Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Singing in the Rain at Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta, voted World's Best Destination Spa by the readers of Travel & Leisure magazine, is an extraordinary place. The 3,000-acre property in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, features an amazing program of fitness activities, healthful cuisine, luxury spa amenities, superb accommodations in private casitas, lush landscaped gardens and secluded sanctuaries, an organic farm, internationally known cooking school, and mountainsides and meadows of great hiking and walking experiences.

This past Saturday, I was a guest for Saturdays at the Ranch, a new program offering a one-day-visit to San Diego-area residents. The experience includes transportation from Old Town via luxury coach, a half day of fitness and spa activities, gourmet spa lunch, and a long, wonderful afternoon spent in a hands-on cooking class, including dinner, at La Cocina que Canta, the new cooking school and culinary center set in the midst of an organic farm. 

My Saturday at the Ranch was also the kick off event for the 8th Annual San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival, and we are looking forward to attending several of the cooking classes and tastings throughout the week, and the Grand Tasting event this weekend.

Despite the rain, which was rather heavy at times, I was able to explore a small portion of the ranch and take a few photos before my late morning therapeutic massage. Unfortunately, the hike was cancelled and my wanderings were confined to the meandering brick paths.

At about 3:00, I found my way back to the meeting location for our 3:30 transport to La Cocina que Canta, "The Kitchen that Sings." It was a short drive through Tecate, around the outside perimeter of the ranch, and down a muddy and bumpy dirt road. We scurried up the path, deposited our umbrellas, and slipped in through a massive wood door to the warmth of the open kitchen and dining room, where we were welcomed by Rancho La Puerta's Executive Chef, Denise Roa, and visiting guest Chef, Bernard Guillas.

We've had the pleasure of dining at Chef Bernard's La Jolla restaurant, The Marine Room, and chatting with him at the annual Gingerbread City Gala and The Gourmet Experience. He's a charming and entertaining award-winning chef, winner of San Diego's "Best Chef" many times, and co-author of Flying Pans - Two Chefs One World, a cookbook that combines personal travel stories, anecdotes and over 100 global recipes from travels with co-author and Marine Room Chef de Cuisine, Ron Oliver.

La Cucina que Canta is a culinary institution that has fast become the "it" place of many of the most famous teaching chefs and cookbook authors.  Guest instructors in the past years have included Rick Bayless, Deborah Madison, Patricia Wells, John Ash, and many more. The school itself is located in the midst of the ranch's six-acre organic farm that climbs the fertile hillside at the foot of Mt. Kuchumaa.

There were about 10 guests participating in the cooking class. Preparation stations were set up around the kitchen island, complete with knives, cutting boards, fresh produce, printed recipes, and everything required to prepare our five course dinner. Most of the produce was freshly picked from the organic farm, just outside the kitchen. The class was divided into teams and then put to work chopping, measuring, mixing, marinading, blanching, rolling, sauteing, and baking, with the assistance of Chefs Bernard and Roa, and the friendly kitchen team.

A few hours later, everyone sat down at the large farm-style table to savor an amazing five-course dinner and wine.
Ahi Tuna Lollipop with Ginger Macadamia Sauce

Salade Gourmande du Gros with Banyl Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Portobello Mushroom Bisque with Truffle Oil, Pine Nuts, and Lemon Greek Yogurt

Almond Tatsoi Crusted Halibut with Plum Tomato Sambal,
Sweet Soy, and Quinoa Heart of Palm Salad

Hibiscus Infused Lemon Tart with an Almond Cumin Crust

After dinner, we had a few moments to relax and visit while Chef Bernard autographed copies of his cookbook, and then we were transported back to San Diego.

Despite the rain, some reluctance in traveling to Mexico, and not having John with me on this trip, I had a marvelous time and can't wait to return to explore and experience everything this magical ranch has to offer.

Please visit Rancho La Puerta's web site for a wealth of information, videos, and photographs.
Chef Bernard shares the recipe for his Hibiscus Infused Lemon Tart, here.


leaf (the indolent cook) said...

The food looks sensational - and such lovely flavours! What an experience.

Jess said...

Gorgeous pictures! It makes me want to go.

ilanica said...

Wow, this whole post is fantastic. I love the underlying theme of naturalistic luxury. Beautiful shots/food! Love the meatlessness.

Lana said...

The spa looks idyllic! Just being there would be enough to make you feel like you belong in a fairy tale:)
Your photos are gorgeous and the food sounds divine. What a great experience!