“Experience” is the perfect word to describe the Chili Pepper Culinary Experience at the El Dorado Royale Resort in Cancún, Mexico. From the time the event began, my senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and especially taste were fully engaged, connected to the rich culture of Mexico (even though we were at a very Americanized resort in a tourist town).
The ride up to the Generations Riviera Maya Resort, where my room (which was bigger than my apartment in Houston) was located, was just the beginning. Right away, it was clear that the Karisma Hotels and Resorts crew plays no games and cuts no corners when it comes to hospitality. Walking up to the concierge to check in, I was offered a welcome drink (champagne), and then, when they couldn’t find my reservation for a second, I was offered even more to drink while I waited. Little did I know this would be the beginning of healthy liquid diet throughout the rest of the week. The full butler service at the hotel was a nice element, but the whole staff seemed to have the white glove vibe.
I noticed right away that after O.D.ing on saying, “thank you,” or “gracias” to everyone who did so much as open a door for me, that the staff would respond with, “It was my pleasure.” It truly seemed that everyone on the resort felt blessed and fortunate to work there — which makes it easier to accept being the privileged customer at a nice place. I was treated like one of the property’s many celebrity patrons, which is pretty awesome for a woman on the hustle.
In short: Disney World might have a new rival for “happiest place on earth,” because I felt like everyone was my new friend, and “Cheers” might have to rethink that theme song because everyone definitely knew my name.
After my reservation turned up, a butler walked me up to my room where he explained that on one side of the resort was a mangrove swamp. Apparently, it was a joke on the resort that one side of the hotel was hell and the other was heaven. In purgatory, my room, the first thing I noticed was the mini living room, followed by the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on, and then, that view of the Caribbean. Ay, dios mió…that view was, by far the most beautiful, peaceful view I have ever witnessed in life.
I was tempted never to leave my room, but I am so glad I did. There were chilies to eat and sweat to mop off my brow.
When I heard “Chili Pepper Festival,” I was thinking along the lines of an outdoors, fall festival where there are tons of things to buy that relate to a patron veggie, a couple rides to check out, and a maybe a performer or two. And this, friends, is why you read up on an event before you attend it. Because I was waaaaaay off.
What I got instead of a fair was a series of delectable dinners from world renowned chefs and frequently-flowing drinks specially chosen to complement each course. Each pairing was so perfect that it was difficult to pace myself and not just chug champagne while scarfing down the dishes.
I arrived in Mexico a little late for the festivities – about midweek – but that was more than enough to be impressed. My first night was called “Mole and Champagne Tattinger,” and featured marriages of four different kinds of moles accompanied by four different kinds of Tattinger champagne. The welcome drink was a strange sort of chili pepper smoothie. The consistency was thick and icy instead of fluid and liquidy like other cocktails. While other cocktails are made to quench your thirst while they give you a buzz, this cocktail was to whet your appetite for the rest of the night’s experience.
Chefs Rick Bayless and Ricardo Muñoz Zurita were the lead chefs for the night, explaining the painstaking, day-long process of making the perfect mole and their choices of ingredients to diners. First up was yellowtail with its subtle flavor, joined with a semi-spicy tostada to open up the palate. Next was a pipián that made me want to lick the plate and also gave a rebranding of pumpkin from “basic white girl” to rich and complex, as the mole sauce obtained its consistency from the fruit’s seeds. A personal favorite, the “langostinos” reminded me a lot of gumbo roux — a tad spicy but not overbearing. Finally, if we were not already stuffed, Chef Bayless’s famous Oaxaca black mole (the “king of the seven moles”) served with tender pork most definitely did the trick, filling whatever space in our stomachs was not yet full of mole and champagne.
Dinner was rounded out by dessert of several kinds of chocolate cake, mousse, and coffee-flavored ice cream paired with edible flowers to complement their beautifully plated predecessors.