Visitors flock to the Riviera Maya—the promised land of pool bars and palm trees—for sun, fun, and relaxation. Though this hedonistic hub favors all-you-can-eat buffets over fine dining, the table is turning at Azul Sensatori. This five-star resort is home to Le Chique, an avant-garde wonderland.
Helmed by Chef Jonatán Gómez-Luna, each dish on the epic tasting menus are a marriage of modern technique and Mexican ingredients. After my mind-blowing meal, I sat down with Gómez-Luna to get the low-down on how his high-tech food came to be.
Gómez-Luna “grew up in a family where food is serious stuff.” His abuelas were a mix of Mexican, Spanish, French, and Cuban descent, so classic dishes were infused with more exotic flavors. In spite of this epicurean upbringing, Gómez-Luna did not harbor chef dreams. He knew he “always wanted to eat well and drink good wine, but cooking was never in [my] plan.”
All that changed in 2000 when he was invited by a friend to help out at Centro Culinario Ambrosia, a cooking school in Mexico City. After just one day in a professional kitchen, Gómez-Luna was smitten.
“It seduced me and chose me,” he gushes. Internships at European Michelin-starred restaurants, including the famed elBulli, followed, then Gómez-Luna returned to Mexico to teach at the Instituto Culinario Pizzolotto. It is there that Karisma Hotels’ V.P. of Food & Wine, Jeroen Hanlo, hand-picked the young and enthusiastic chef to captain his culinary project: Le Chique.
A proud patriot, Gómez-Luna food is firmly rooted in Mexico. Ingredients are sourced around the country, like foie gras from Guadalajara and oysters from the Baja Peninsula. This nationalistic pride permeates Le Chique’s menu, giving diners an education in Mexican cuisine with each bite.
“I love the simplicity of a taco and the complexity of a mole,” Gómez-Luna shares. This interplay is what makes Le Chique equally accessible and awe-inspiring, the latter thanks to performance art-like plating. Sikil pik, Mayan pumpkin-seed dip, is tucked into chicken skin tacos, which are whimsically hidden in an actual book. A mini elote, the street food snack of grilled corn slathered with chili, lime, and cheese, comes speared atop a charcoal bed.
When queried about whether he is a “molecular gastronomy” chef, Gómez-Luna scoffs at the trendy term. For him, cooking is always molecular; he cites a fried egg as a science lesson in how heat affects the structure of the egg.
Instead, Gómez-Luna calls himself an “avant-garde” chef, galvanized by his passion for play, discovery, and pushing epicurean boundaries. Employing the nuevo techniques of sous-vide, freeze-drying, and foam, his dishes are edible art.
Booze is an essential part of Gómez-Luna’s menu. Cotton candy-like clouds burst with gin & tonic. Campari “cherries” are liquid bliss of bitter, Italian liquor, and chocolate. Dessert of chocolate and corn is perfectly paired with Clase Azul Reposado tequila, thanks to wine director Petrus Coenders.
In this era of celebrity chefs, where cooking skills merit rock star status and elevated egos, Gómez-Luna is refreshingly humble. He proclaims “I work hard for me” not for the praise of others; “I’m not in it for the prizes,” he says.
Cheffing is not a solo act for Gómez-Luna. A peek into Le Chique’s kitchen reveals 22 cooks, whom Gomez extoled as “his diamonds” when winning the prestigious AAA Five-Diamond Award. 80% of the staff are stages (interns) from every corner of the globe, creating a melting pot au feu of international expertise.
“Chefs are a community,” Gomez explains. Collaboration and the interchange of ideas are essential ingredients to great food. In this spirit, Gómez-Luna hopes to publish a cookbook for fellow chefs that would share and showcase his culinary creations.
Part of Le Chique’s appeal is its singularity; there is no place like it in the world.
Le Chique is the product of a perfect storm. Firstly, it is Gómez-Luna himself, a true talent, teacher, and collaborator whose insatiable curiosity feeds his ever-changing menu. Secondly, the supportive bosses—most notably the aforementioned Hanlo–that have given Gómez-Luna financial and creative freedom to test and conceive his innovative food. Lastly, it is Le Chique’s locale, in Mexico, that influences the food with regional flavors.
Paradise Found at Le Chique. For reservations and more information, click here.