Thursday, July 9, 2015

SMA Food Festival: San Miguel’s Chefs Take Center Stage

It's incredible that San Miguel put two food shows, two weeks apart, into the record books this past month. Thanks to Sabores San Miguel producers Donnie Masterton and Angela Lewis Serrano and SMA Food Festival's principal trio: Ricardo Pare Trejo, Daniel Estebaranz and Jorge Alarcon L.  

Although some people made an effort to compare the two shows, they were both very different. While Sabores highlighted San Miguel’s restaurants, the SMA Food Festival was a celebration of its chefs. Both shows did a great job to further position San Miguel as an emerging culinary center in Mexico.

If you haven’t noticed, San Miguel is in the middle of a food revolution right now that is not about to slow down any time soon. In fact, the entire Bajio region, including Queretaro, is fast becoming a place to go for food in Mexico. 

No one is more surprised than DF food writer Nick Gilman, who lived in San Miguel and was pretty certain that the food was nothing to write home about until he recently popped into town, under the radar, and was inspired by the talents of Aperi’s Matteo Salas. 

I'm happy to be living in San Miguel in order to document the transformation. That’s why I came here. The best news is that food lovers in San Miguel no longer have to travel to Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tijuana or Puebla just to get great food… although I love eating in these culinary hubs and always uncover some surprising things about Mexican food when I go.

So what’s responsible for the change in the food culture in San Miguel these past few years? 

Blame this food revolution on Donnie Masterton, Chef/Owner of The Restaurant and one of the producers of Sabores San Miguel. Back in 2012, Chef Masterton put on a trendy, pop up dinner with Tacolicious owner Joe Hargrave.

Later that year, Mexico City superstar chef Enrique Olvera took over Moxi in Hotel Matilda. About that same time, former Director of the CIA’s culinary tours, Michael Coon, was ramping up his dinners and tastings over at Casa de Cocinas.

Casa Dragones, a handcrafted, small batch, luxury tequila with its spiritual home in San Miguel, was rated by Wine Enthusiast at 96/100 – the magazine’s highest tequila rating.

In 2013, the readers of Conde Nast Traveler selected San Miguel Allende as the number one city in the world. CNN turned around and did the same thing. Tourism increased significantly since then and the demand for high-quality food surfaced …finally.

Even Andy’s, San Miguel’s most popular taco cart and street food, was written up by the Wall Street Journal last year.

Matteo Salas arrived on the scene from Mexico City to head up the kitchen at Aperi and television’s popular series, Top Chef, filmed three episodes in San Miguel.

        iPhone Photo
      iPhone Photo
     iPhone Photo
Then, an unlikely trio of entrepreneurs, Ricardo Pare Trejo, Daniel Estebaranz and Jorge Alarcon L., launched a Bon Appetit Chicago Gourmet style show in San Miguel and the rest is history.

The SMA Food Festival

So what were the things we liked about the first San Miguel Food Festival besides the fact that everyone is talking about San Miguel being the new place to go for food in Mexico?

 The Chefs

This show made its debut with a lineup of distinguished chefs including San Miguel’s all-stars: Chef Victor Palma of The Rosewood; Chef Mateo Salas from Aperi; and Chef Donnie Masterton of The Restaurant.

It was all family business for SMA’s celebrated foursome; father, Chef Bricio Domínguez, sons Chef Alonso Domínguez, 21 and Chef Luis Pablo Dominguez, 16 and a nephew Chef Pablo Domínguez, 24. The next time you see Bricio, thank him for building a dynasty of new, young, chefs… all from his very own family.

Also at the show were local favorites Chef Davide Giribaldi and Chef Greta Ortega from Mi Vida; Chef Salvador Garcia from The Rosewood, Chef Allen Williams of The Food Factory, and Chef Marco Cruz of Bu’i Cocina de Campo.

Bu’i, by the way, is SMA Food Festival organizer Daniel Estebaranz’s restaurant, located about 10 km outside of San Miguel in the Otomi Equestrian Center. We’ll catch a visit soon but from all reports, the food is pretty remarkable.

Also making appearances were Chef Dante Ferrero of Neuquen who orchestrated the sensational BBQ Sunday afternoon; Chef Leonardo de La Sierra of Equip de San Miguel Gourmet, Private Chef Jonathan Alvarado and our local favorite, Chef Julián García.

Chefs Juan Emilio Villaseñor, Armando Prats and Enrique Farjeat did the brunch on Sunday.

Chef Table Dining

The chefs table at Aperi in Dos Casas is the only one in San Miguel. It’s also the most sought after reservation in town, so creating chef table dining at the show was genius. 

I selected the Saturday lunch because some of my favorite chefs were cooking; Chef Matteo Salas of Aperi, Chefs Victor Palma and Salvador Garcia from The Rosewood and the team of Chef Greta Ortega and Italian Chef David Garibaldi from Mi Vida.

The menu:

Mivida’s Amouse bouche: Ceviche of rockot with balsamic vinegar and raspberries.

1st Course: Matteo Salas’s Baby squids cooked in brown butter and lemon, charred oyster mushrooms, dry prosciutto and fried parsley.

2nd Course: Davide Giribaldi and Greta Ortega’s Tortelloni of roasted beef, pancetta and oporto reduction.

3rd Course: Victor Palma’s Tlayuda with shrimp and red snapper in salsa chintextle.

4rd Course: Matteo Salas’s crispy suckling pig from Celaya, gel of orange and Mezcal, mustard leafs and acid sauce of sherry vinegar.

5th course: Matteo Salas’s burned sweet potato with almost burned cream, ice cream of brown butter and salt. 

Note: We loved watching this young guy get a culinary education just by opening his casserole.

6th Course: Salvador Garcia’s Bubulubu of foie gras, marshmallow of vanilla and raspberries jam.

Petit fours: Mivida’s Cantuci, Aperi’s Chile of Chocolate and The Rosewood’s Chocolate Bonbon with Basel.

The set for the chefs table was built and sponsored by Casa Armida in San Miguel. We loved the simple elegance of the design.

The Front of the House

There was a good mix of vendors in both the front and back room, many who were not at Sabores San Miguel. 

There was a cheese maker from Puebla; the one who keeps us healthy, Katie of Spirulina Viva; jello shots from Sanchots (who has been in business for just one month); Los Reyes Meat Company, a mother-daughter team specializing in meat from Monterrey; Poptails, frozen paleta cocktails on a stick and 

the Beer, Tequila, Mezcal and Wine vendors from all over Mexico including Cerveceria Vopper from Mineral de Pozos (affiliated with the beautiful Posada de las Mina's Hotel in downtown Pozos); Gracias a Dios Mezcal (who also makes the only gin we love, Ginebra de Agave, made from Mezcal. We discovered it at the Cava Sautto Wine Festival back in February thanks to the charming Ricardo Wolf who was also at this show) and Traspatio Winery

        Love the name of this wine!

Filiberto Martinez Romo, owner of Traspatio, named the small winery in Valle de Guadalupe after his father, who he made wine with in their backyard (traspatio) when he was growing up.

     Photo of Alessa Brava by unionjalisco

The Back of the House

This is where all the glitz and the glamour was including the Miss Jalisco, Alessa Brava, chefs in full force, vendors including SMA’s own Mark Taylor of Dos Aves, Blime Cookware and Kitchen Stuff (the new kitchen store in town) and 

Rafael Mendiolea of Gourmet Grill who cooked for a large crowd on Saturday with made-to-order Arrachera and Hanger Steaks.

The one constant at both shows? Buenos Aires Bistro. We love Chef Mariano Alvarez who does everything right from answering a tough critic on Trip Advisor to cooking the best pork belly and sausage sandwiches we’ve ever eaten. It was some of the best food at the show and we’re hoping he’ll put them on his comida menu soon.

We also had fun with Mixologist Sam Marchiatto of Mixologiarocks, who paired up with Helados Bok of Ajijic, to present the Dark Side of the Ice Cream; pairing beer-based cocktails with goat’s milk ice cream. Honestly, there wasn’t a drink I didn’t love that Bacon Ice Cream with.

Another frontrunner was Dante Ferrero's Sunday BBQ. The spectacular display was worth waiting for… and studying. For anyone who wants to build a BBQ, this was the way to do it.

It was some of the best lamb, pork and cow BBQ we’ve had in a long time.

The Venue:


The Instituto Allende is as good as it gets. How can you beat the stellar view of La Parroquia as a backdrop and at sunset, the light was magical.


The Communal Tables:

Want to meet your neighbor (that actually happened) or steal a bite off his plate when he’s not looking? We loved these tables for their “meet” factor.

By the way, we met Gail Marie Barros of Gail Marie Artisan Chocolates and her husband Bob. Their son Nick of Barros Productions was the videographer for the show; see his video at You Tube.

We stayed late but didn’t make it to the 3 AM closing. Nothing that a few 2 AM Marachias wouldn’t cure next year.

The Music:

We favored the sounds of Elliot The Furniture and so did the five young girls sitting next to us.

Vocalist Andrés Mendoza was really impressive, as was Onier Bacallao who rocked the terrace with his Trumpet. René Garcin, Aldo Organista, Fito Delgado and Cache rounded out this terrific group from Guadalajara. Watch for their video to be released soon.

The Price:

I know. Next year you’re going to book the chefs table. You and hundreds of other people. One piece of advice: Book it early. The VIP ticket was a steal at 1500 pesos.

The entry fee was only 120 pesos for all three days and although you had to pay for some food items, the prices were low… 10 pesos for a Jello Shot and only 50 pesos for that Pork Belly Sandwich from Buenos Aires Bistro.

The Effect:

Producing an epic is always a huge risk when you've just come off of a highly successful show two weeks before.

Five years from now, ask me about the very first SMA Food Festival. Calling it epic may just be an understatement.

Buen Apetito!