Thursday, June 21, 2018

Part I: 2013 Five Years in San Miguel de Allende – 2013 to 2018

                                           Whimsical sketch by SMA artist, Meagan Burns
May 30, seems like yesterday when we arrived in San Miguel de Allende, planning to stay for six months and write about food. Five years later, we’re still here.
In the past five years, SMA experienced a food revolution and we were here in the heart of it, constantly amazed by the almost daily changes. Even today, five years later, we take a breath, wondering what’s coming next. This past week, much-loved chef, Matteo Salas, moved on and Chef Olivier Deboise arrived in SMA, determined to create his own legacy.
SMA’s culinary profile is a work in progress. It’s been gratifying to chart the five year path of its history since there is limited documentation, oral or written, of the story; a thumbs up to Fernando Olivera Rocha, the State Secretary of Tourism, who constantly promotes the gastronomy of Guanajuato. The chefs in SMA continue to surprise us as well, with new techniques and innovative cuisine. It will be fascinating to follow their efforts for another five years.
Below is an account of the past five years; the remarkable experiences we had along the way. In a second post, later this month, you’ll get a look at our most memorable visuals, food and otherwise, from 2013 - 2015.
Thank you for allowing us to be part of every delicious moment over the past five years. We love you SMA.
Buen Provecho!

Welcome to Mexico! Mexico Tourism’s official website,, lists 50 top destinations in Mexico; we’ve been to 30 of them. We came to SMA on May 30, 2013, intending to travel; planning to stay for six months to write about food. Five years later, we’re still here. 
In our first year, we traveled, from San Miguel de Allende to Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo, Queretaro, Morelia, Patzcuaro, Puebla, Guadalajara, Tonola, Tlaquepaque, Toluca and Mexico City to the sleepy little town of Santa Rosa and back again. We wanted to connect with our surrounding; the inland cities of Mexico, far from the beaches we know so well. These cities present some of the most beautiful, exhilarating and historically significant settings in Mexico.
There were so many Aha! mexican moments that first year, we quit counting after the first month.
Hex: #E4007C/RGB: 228,0,124: Rosa Mexicano, the color of Mexico. By this time, we were embracing the country we loved for nearly 50 years but were just beginning to appreciate.
We’ll admit we had our Chicago moments in 2014, but not enough to convince us to go back to the Chicago weather. San Miguel de Allende    was starting to grow on us, even though we didn’t realize it at the time. The weather is almost picture perfect here; so is the light. There’s something almost divine about the light; to a photographer, it is everything. 
In 2014, we learned a lot more about traditional, Mexican ingredients; relying on the experts. We devoured books by authors we had never heard of until now; Patricia Quintana's A Taste of Mexico, Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico and Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico were everyday reading. We always loved reading cookbooks; now we were passionate about it. Our time in Chicago, a devoted admirer of Chef Rick Bayless, became more meaningful when we learned he has the largest, privately-owned collection of Mexican cookbooks in the U.S. Someday, we hope to see it. 

Holidays - can you name a day in Mexico that isn’t one? We went to neighboring and distant pueblos with a full month in Oaxaca to fill our head with more of the Mexican kitchen and educated ourselves on two delicious obsessions: Mexican wines and spirts, including Tequilas and Mezcals. What surprised us the most? We use to be afraid of bugs, nowadays we were eating them; Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern the new reality.

We continued to meet chefs and visited a lengthy list of restaurants in order to know and appreciate every one of them.
Home is where the heart is and food for thought is no substitute for the real thing. Every time we left and came back, San Miguel felt more like home.

San Miguel’s culinary star was rising. From street food to five-star dining, we found culinary treasures everywhere in 2015. 
We celebrated the many food festivals here in SMA and learned more about uncomplicated but delicious street food. We spent a month in Guatemala because so many people told us there was no great food there; we had to see for ourselves. There, we connected with a small group of French chefs who fed us well that entire month. We also fell in love with the market town of Chichicastenango, for all of its intensity and embellishments.

We uncovered more great food city in Mexico City and wrote about the perfect day in SMA. We discovered more about our seven, favorite, inland food cities: Mexico City, Puebla, Queretaro, Oaxaca, Guanajuato, Guadalajara and of course SMA. Whether the experience brought us back to the same taco cart week after week or a remarkable burger every Thursday night at The Restaurant in SMA, one thing was for certain: San Miguel was full of exceptional dining options for anyone who wanted to savor the experience of great food.
And, oh, by the way, someone turned our Spanish button back on in 2015. Our 30 day immersion trips were giving us so much more than just language skills.
This Chicago girl started to call SMA home.

The food scene in SMA exploded in 2016 with the opening of Mercado Centro and Doce 18. The culinary landscape was spilling over with new chefs and restaurants, like Chef Marcela Bolano of Marsala, cocina con acentos and husband-wife team, Chefs Marco Cruz and Sofia Antillon of Nomada cocina de interpretacion.
If you came to SMA to eat that year, you picked the right place because an abundance of notable restaurant openings that year went a long way to feed our food obsessions. 
We were a judge for the Lamb and Mezcal festival and survived eating sixteen courses of lamb to write about it. There’s nothing in my preferred book of foods that ranks much higher than lamb: Leg of Lamb, Rack of Lamb, Lamb Chops; you name it and we’ll eat it.
We elected to do more in-depth articles in 2016, so we spent two months traveling: another glorious month in Oaxaca, fulfilling a life-long goal to cook with Susana Trilling at Seasons of My Heart Cooking School and the other month in Lima with the great chefs of Peru. My heart belonged to Lima five minutes into my first meal at MAIDO. At the ultimate Amazon- Nikkei experience, Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura’s multi-course Nikkei - Japanese inspired Peruvian menu, was the perfect beginning to my education on Peruvian cuisine. I still remember every course that day, at one of the best meals of my life.
We chased more good food in Mexico City and when we settled in to SMA for months at a time, we did research; first finding, then interviewing and writing about the Maestras, the sixteen culinary pioneers who started it all and the The Female Chefs of SMA, the women who ultimately leveled the culinary playing field here. When we first made an inquiry, we were told there were only a handful of female chefs but as we continued the chase, more and more women stepped forward; beautiful, passionate, strong, confident, educated, articulate, committed, and accomplished women. We ended up with thirty-four.
The place we thought we’d be bored with in a few months was now one of the hottest food destinations in Mexico and we were here to watch it all happen. It was both a joy and a revelation.

We researched, wrote and continued to step up our support of the chefs in SMA and their effort to advance the food scene. Who said San Miguel de Allende was the place to eat this year? Well, actually, we did, along with just about everyone else we talked with. The best city in the world just got better with another influx of new restaurants and some Sunday brunch menus we couldn’t stop talking about.

Two important things changed in 2017: with a whole new category of fine-casual dining spots emerging, locals were dining out more often.Restaurant owners were also making important changes to improve the quality and consistency of the guest experience; they recognized that good service is a significant part of the equation. 

SMA continued to advance its own style. A number of new artisans, an inspiring cocktail culture that included great Mixologists like Adrian Garcia-Evans, a budding wine scene, the influence of educated sommeliers like Chilean-born Sebastian Acosta Quiroz and a whole new generation of young chefs were all a part of the upshot.

From a lengthy, three-part series on the Best of SMA, we also developed a comprehensive guide to cooking classes, looked for the best burger in SMA by devouring twenty of them in fourteen days, spent a month in Mexico City, uncovering remarkable, inexpensive food and were constantly in touch with chefs, pastry chefs, new chefs, and up-and-coming chefs. We also developed the SMA Hit List: the most popular restaurants in SMA.
We ate more than our fair share of street food in 2017; Mexico has one of the best street food cultures in Latin America and San Miguel was no exception. You meet the most interesting people when you eat on the street here; a food or language lesson is often had for the price of a couple tacos. We never forget to savor the sunrise and sunsets here; in SMA, they’re as delicious as the food.
Most significantly that year, to celebrate 50 years of traveling in Mexico, we took a hot air balloon ride over the Pyramid of the Sun and walked all 248 steps to the top, just as we had done 50 years earlier. It was a life changing moment.
The perfect feast… by this time we had many with Chef Matteo Salas at the chefs table at Aperi. The Outstanding In the Field dinner, which was an indulgence on an entirely different kind, with Chefs Donnie Masterton of The Restaurant and Eduardo Garcia of Maximo Bistrot and Lalo!, gave additional significance to ingredients ; the produce was picked just hours before, a short distance from the table where we ate them. New restaurants opened, including Café Casa Blanca, changing the culinary landscape once again with remarkable, Moroccan food. We took a look at both high-quality and healthy ingredients and developed an extensive listing of the Best Food and Drink in SMA. We also organized a pizza class for eight chefs in order to advance the quality of the pizza served in some of SMA's best restaurants. Culinarian Expeditions taught the class, with the proceeds going to Mujeres en Cambio. 
We've been busy this year with many more stories in the pipeline. We also started culinary school, hoping to expand our knowledge of food.
Five years later, we're thankful to everyone we met along the way who were our inspiration.
The best, we know, is yet to come. Stay tuned.
Buen Provecho!