A Taste of Puerto Vallarta

Food festival is perfect for gourmet travelers

By: Jonathan Siskin

Devoted gastronomes who enjoy wining and dining in the company of fellow foodies and oenophiles should head to Puerto Vallarta this November to attend the 11th Annual Gourmet Festival. Showcasing the culinary talents of some of the world’s finest chefs, the festival ranks as Mexico’s premier epicurean event and continues to grow in popularity year after year. From its modest beginnings in 1995 with just six participating restaurants and 12 guest chefs, a decade later it has become a major event on the international culinary calendar. A record 26 Puerto Vallarta restaurants participated in last year’s festival as 20 guest chefs from leading restaurants in the U.S., Europe, South America and Mexico attended the 10-day event that attracted more than 30,000 visitors.

Taste Wine, Cheese and Tequila

The festival’s agenda is chock full of activities and special events guaranteed to enhance clients’ knowledge of food and wine as well as sate the most ravenous appetites.

Of special interest are three days of gourmet cooking classes conducted by chefs from Mexico City’s Le Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts. A detailed recipe book is given to all participants. There are also wine and tequila tastings and a multitude of cheeses at the Cheeses of the World extravaganza. Guests are offered a special lunch pairing wines with cheese courses and desserts.

Several nights are set aside for sumptuous Chef’s and Winemakers dinners at participating restaurants. Menus feature unique selections created especially for the festival by a guest chef in collaboration with the host chef. Live music performances accompany the dinners and seating is limited to 30 to 40 gourmet festival diners. Reservations are required.

Other crowd-pleasing events on the festival agenda included a lavish Sunday buffet brunch with champagne cocktails and decorated with ice sculptures, plus a gala farewell dinner climaxed by a fireworks display.

Fabulous Feasts

I spent four days at the 2004 festival, arriving just in time to attend the World’s Chef reception on opening night. A lively crowd of food fanciers filled the main ballroom of the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort and Convention Center. Rows of tables were decorated with an assortment of tasty tapas along with a bountiful supply of Corona beer and Jose Cuervo tequila. The 80-member Banda de Zacatecas was on hand to enliven the atmosphere with their bold, brassy mariachi sounds. At an interval in the festivities, guest chefs were individually introduced to the crowd who greeted them with a raucous round of applause as they gathered together at the podium.

During the festival, I went to exquisite six-course feasts at the Chef’s Table and Winemaker Banquets held at two of the best local restaurants Cafe des Artistes and La Petite France for fine cuisine combined with beautiful people watching.

The hottest “to see and be seen” restaurant in Puerto Vallarta is Cafe des Artistes, where celebrity owner-chef Thierry Blouet presides. Blouet, who formerly lived and worked in Paris and is one of the founders of the festival, joined forces with another renowned French-born chef, Gerard Dupont, to concoct a memorable menu. We started with cream of prawn and pumpkin soup. Entrees included grilled tenderloin petals with camembert cheese sauce and chile pasilla or fresh salmon baked in brioche bread choux with petit fours for dessert.

I also dined at another local restaurant with a French connection, La Petite France. The menu was a collaboration between owner-chef Nacho Cadena and guest chef Glenn Eastman, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and held the position of executive chef of the Four Seasons Punta Mita Resort just outside of Puerto Vallarta. Among the delectable dishes was an appetizer of lobster tataki wrapped in cucumber ribbon, a main course of filet of sole over tender tips of asparagus with saffron sauce with whipped camembert Napoleon, and dark chocolate souffle with vanilla sauce for dessert.

Clients interested in attending this year’s festival should make reservations sooner rather than later as hotels tend to book early and some events sell out well in advance.


For information concerning this year’s participating restaurants and chefs and all aspects of the 2005 festival contact the Web site: www.festivalgourmet.com

For reservations call Monica Baron at 52-322-222-3228 or send e-mail to info@festivalgourmet.com

Lodging packages are available in Puerto Vallarta during the festival and throughout the year in all price ranges from budget to deluxe. Clients can choose from more than 50 hotels and resorts. For current rates and to make bookings for the festival and the rest of 2005 call 888-384-6822 or contact www.visitpuertovallarta.com