Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf: A Sumptuous Event In Mexico

Imagine luxuriating in a pool set at the perfect temperature as the sun shines brightly in the cloudless blue sky. The ocean sits just a few feet away, and the only noticeable sounds are from waves cascading on the shore and birds singing joyfully in the surrounding palm trees. Welcome to the St. Regis Punta Mita, in the exclusive beach community of Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific coastline of Mexico, an hour's drive northwest from Puerta Vallarta.

For the fifth time, the St. Regis and neighboring Four Seasons played host to the Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic. About 500 guests attended this three-day event, which not only brings together guest chefs, winemakers, and tequila masters to prepare culinary delights, but also raises money to support underprivileged children. While golfers played two signature Jack Nicklaus courses on the spectacular, landscaped grounds, gourmands partook of a remarkable variety of fantastic food, cocktails, and culinary demonstrations.

As the sun set over the white sand beach, music welcomed guests to Thursday night's open-air kickoff event. Tasting tables featured enough savories to easily compose an exciting meal. There were tacos of octopus with a puree of cauliflower and radish, and another of tongue in a mole sauce with a purée of plantains. Three ceviches of raw fish and seafood spiced and bathed in lime juice highlighted the area's abundant supply. One was shrimp, another seared amberjack with coconut sauce, and a third scallops that came in a lively emulsion of vanilla, ginger, and spicy habanero pepper. Plump scallops were also chorizo-wrapped and grilled atop a cranberry mole and mint corn purée. Filet of beef with mashed lentils and tamarind mole pleased meat eaters, as did pork belly Oaxaca stew with pickled carrots. Fat local oysters tempura with habanero and green sauce were a hit, as was the briny raw variety smartly accented with crunchy chicken cracklings. And one could very happily make a full dinner out of Nayarit culinary queen Betty Vasquez's luscious fish ceviche with curry and mint on a crispy tostada, followed by perfect, smoky BBQ lamb chops with cucumber yogurt and salsa-esque criolla sauce from globetrotting chef Richard Sandoval. All could be washed down with a variety of adult beverages, of which the smooth tequila from Maestro Tequilero worked well, as did various Mexican beers. Sweets eaters nibbled on a tempting array of desserts as the moon appeared over the ocean.

Friday's agenda began with golf competitions and a clinic led by acclaimed former professional golfer Lorena Ochoa, who hails from Mexico. It should be pointed out that Ms. Ochoa showed up despite enduring a personal tragedy the day before. She gave an excellent tutorial and raised money for her charitable foundation.



Those not on the course could choose among several workshops, demonstrations, and tastings. In one such class on the beach, chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo showed how to make a green mich mole, a jalapeño- and tomatillo-based sauce particularly well-suited for creatures from the water. In this case, those included a flawlessly grilled giant shrimp, fried soft-shell crabs coated with amaranth and chia, and chubby frogs legs braised in the mole. Olé!

The talented and ebullient chef Antonio de Livier served a soulful seaside lunch that reflected his Mexicali roots, which made it a mashup of Mexican with Chinese. Chunks of crisp pork were first brined in a mixture of radishes, beets, onions, scallions, and garlic, seasoned with star anise, clove, and cinnamon. Pork shoulder spent six hours braising in Boca Negra beer until it was soft and succulent, and served with warm flour tortillas with which to roll your own. Sides of broccoli with asparagus were stir-fried al dente while fragrant yellow rice incorporated bite-size bits of shrimp, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. Dessert was a decadent charred plantain over mescal-flavored ice cream topped with Oaxacan chocolate fudge. Seriously good eating, indeed.

Although 3 p.m. would have been the perfect time for a siesta in a hammock on the beach, about 25 happy campers instead boarded a motorized catamaran for a cruise on Banderas Bay. Sponsored by the super high-end Italian watch company Panerai, the onboard picnic included plenty of prosecco on a glorious afternoon of sunshine and sea breezes.

One popular dinner option on the first evening was imported directly from Brooklyn. The "two Frankies" of Frankies Spuntino (Castronovo and Falcinelli) opened with an explosion of taste from their huachinango (red snapper) ceviche. Composed of intensely fresh fish, piquant from onion and lime, it was balanced by the natural sweetness of celery, fresh fruit, and sweet potato. The main was a classic linguine with clams, followed by a creamy mascarpone supporting soft stewed prunes for the dessert course.



Saturday's program was equally as filling and fulfilling. Agave expert Ivan Saldaña began the day with a fascinating presentation on mezcal. There's a lot to learn about how this sacred plant is transformed into a most complex spirit. Well-made mezcal is commonly described as smoky, yet the ancient technique of roasting the heart of the plant in an underground "oven" also produces notes of dark chocolate, oak, citrus, and even fruitiness, depending on the particular balance of flavors. Saldaña brought his own artisanal Montelobos to sample for the tasting; it is superb served neat, yet would make a wonderful margarita when used in place of tequila. Attendees were also treated to Ancho Reyes, a richly aromatic and distinctive liqueur made from ancho chilies.

Dallas-based Australian chef Andrew Ormsby prepared what was billed as an Australian BBQ lunch. The four-course offering consisted of ahi tuna poke and a seared scallop, followed by a second plate of rich, irresistible, almond-crusted lobster croquet, filled with blue crab and served with dill butter over arugula. That paired well with a food-friendly Chilean sauvignon blanc from Errazuriz Reserva. Grilled lamb chops over a bed of mashed pumpkin arrived alongside a glass of Beaujolais Villages. A rhubarb and raspberry brûlée with lemon vanilla crumble sealed the deal.

One of the afternoon programs, Ancient Ingredient Fear Factor, allowed fans of competitive cooking to watch four Mexican chefs create dishes with grasshoppers, worms, ants, and tiny crabs. As at every event, all of the food was made available to sample. And believe it or not it, it was the worms for the win.

On a warm, gorgeous evening, waves rolled into shore during a mesmerizing sunset as close to 600 people were seated on the beach for the elegant closing dinner. Cool green gazpacho preceded a full plate of Frankie's meatballs and an Instagram-perfect Valrhona chocolate dessert. Performance artist David Garibaldi delighted the assembled by painting Carlos Santana and Lorena Ochoa to the beat of music, with both canvases fetching plenty of pesos for charity.

The culinary extravaganza would not have been complete without a full-throttle Sunday brunch that transcended the typical breakfast buffet offerings. That meant grilled steak, pork tacos with all the accompaniments, lamb roasting on a spit, freshly shucked oysters, and handmade quesadillas that were filled and pan-toasted to order. Of course, the many spirit sponsors kept the libations flowing as well. Time for one last dip in the pool to contemplate a diet of fruit, vegetables, and water in the weeks to come.

A one-of-a-kind event such as this does not come inexpensively. The sixth annual Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf, slated for December 2016, will run about $1,900 a night for the three-day weekend, everything included. But if that's within your travel budget, whether you're a golfer or a gourmet, this is a memorable experience at an outstanding resort in an extremely beautiful part of the world.