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For a sophisticated and unique dinner-and-entertainment experience, foodies will thoroughly enjoy the exclusive Dine With the Chef program offered at the Culinary Center at The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun. Guests of The Ritz, as well as Cancun visitors and locals, are welcome to partake in an interactive and entertaining dining affair with charismatic chef Rory Dunaway. Each program accommodates up to 12 guests who become better acquainted throughout an evening filled with cooking and eating.
My recent Dine With the Chef experience started off with a welcome cocktail handcrafted by Dunaway and an introduction to the Culinary Center where our group of eight learned about the chef, the dinner program and the Viking appliances that are used. We were then given the opportunity to snoop around the kitchen, with drinks in hand, before settling into our seats where a bite-size starter was waiting.
There are two styles of cuisines offered at the Culinary Center. One of the unique characteristics of the program is that menus are tweaked as needed so that the original creations of Dunaway feature only the freshest ingredients. Mexican cuisine is offered on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while Mediterranean fare is served on Tuesdays and Fridays. On the evening of my Dine With the Chef, the featured menu was Mexican. The meal began with agua chile with shrimp, a beautiful and colorful dish with a smoky flavor from the chile that went down smoothly with cucumber water. The dish was topped with tortilla strips for an added crunchy texture.
Our session also had an interactive cooking element during which guests were able to help Dunaway partially prepare and cook an entree. While volunteers took turns stirring, pouring and seasoning, the rest of the group questioned the chef about cooking tips. For our program, most of the cooking was done by the chef and his team. Everyone was served simultaneously, and guests weren’t distracted with too many tasks in the kitchen. (For guests interested in a more hands-on experience, the hotel offers a separate Cooking Lessons program where each participant has a chance to be involved in most, if not all, of the cooking.)
Next on our Mexican menu was the fish course. We were served red snapper Veracruz with a tomato and bell pepper broth — another delicious dish made with simple ingredients that deliver bold flavors. In addition to his renowned recipes, Dunaway meticulously pairs his creations with a selection of international, boutique wines. Guests of the Dine With the Chef program are treated to this wine tasting during their dinner.
For the soup course, Dunaway prepared a tlalpeno soup made with chicken, fresh vegetables and a tangy lime broth which, at one point in the evening, was described as “a party in your mouth.” The different ingredients and complex flavors mixed together beautifully. The dish was nicely paired with a Mexican 2008 Gran Reserva Casa Grande Chardonnay.
While conversations and stories were shared by our group in the kitchen, sweet aromas filled the air. Before we even finished our soup, the main course had made its appearance: a Korobuta pork in traditional green sauce topped with chicharones. Although it is difficult to single out one course in all the deliciousness that was offered during the evening, this was probably my favorite. The pork was seasoned and cooked perfectly, and the salsa verde had just the right amount of kick.
Of course, no dinner is complete without dessert, and Dunaway outdid himself. We were presented with a Mexican chocolate trio: rich chocolate milk, a churro with chocolate sauce and a warm chocolate mousse topped with strawberries.
For a memorable night of entertainment, delicious food and a sophisticated selection of wine, guests can indulge in the Dine With the Chef or Cooking Lessons program either by signing up on the The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun website or by contacting the hotel directly. The price ranges from $95-$125 per person, plus taxes and a service fee, as both programs feature seasonal menus that are always changing. Guests with food allergies and dietary options are accommodated.
Just make sure your clients come with an empty stomach — the portions of each course are generous.