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What better place to find the perfect balance between dining and sightseeing than in Puerto Vallarta, a destination many refer to as the culinary capital of Mexico? Known for its international cuisine and developing diversity in tourism, the city opens its kitchens, tables and attractions to visiting food makers and tasters from around the world each November.
A classic, Mexican-style kitchen in Puerto Vallarta’s historic district
Established in 1995 by a few of Puerto Vallarta’s leading foodies (Thierry Blouet of Cafe des Artistes, Heinz Reize of Hotel Krystal and Silvan Muller of Nestle Mexico), the International Gourmet Festival was designed to enrich the city’s gastronomic scene. Indeed, they have achieved this goal — eight times over (based on the number of participating restaurants) — and with a 15th anniversary to celebrate at this year’s festival, to be held Nov. 12-22.
What began as six independent dining venues and six disparate hotels, each inviting a chef to feature a signature menu, has now transformed into a 10-day, citywide event with more than 24 participating restaurants, a comprehensive calendar of educational gourmet programs and 20 renowned guest chefs from around the world.
Over the years, such gastronomical leaders as Anton Mosimann, appointed an official Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II; Gerald Dupont, president of the Academie Culinaire in France; and Patricia Quintana, proclaimed the "first lady" of Mexican cuisine, have shared their signature flavors and kitchen counsel at the festival. Since the festival’s inception, chef Roland Menetrey of Switzerland has also joined the head committee, contributing to the ongoing growth of events, including the Wines and Cheeses of the World tasting ($22 per person).
With its wide range of programs and places offering something for every taste, the International Gourmet Festival is becoming more and more of a destination attraction for gourmets and everyday eaters alike.
During the festival, chefs demonstrate their culinary skills daily at a variety of programs and hosted dinners. The festival’s flexible schedule makes it easy for visitors to select which events they would like to attend. Once clients have made their selections, agents can create a vacation itinerary that meets their clients’ travel style, combining dining and culinary learning with beach activities, sightseeing and more.
Some of the festival’s most popular events include interactive programs such as the Chef’s Table, where local and international chefs, along with an expert wine producer, create one-time-only menus and wine pairings at each participating restaurant (prices vary by venue); the Tapas and Tequila Splash, a festive tasting of Mexico’s famous Herradura ($30 per person); and the Pairing of Wines and Xicodiva Chocolates ($85 per person). New to the festival in 2008 was the Gourmet Open Air Theater demonstration, an evening spent on Puerto Vallarta’s oceanside Malecon walkway with step-by-step cooking guidance by eight of the world’s leading chefs ($6 per person). Reservations for all Gourmet Festival events can be made online.
Every evening, each of the 24-plus participating restaurants offers a Gourmet a la Carte menu, giving visitors the opportunity to try authentic, gourmet cooking from around the world, all within Puerto Vallarta. A complete list of participating restaurants can be found on the Gourmet Festival’s official Web site.
In addition, many of host restaurants are situated within Puerto Vallarta’s leading hotel properties, making accommodations both convenient and festive during the gourmet program. Velas Vallarta Suite Resort, for example, a AAA Four-Diamond, all-inclusive property found in the Marina Vallarta district, houses the Asian-French cuisine of the terrace-side Andrea restaurant. The beachfront resort proffers 339-suites, which range between one and three bedrooms and also includes master and oceanfront options. Each suite includes a fully equipped kitchen, allowing guests to further complement their culinary adventure at their leisure. Leftovers, anyone? (Prices vary by accommodation and season; one-bedroom suites start at $430 per night.)
For clients interested in expanding their flavorful experience beyond the festival, private tour operators, such as Epiculinary, also offer culinary-based packages to Mexico. Epiculinary specializes in culinary tourism and offers a number of escorted, food-focused packages to Mexico, including the Ole Mexico, Colonial Cuisine and Culture in Puebla and Yucatan expeditions. Packages include hands-on cooking classes and excursions to local markets and eateries. Moreover, if clients want to tailor a package to this year’s Gourmet Festival, Epiculinary will customize itineraries for travelers. (Six- to eight-day packages start at $1,375, airfare excluded.)
As for the International Gourmet Festival itself, travelers would be hard-pressed to think of a more exciting and stimulating time to experience Puerto Vallarta. Besides, what better way to experience a culture than through its cuisine?