Chef Renee Everett // © 2016 Tim Johnson
Feature image (above): A tomb at Nim Li Punit // © 2016 iStock
As we cruised through mangroves on a pontoon boat, charting a course to the sea, I chatted with chef Renee Everett. First, we focused on her culinary philosophy that emphasizes using the freshest ingredients available. Next, she mentioned her journey from some of Los Angeles’ top restaurants to this beautiful spot in the heart of the jungle. And then?
Before I knew it, Everett was in the water — pink flippers swishing, propelling her deep into some of the bluest water I had ever seen.
I had been spending the week in Punta Gorda, Belize, enjoying the quiet rhythms at Belcampo Belize. This former fishing lodge with a series of villas atop a shady hill has been transformed into a luxury resort. I spent much of my time at Belcampo swimming in the pool, dining on Everett’s delicious creations and napping to the sound of howler monkeys — their comically loud grunts and howls serving as an unusual lullaby.
Belcampo offers a number of its own excursions while also serving as a central jumping-off point to explore the area. Through the hotel, I went on a guided farm tour — taking in just a small slice of the resort’s 12,000 acres where more than 70 percent of all the food in the restaurant is farmed — visiting pigs and chickens and seeing organically grown cacao, sugarcane, coffee and a variety of other crops.
Another day, I joined Martin Ack, a guide from the local Kekchi tribe, on a drive deep into Maya country. With Ack narrating, we visited Nim Li Punit, a fascinating series of excavated Maya tombs, pyramids and other ruins. Next, Ack dropped me off with his friend Vicente, and we paddled down the Rio Grande — a small, meandering, blue-water river surrounded by dense forest. Vicente told me about the locals’ lifestyle and heritage as we slowly made our way to his village.
And, finally, I went in search of fish with Everett. Snorkel with the Chef is one of Belcampo’s signature programs, and it gives guests the opportunity to join Everett on a true culinary adventure on the Mesoamerican Reef. During our outing, I joined her in the water and followed her to a small mountain of coral where, spear in hand, she stalked a big snapper. But the wily old fish proved too elusive and, after swimming through a few schools of swirling tropical fish, we returned to the pontoon.
There, another snapper — this one on ice — was awaiting his final destination: the grill.
With a mojito in hand and barbecued snapper on the way, I sat back and enjoyed the surroundings — at once rustic and refined — and looked forward to what the next day’s adventure at Belcampo might bring.