an accomplished artist. Graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious and historic Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts – on scholarship – this daughter of Presbyterian medical missionaries only stopped painting a few days before she passed away in 1997. During her lengthy career her works – paintings, murals and interior design – graced private collections, commercial buildings and award winning architectural interiors worldwide.

So how did she teach me everything I know about photography? She taught me to squint.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1965 – I’m 15 years old – and we’re at my first retrospective of impressionist art. I’m 15 years old…it’s Saturday night…why am I at an art museum? I’m looking at a Cezanne landscape. It’s nice.

I’m not complaining – I had learned… Then my mother pulls me back ten feet from the painting. She tells me to squint.

I squint.

The image explodes. The painting’s on fire – the colors shimmer. I’m in the twilight.

I’m in love – with my mother and art.

I get it. It’s not the medium that’s the magic; it’s the eye.

I own several quality cameras. None cost more than US$600. I don’t use filters. I don’t use photo shop.

I use my eyes.

Grace Berst d'Entremont (1912-1997) photo c. 1930
Grace Berst d’Entremont (1912-1997) photo c. 1930

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Wagyu Tataki and Japanese Mexican fusion

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito & Wagyu Tataki

Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.

Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta
Restaurant Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott, Puerto Vallarta

Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the incomparable 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was guest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.

The up-scale design of the restaurant with seating surrounding expansive cooking stations allowed participants at Mikado’s festival cooking demonstration an up front experience of Chef Kawahito’s imaginative preparations. Crispy panko crusted giant shrimp from Mexico’s northwest coast rested on a tartar sauce seasoned with Japanese 7 spice. A personal favorite was fresh-shucked local oysters topped with raw quail egg, caviar and sea urchin.

Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX
Wagyu rib eye steaks raised in Durango, MX

The key to Mexico’s New World Cuisine is pairing local ingredients with international preparations. Wagyu beef is now raised in Durango. Sea urchin is available in the Gulf of California.

Wagyu Tataki is quick to prepare. The tender barely seared beef blends well with the subtle brininess of sea urchin. It’s a beautiful dish for a special meal.

For the home cook, wagyu beef is available at good meat markets. Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. Salmon caviar can serve as a substitute.

ingredients for Wagyu Tataki
ingredients for Wagyu Tataki

Wagyu Tataki – 2 servings or 4 as a first course

Ingredients:

  • 2                               3-ounce Wagyu rib eye steak
  • 2 teaspoons       truffle oil
  • 2 slices                  fresh lime
  • 1/3rd teaspoon    Hawaiian black salt or sea salt
  • 2                                sea urchin tongues or 3 tablespoons salmon caviar
  • 2 tablespoons     Japanese ponzu sauce
  • 1                                  radish thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons         finely diced fresh chives
seared wagyu steaks
seared wagyu steaks

Preparation:

  1. Thinly slice the sea urchin tongue and set aside.
  2. Heat a cast iron pan until very hot – a couple drops of water should dance in the pan and quickly evaporate.
  3. Sear the two steaks for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes per side. The steak will be rare but not bleeding. Transfer to a cutting board. Thinly slice each steak and arrange on 2 to 4 plates.
  4. Sprinkle half the black salt on each steak and then 1 tablespoon ponzu sauce and juice from 1 lime slice.
  5. Arrange half the sliced sea urchin or caviar over each steak and drizzle each with 1 teaspoon truffle oil.
  6. Garnish with radish slices and fresh chives.

Although this dish is easy to prepare, why not enjoy a vacation in Puerto Vallarta and feast in the full range of New World Cuisine in Mexico’s culinary powerhouse.   A historic seaport, dining on the beach, the warm water of Bahia de Banderas, beautiful hotels and guest houses make Puerto Vallarta a safe and easy choice for the whole family.

Wagyu Tataki
Wagyu Tataki

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta International Airport (PVR) is served by many international airlines from major cities worldwide.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, and the Mikado at Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa.

More Puerto Vallarta articles by Chef Marc d’Entremont:

Vegan Chef Christian Krebs wows Puerto Vallarta

Cruising Bahía de Banderas with Mike’s Fishing Charters

Discovering the meaning of pride in Puerto Vallarta

Villa Premiere: excellence by design in Puerto Vallarta

Mexican New World Cuisine at Festival Gourmet International

Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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Angus Beef recipe, Chef Luis Noriega and Puerto Vallarta

Among the five course festival menu Chef Luis Noriega created for Coco Tropical, the Angus short ribs marinated in a fragrant mixture of sautéed dried peppers, herbs and spices then wrapped in banana leaves and slow braised  was something I never tasted north of the Rio Grande.

Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style
Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style
Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco, European capitals to Chef/Professor at leading Mexico culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Guia in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. Recently Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical for the 22nd Festival Gourmet International.

Unlike many culinary festivals, Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta stretches over eleven days with dozens of events among one-time theme dinners and brunches, wine and tequila tastings to daytime cooking classes and lunches with guest chefs throughout the city. Additional participating restaurants offered nightly festival menus created by their sponsored guest chefs.

More than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied. The name of one popular American icon of Tex-Mex food was often cited. The breadth of the 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International ranged from Pakistani to Austrian fusion menus.

Yet the festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever evolving New World  cuisine.

Chef Heinz Reize & Chef Luis Noriega
Chef Heinz Reize & Chef Luis Noriega

Chef Heinz Reize has owned the beautiful oceanfront Restaurant Coco Tropical on Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon for years and is a founder of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International. This is not the first time Chef Noriega has teamed with his old friend.

Barbecued Beef Guerrero Style – 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 1-½ pounds Angus beef short ribs
  • 2                                 dry Guajillo chili peppers
  • 2                                 dry Ancho chili peppers
  • 1/2                                     medium white onion diced
  • 2 medium             ripe tomatoes diced
  • 2                                garlic cloves diced
  • 1 tablespoon      ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon      ground clove
  • 1 tablespoon      ground cinnamon – preferably fresh ground stick
  • 1 tablespoon      fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch                  dry thyme
  • 1 pinch                  dry marjoram
  • zest from one    medium naval orange
  • 2 each                    hojas de (leaves of) aquacate & guayaba (at Latino food markets)
  • 1/4th cup              apple cider vinegar
  • 2 each                    large fresh banana leaves (at Latino food markets)
  • or
  • 1                               12” X 18” sheet of parchment paper
  • 24 ounces diced fresh yellow sweet potatoes (not yams)
  • 3 tablespoons     sugar
  • 7 tablespoons     fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 7 tablespoons     sour cream
  • pinch          freshly grated nutmeg
Angus short ribs
Angus short ribs

Preparation:

  1. Wearing gloves, remove the veins from the chilies and as many of the seeds you wish – they contain much heat – and sauté in a hot cast iron pan with one tablespoon oil for 5+ minutes. Add the onions and saute 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook additional 2 minutes. dsc06456
  2. Remove pan from the heat and add one cup boiling water – slowly or else it’ll splatter on you. Add the leaves, if available, and soak for 20 minutes.
  3. In a dry small hot cast iron pan quickly toast the ground spices and orange zest stirring constantly for a minutes or until fragrant.  Remove from heat.
  4. dsc06470In a blender add the vinegar, chilies, soaking water, toasted spices and dry  herbs. Blend until liquefied. Transfer to a small saucepan and, over medium-low heat, simmer until reduced to a sauce.
  5. dsc06472In a very hot cast iron pan brushed with just a touch of olive oil sear the Angus beef on both sides for two minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and brush both sides liberally with the chili sauce.
  7. dsc06480Line a baking dish large enough for the beef with the banana leaves or parchment paper and fold the leaves over encasing the short ribs. dsc06478
  8. Cover and bake in a pre-heated 240° Fahrenheit oven for 4 hours.
  9. During the last hour gently simmer the diced sweet potatoes with the orange juice, sugar and 1 cup cold water in a sauce pan for 30 to 40 minutes until fork tender. Mash along with the sour cream. Serve with slices of beef.vade-vinos

The dish was superbly paired with a Spanish petit verdot imported by Va de Vinos. This new import company is quickly adding to Mexico’s reputation for embracing fine wines. The deep berries of the petit verdot melded with the rich natural sauce of the braised beef.

Keep in mind, this was a major international festival, but Puerto Vallarta’s culinary scene is smoking every day.

 

When you go:

Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.

For the 23rd Festival Gourmet International in November 2017 check the web site: http://www.festivalgourmet.com/en/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the 22nd Festival Gourmet International, Puerto Vallarta Tourism, Restaurant Coco Tropical, Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel and Hotel Cathedral.

spice mix
spice mix

 

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River pirates are the reason

“We had to hide from the river pirates,” Mom said in the darkness. The lights were out as this was a bedtime story, and I was four years old.

“From the pirates?” If the lights had been on she could have seen my eyes open as wide as the full moon.

“Yes, we hid under the wooden bunks and couldn’t talk all night long. Even the kerosene lamps were out. We had to be invisible.”

My mind tried to conjure an image of the Yangtze circa 1920 from the black and white photos I looked at frequently that my grandparents had taken of their many trips on this legendary river. My young mind could see the steep banks shrouded in mist and trees tumbling down to the shore and imagine the junk pulled into a cove hidden from the marauding pirates. Yet I couldn’t get an image of Chinese pirates, only the ones from my comic books, which I knew weren’t Chinese because I didn’t think they had parrots in China.

“But they didn’t find you, right?” I was pretty sure they hadn’t because Mom was right here in my room and pirates made people walk the plank.

“No, they didn’t, and we continued to Kuling in the morning.”

“But why were they being pirates?” I asked because I knew pirates always wanted doubloons and rum, whatever they were, and I didn’t think China had those.

There was a long pause from my Mom. I thought maybe she wanted to end the story since I was supposed to be getting sleepy not excited. Yet her voice , not mine, sounded weary.  “Because they were hungry. They wanted food. They knew boats with foreigners would have food.”

I had heard that before. (“Eat your lima beans!” I hated lima beans. “The children in China are starving.”) So I knew that was true. For you see, my Mom wasn’t making this story up. It wasn’t fiction.

My grandparents c.1930s in China (far left) Dr. & Mrs. William Berst.
My grandparents c.1930s in China (far left) Dr. & Mrs. William Berst.

The daughter of American medical missionaries, my Mother was born and lived until she was 13 in Changde, a city a thousand miles up the Yangtze River. My grandparents  worked and lived in China for most of the first half of the 20th century until being ejected by the retreating Japanese in 1945. My bedtime stories were not fiction; I grew up hearing first hand what it was like being a foreign child in China during its turbulent years after the 1912 Revolution – the year of my Mother’s birth.

I grew up with images in direct contrast to the bucolic beauty and calm of Pennsylvania’s historic Bucks County circa 1950s.

Then there were the Nova Scotia stories from my father on other nights. Stories of my family sailing from France in 1650, settling that rocky coastline and still living in the same fishing village I visited every summer. I have a pair of ice skates my father strapped onto his boots to traverse the frozen harbor when he was a boy.

First hand stories were the sparks that inflamed my mind with a desire that turned into passion and finally a career as an international travel journalist. Once I could read I devoured books on geography and history, poured over maps, paged through every volume of the World Book Encyclopedia multiple times and read National Geographic magazines as if they were comic books.

Once out of high school there was never anxiety as I went off to universities far from home in the USA, Canada and Ireland. If my Mom could survive river pirates, I could navigate hostels backpacking in Europe. If my father’s family could cross the Atlantic in 1650, I could move to the Caribbean for a decade working as a teacher, chef, writer and father children who, like my parents, where born into a language different than my native tongue.

Dozens of countries and many jobs, hundreds of published articles and thousands of photos, it’s the pirates that still haunt me. Why were they hungry? Why were they at war? I need to know, and I don’t want to hide.

Other travel writers can marvel at the newest luxury hotel and discover the next trendy beach scene. What drives me is discovering the “why” within the destination. Why does the land take this shape? Why does the food have this taste? Why did that cooking method develop? Why is that festival so important to their identity as a people?

Without that drive to discover “why” why go.

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

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Awaken your senses at the French House Party

Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage City
Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage City

The nearby medieval city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls, but at the Domaine St. Raymond,  small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for residential workshops at a house party in southern France’s Languedoc.

Domaine St. Raymond
Domaine St. Raymond
sunflowers blowing in the wind
sunflowers blowing in the wind

Domaine St. Raymond, home of the French House Party,  sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive four to seven day creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc ranging from culinary adventures with Michelin starred chefs, literature and graphic arts to song writing.

Chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer
Chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer

“I’m not sure if I really know how to write a song” is not what a guest at a songwriting workshop would expect to hear from an acclaimed New York writer/performer. But the creative process is nebulous.

Dean Friedman
Dean Friedman

Just like in a good ballad, disaster fell for Dean Friedman in the 1980s when  England banned the delightful “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl” in the 1980s because it mentioned a brand name and therefore was deemed akin to an advertorial.

Please go to my travel column in the Hellenic News of America to read all about the French House Party’s creative workshops.

Being creative at the French House Party

 

 

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

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The best Greek shrimp recipe ever

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp

The three peninsulas of Halkidiki – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos ­– are the summer playgrounds of Macedonia. Blessed with numerous and secluded beaches, surrounded by the clear blue Aegean sea with pine forested mountains of wild flowers, olive trees and vineyards, it’s no wonder Halkidiki has been favored by Greeks since antiquity. Only a couple hours drive from the nation’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, and within a day’s drive from the Balkans, its many resort hotels especially draw a plethora of Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians seeking sun, sand, hospitality and Greek cuisine.

The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
Ouranoupolis
Ouranoupolis

The Alexandros Palace is located just outside Ouranoupolis, one of many towns built in the 1920s as a result of the traumatic exchange of Greek and Turkish populations that took place after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the merger of Macedonia into Greece. Once the site of an ancient village – its 14th century tower fortress is a landmark – and still the gateway to 7,000 ft. Mt. Athos, today Ouranoupolis is a tourist and fisherman’s town.

pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel
pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel

The Alexandros Palace Hotel, within site of the autonomous and sacred Monastic State of Mt. Athos, is a self-contained 250-room resort village rising from its wide beach up the hill and spreading over 90 acres. Like most of Halkidiki’s resorts an all-inclusive meal plan includes extensive buffets for breakfast and dinner and offers something for everyone from meat lovers to the devoutly vegan. Yet true Greek cuisine shines in Halkidiki hotels a la carte restaurants for those not desiring a buffet.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis commands the poolside Taverna at the Alexandros Palace Hotel. Having enjoyed several meals over two separate trips, it has taken this chef journalist a year to convince chef Giorgos to part with his intensely flavored yet simple shrimp creation. The Aegean is a seafood lover’s supermarket and the shrimp may well have been caught that very day off the coast of Ouranoupolis.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp – four servings

Ingredients:

clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
  • 1 pound large shrimp (reserve shells for the stock)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano – preferably Greek oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Preparation:

Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
  1. Remove the shells from the shrimp and reserve the shrimp in the refrigerator while making the stock.
  2. Place the shells in a quart size saucepan and add the bay leaves, nutmeg, oregano and a little salt and white pepper. Add cold water just to the level of the shells. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1/4th of a cup (2 ounces). Strain and discard the shells reserving the reduced shrimp stock.
  3. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the shrimp for one minute turning once.
  4. Add the wine to the shrimp, bring to a simmer and cook for one minute.
  5. With a slotted spoon remove the shrimp from the wine and keep warm.
  6. To the wine add the 1/4th cup shrimp stock, parsley and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes.
  7. Add the heavy cream, cayenne pepper and sweet paprika. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
  8. Add the reserved shrimp and warm for one minute.
  9. Divide among four plates and serve with crusty bread used to absorb the sauce and a dry Greek white wine such as Mt. Athos ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΠΑΥΛΟΥ (Holy Monastery of St. Paul), Monoxilitiko, a blend of 90% sauvignon blanc with local varieties. It had a nose of honey and sage followed by summer floral notes with a surprisingly dry finish.

While at the Alexandros Palace Hotel, don’t pass up the luxurious Panalee Spa and the new specialty shop ­selling Mt. Athos wines, skin care products and local foods. In the evening, the spacious Theater Bar with its lower level dance floor and stage might as well be the town square of this village resort. Twin brothers Thomas and Janis Aslanidis, the musically talented and genial young heirs to the Alexandros Palace Hotel, might just be tending bar and don’t be surprised either if managers Yiannis Misopapas and Kyriakos Mandouvalos are mingling among the guests. After all this is Greece with hospitality and cuisine as legendary as its mythology.

When you go:

Ouranoupolis is an easy 2 – 3 hour drive (busier on weekends) on modern roads from Thessaloniki International Airport.

Alexandros Palace Hotel, Ouranoupolis, 63075, Halkidiki, Greece. (Athos) Tel + 30 23770 31402 / 31424 Fax: +30 23770 31100

Email: info@alexandroshotel-halkidiki.com 2017 season runs April through mid-October.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Alexandros Palace Hotel and the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.

the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel
the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

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