You've heard of ecotourism? Well, I've just returned from what I would call eat-o tourism: a culinary adventure throughout Nayarit, one of Mexico's 31 states. The Riviera Nayarit, an agricultural and aquatic treasure trove, takes its name to the 192 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline it occupies. Fertile valleys of volcanic soil soaked by seasonal rains produce a lush and abundant assortment of fruits and vegetables. Mango trees are everywhere.
On the road, you pass little trucks filled with just-harvested jicama as well as huge trucks heaped with sugar cane. The region is a welcome home to jackfruit, coconut, bananas, watermelon, agave, tomatoes, and some tobacco. There's also a vast supply of fish and seafood, particularly shrimp, from the ocean and coastal estuaries. All in all, there is ample great eating to be had in this part of the world.
A 45-minute drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport, Punta Mita is the luxurious, gated enclave of the Riviera Nayarit. It's anchored by high-end hotels the Four Seasons and the St. Regis, which collaborate to host an annual food, wine, and tequila tasting event called Gourmet and Golf. Although their two Jack Nicklaus-designed courses look spectacular, I'm here with about 700 others for the gourmet goods.
The three-day program features well-known local and international chefs (such as Michael Mina and Richard Sandoval) who offer cooking classes, demonstrations, and tastings. The opening cocktail party, set on a beach overlooking the Pacific sunset, presents small plates prepared by about 15 chefs as well as samplings of tequila, mezcal, and Mexican wine. The standouts included octopus and pork belly with cauliflower, chile guajillo, and Meyer lemon from Drew Deckman of Deckman's in San José del Cabo, braised beef cheeks with "drunken" sauce and creamy chayote purée from Guillermo González of Pangea in Monterrey, and tuna tartare and guacamole hand roll from Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro in Washington, D.C.