Cocina de Autor at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury All Inclusive Resort - AAA Five Diamond Molecular Dining Experience
Cocina de Autor at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury All Inclusive Resort, with Executive Chef Nahum Velasco Garcia
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When it comes to all-inclusive resorts, travelers immediately think of bland restaurants with long buffet lines and bottomless margaritas – all while providing unprecedented convenience and value. Today, all-inclusive properties have evolved and raised the “all-inclusive” standard by incorporating elevated luxury all-inclusive-experiences to their guests, while providing them with worry free holidays. With the increase in the gastronomy scene and the “foodie boom” among young travelers, restaurants in all-inclusive properties are now more accommodating to guest’s dietary restrictions and offering custom gourmet menus. All-inclusive resorts are now featuring many different types of cuisine at a luxury elevated dining experience, but with an a la carte feel. One of these award winning and luxurious resorts is the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury All-Inclusive Resort in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.
In 2011, Cocina de Autor at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury All-Inclusive Resort was the first resort to be given the AAA Five Diamond award for an all-inclusive property and restaurant. In Quintana Roo, Cocina the Autor is one of four restaurants within an all-inclusive property to receive this prestigious award and the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury All-Inclusive Resort is one of eight properties to have the AAA five Diamond rating. However, there’s two other restaurants on the property that received the AAA Four Diamond award that are also providing an elevated gourmet experience. To be given this award is such an honor where top hospitality standards must be met every year and having this rating elevates the dining experience. These guidelines begin from the outside of the property or restaurant, including cleanliness along with great ambience, high quality décor, top food quality, temperature and presentation.
Video of dining at Cocina de Autor below!!!!!!!
To be named the first AAA Five Diamond restaurant within an all-inclusive resort in the world is a lot pressure to maintain, but Cocina de Autor makes it look flawless. Cocina de Autor does not have a menu, but rather a pre-fixed selection of eight to eleven courses that change daily. Cuisine at this restaurant is evolutionary molecular gastronomy, a newer style of cooking with an avant garde flare. Molecular gastronomy is a sub discipline of food science where physical and chemical transformations of ingredients occur in cooking. It’s a modern style of cooking where the physics and chemistry of cooking are involved, producing bizarre dishes that are shockingly delicious. Preparing this food is more of a creative skill and imagination, rather than technical expertise (Wikipedia). At Cocina de Autor, each course tells a story with a Spanish Basque fusion approach using sustainable Mexican ingredients that are locally sourced. Perfectly paired wine and hand crafted cocktails with top shelf ingredients brings the entire dining experience together. It’s a culinary adventure consulted by world class chefs Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza and led by executive chef Nahum Velasco.
Dining at Cocina de Autor is not like any other restaurant, but also a culinary adventure designed to appeal guests and foodies seeking a luxury dining experience. The restaurant located inside the Grand Class property within the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury resort, has a simple white space design and a long white quartz bar overlooking the ocean. From the beginning of our dining experience we were greeted with hand crafted cocktails made by the in house mixologist, Brandon Orozco Aldana. Waiters and staff were very friendly, helpful and very attentive to our every need. I had the pleasure of dining at Cocina de Autor and had ten magical courses and each dish was paired with a different wine chosen by the in house Maitre Sommelier, Eduardo Quiroga, who received his sommelier certification at Enoteca Bacco d’Oro in Verona Italy.
Molecular melon with Violet's infused with white sangria and a cucumber gin and tonic, paired with Villa Andi Premium Prosecco from Italy (pictured below).
Mini trout ceviche with garlic, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber and apples that sat next to a mushroom quesadilla ball, stuffed with Oaxaca cheese, mushroom and corn sauce. Also paired with Villas Andi Premium Prosecco from Italy.
Las Virutas deal Foie - Foie Gras shavings with Poblano chili and corn, paired its Chateau Peyrot Marges Loupiac from France (pictured below).
Pescado Verde Profundo - Raw yellowtail with a green apple and avocado gazpacho paired with Wente Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from Livermore.
Seakil Pak- Sea Urchin corn mixed with pumpkin seeds, pasta and tomato paired with Wente Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from Livermore (pictured below).
Codorniz y su Huevo- Quail and egg with almonds, cream, grapefruit, chamomile and raspberry dust paired with Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay from Napa (pictured below).
El Mar en verde monochromatic of- Fresh fish of the day in a monochromatic green sauce, poblano chilli, green tomato, coriander and cactus broth paired with the Regional Surco Cabernet Sauvignon from Baja Mexico (pictured below).
Mushroom dish with asparagus foam paired with Regional Surco Cabernet Sauvignon from Baja Mexico (Pictured below).
Sotolone, sherry liquor, yellow curry, and toasted coconut paired with 1921 cream de Mexico tequila (pictured below).
De Olivares y commentaries- Vanilla ice cream with black olive grove sauce, and a Mayan hive and honey liquor over an almond cookie (Magdalena) with crumbled dust paired with 1921 cream de Mexico Tequila (pictured below).
Interview with Nahum Velasco- Executive Chef at Cocina de Autor
Prior to having a delicious dinner at Cocina de Autor, I sat down for a casual interview with executive Chef Nahum Velasco to talk about Cocina de Autor with a little personal touch. During my interview with Chef Nahum, I realized that he is a person who enjoys the simple things in life, organization and is driven by creativity. He described himself as a spontaneous person with a short attention span. Nahum loves to think about his food and believes that some of his best dishes is when he uses his imagination. He gets a lot of pride when people enjoy his food and takes note of that as the empty plates return to the kitchen. All of this is translated into his kitchen, using a systematic approach and what he calls a "spontaneous environment". The following interview was conducted in Spanish and the interview has been translated into English.
How did you get started in cooking?
“At around the age of 17 I got into cooking and started experimenting with my own meals during the summers. I wanted to learn more so I began researching on how to cook and different ways to do things. That's when my passion started an began to get creative in the kitchen. Soon after, I decided to give professional cooking a try and started working at Mexico Lindo and Que Rico in Mexico City". Nahum continued to say that he decided to go to culinary school at Ambrosia Culinary Center in Spain and discovered that cooking was going to be his career path. After working several years in Spain and in Mexico, Nahum began working in Playa de Carmen under the command and guidance of Xavier Perez Stone, Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza.
Who is your mentor?
"I've come across many people that have been influential or have mentored me in my culinary career. I'm very fortunate that I've been able to work with some of the top chefs in Mexico and Spain who I call my mentors and here at Cocina de Autor". Nahum continued to say that Cocina de Autor was developed by two Spanish Basque Chef's, Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza who are also co owners of Biko Restaurant in Mexico City, one of the top 50 Latin American restaurants in the world. Nahum stated that when he first started working at Cocina de Autor, he used to consult and get advice from Mikel and Bruno on a consistent basis, while still having freedom to be creative with dishes. However, now a days Nahum consults less with Mikel and Bruno, but still passes his ideas and concepts on a "Cocina de Autor" style and not "Biko Restaurant". He continued to say that he uses that time as mentorship and is grateful to be able to consult with some of the best chefs in the world. Nahum also said that working at Cocina de Autor along side of Mikel and Bruno has been one of his biggest accomplishments in his career. "I'm very thankful for this mentorship, which has allowed me to discover the concept of a creative kitchen. I'm lucky that I'm able to work with people I admire and to call them colleges”.
What inspires you to cook?
“So many things inspire me because the cooking profession can be boring at times. I like to play music while I cook because your mood and self esteem can influence your motivation and that can translate into your food.” Nahum emphasized that this is important to Cocina de Autor because the dining experience should engage all five of your senses as you eat.
What's your favorite thing to cook and what is your specialty or trademark?
"No one has ever asked me that question. I have no idea what my trademark is and I guess I've never thought about it. However, I'm very inspired by nature and I try to bring simplicity with layers of flavors into my dishes. I do know that I don't like to cook boring dishes, soups or rice". Nahum continued to report that recently he has been trying to see and use vegetables from a different perspective and tries to use as much creative force when designing his dishes. Nahum added that he enjoys being creative with food and working at Cocina de Autor has allowed him to freely create different dishes on a daily basis.
How do you feel about ready made products?
"I don't use them and I don't like them. Here at Cocina de Autor, we use all fresh local ingredients that are only available seasonally. The less manipulation on the food the better."
What is your favorite ingredient to use?
"At this moment, I'm really into garbanzo beans and trying to use legumes in a more creative way. I'm lucky to have the freedom to select and create dishes for our menu".
How do you feel about restaurant critics?
"I think critics are important and necessary for restaurants, as we all have different palate's and we can all learn from each other. There's also some critics where their voices are very influential and important, but it's crucial that the critic remains objective."
What is the most overrated food trend at the moment?
"Right now, one of the most overrated trends is vegan food. Most vegan food is processed and there's nothing fresh about it. I think people are just way to excited with the idea of eating no meat, but lack eating the nutrients that fresh food and protein contributes."
What was your favorite meal as a kid? What would be your last meal?
"Well, that has to be my mom's enchiladas (Nahum said it with a smile). There's nothing better than a simple home cooked meal by your mother. Home cooked meals remind me of being at home with family and there's so much love that goes into those meals".
What are your future plans for the restaurant?
"Now that we have mastered the cuisine side of Cocina de Autor, we want to place more focus on the wine and beverage side of the restaurant. Recently, we have seen an increase interest in wine consumption that continues to evolve among the younger crowd, similar to the foodie evolution." Nahum stated that he's currently working together with the in house sommelier Eduardo Quiroga on upgrading their wine list placing an emphasis on Mexican wines. Both chef Nahum and sommelier Eduardo have noticed guests are becoming more knowledgeable about wine and they hope that in the future, guests can open up about Mexican Wine. Further, Nahum is proud of his current wine and beverage list, but knows that there room to improve. Nahum works along side his beverage team in pairing the drinks and wine that will go alongside the course. They test try meals and try a variety of wines and drinks and figure out together the best drink or wine that will make the dish or a particular flavor stand out. Together with the in house mixologist, Brandon Orozco Aldana and the sommelier, their goal is to have an award winning beverage and wine list that is parallel to their cuisine.
Cocina de Autor's objective has become a kitchen with freedom to create dining experiences where no specific culture is represented, allowing them to be more creative with local ingredients. Dining at this restaurant was one of the highlights of my trip and a true culinary adventure. The consulting Chef's have said that this restaurant has turned into a cuisine laboratory where they're forced to experiment on a daily basis with ingredients and techniques that are unique. The evolution of the restaurant of using different textures and aromas is what has set them apart to other cuisine houses while maintaining the AAA Five diamond quality standards that continues to award them year after year.
******** A special thank you to the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury Resort for sponsoring my stay and for having some of the most attentive and best staff. The Grand Velas Riviera Maya Luxury Resort is a perfect example of what a luxury resort should be and I can’t wait to visit some of their other properties.
Pictures and article by Erika Beach