Security at the Mayakoba resort development in Riviera Maya, Mexico, is pretty tight.
Our taxi is stopped twice in order to confirm our identity and our destination, and we’re even pulled over and held on the side of the road for five minutes before being introduced the renowned chef Karla Enciso, who beckons us to hop into the backseat of a golf cart-style vehicle. We’re scheduled for a cooking lesson through Enciso’s El Pueblito Cooking School; on this occasion, she’s taking us to a kitchen at a historic church instead of her usual space, which has been taken over by a golf retreat for three weeks.
We hop off in the middle of a gorgeous yellow- and red-hued square full of statues, flowers, and other breathtaking fixtures and are given a few minutes to take in the sights as Enciso, a native of Mexico City, makes sure everything is in order.
In the industrial-sized kitchen, there are many things waiting for us, the most noteworthy being dehydrated jackfruit, a whole frozen octopus who later meets his demise in a food processor that loosens up his muscles and leaves light purple sea foam, and a humungous oven, where we place whole vegetables directly on the fire — no pan needed, apparently, just a set of tongs and a lot of bravery.
After three hours of working on our delegated tasks, sipping freshly made tamarind water, and learning about the do’s and don’ts of eating fish while on our honeymoon, we’ve created several sauces from scratch with a ton of tasting along the way. We’ve also made corn tortillas from scratch (just pressing them is an art in itself) made a refreshing cactus salad, and come one step closer to actually chopping a tomato into cubes rather than mushy strips stuck to the skin.
Even though my husband hates cilantro — it’s pretty much the salt of the Mexican culinary world — Enciso was able to come up with amazing replacements on the spot that left us feeling more than satisfied, filled to the gills with the fruits of our labor and the memories of cooking a meal that we’ll never forget.
If you plan to visit Riviera Maya, check out El Pueblito's website for more info.