I imagine tranquility; walking on a beach at sunrise just at the point where the ocean waves lap to the sand; relaxing with cocktails and marveling at the brilliant sunset; while soft music wafts on a playful breeze. I imagine my vacation, my own El Dorado.
I’m here. Driving along a smooth road carved out of the jungle, I suddenly come upon the splendid pale stone courtyard of the Karisma El Dorado Royale. It is sunset. From my terrace I see the expanse of beach and ocean and enjoy a welcoming glass of bubbly. I’ve left the winter chill of Canada, arrived at the white sands of the Mayan Riviera, and what do I find on the menu? A Canada Beef Culinary Series. Mexico recognizes the unique qualities of this renowned product. Canada is the only country that has a unique tracking system for its beef, and Karisma is the only resort in Mexico with this kind of culinary program.
It is gratifying to see one of our staple foods, presented in another country by a contingent of Canada’s top chefs to global solace-seekers in Mexico. These international palates are going to love our beef. A partnership between Karisma Hotels & Resorts, Jackson Family Wines and Canada Beef is taking place at three of Karisma’s Mexican resorts: El Dorado Royale, El Dorado Casitas Royale and Generations Riviera Maya and is in full swing.“Most chefs really like the nose to tail concept,” says Ontario Chef Jeff Crump from his mirrored cooking counter in the romantic rusticity of Tuccanes Restaurant. “You have to be creative with the less expensive cuts.” He proceeds to satisfy all our cravings with rich truffled-beef Carpaccio flattered with lemon and Parmesan, crowd pleasing skewers of skirt steak, and divinely buttery slow cooked short ribs. Vancouver’s Robin Calkins of Jackson Family Wines has expertly paired a selection of their wines from California to enhance and embrace each dish.
What sets the dining at El Dorado apart is that the chefs really care about their ingredients, and are deeply proud of their vast organic greenhouse, alive with cherry tomatoes, aromatic herbs and vegetables. I’d like to stay and taste from this fully enclosed Garden of Eden, but there is a Burgers and Wine lunch happening at Bar Gaviotas. The kitchen has no meat grinder. These cooks hand-chop prime rib, and slap meaty burgers onto a wood-fired grill, serving them with all the trimmings. Robust and juicy, these are some burgers! Did I ever eat two burgers before today?
There is much to explore at this sprawling resort. Happily, as soon as I leave my door I am lost and find myself in a Latin Dance class. The music is infectious. How decadent to be dancing mid-day. The Margaritas are never ending and I’ve become addicted to lime and salt. There are cooking classes, cigar-rolling lessons, but wait, we’re in Tequila country. A table is set with a dazzling array of ceramic bottles for sampling from a variety of distilleries across Mexico, all with a range of subtle nuances.
The beach beckons. It is quiet now, and a lounge with sheer curtains to soften the suns rays is an invitation to relax. Lulled by the sound of the ocean, a nap on the waters edge before the gala dinner tonight fits right into my plans.
At dusk, guests fill the Fuentes Culinary Theatre. A trio of handsome Mariachi players sets the tone. There is splendid musical entertainment but the real star of the evening is our Canadian Beef. Chef Crump introduces dishes to great applause. Herbs fly. The complexity of his coffee dry-rub spikes the succulence of a tri-tip steak salad. Teres major steak grilled to remarkable tenderness and enlivened by the greenhouse-grown sweet peppers and tomatoes is nicely cut by vibrant chimichurri. The grand finale of this gastronomic tableau is voluptuous, medium rare tenderloin. We have to stand in line to kiss the cook.
We leave, our sunny-seaside and carnivore cravings sated. For now. Every month, a new chef will bring his expertise to the fore. I begin planning another visit to my own El Dorado.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.