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Culinary Magic on the Riviera Maya

© by Grand Velas Resorts

Back in 2012 I attended the inaugural Cancun Riviera Maya Wine and Food Festival when the guest of honour was Ferran Adrià, father of molecular gastronomy and founder of El Bulli, at one time universally acknowledged as the best restaurant in the world.

Adrià was fêted with a tribute dinner by a coterie of Mexican chefs who had staged at El Bulli. It was an unforgettable meal – full of culinary theatrics, technical wizardry, intellectual intrigue and extraordinary flavours.

I was reminded of that occasion when I sat down to a spectacular ten-course dégustation at Cocina de Autor, the signature restaurant at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, an ultra-luxury resort on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán. There is not enough space here for me to describe the tasting menu in detail (and you might swoon with envy) but it was a thrilling gastronomic experience. A succession of exquisitely crafted small dishes, excessive showmanship stripped away, focused on finely honed technique, artistic presentation and premium ingredients — perfect plates in miniature.

Cocina de Autor

The culinary dialogue between Spain and Mexico that inspired that tribute to Adrià over a decade ago continues. The modernist torch has passed to new generations of chefs, including Bruno Oteiza and Mikel Alonso, Spanish-born chefs trained by 3-Michelin-star Basque Chef Juan Arzak. They opened the avant-garde restaurant Biko in Mexico City, consistently ranked among the 50 Best Restaurants in the World. Biko is now closed but Oteiza and Alonso went on to create Cocina de Autor for Grand Velas Resorts. The kitchen is now helmed by another Spanish-trained Mexican chef, Nahúm Velasco.

Nahúm Velasco
Chef Nahúm Velasco

What may surprise you is that this temple of cutting-edge culinary art is in an all-inclusive resort. It is the first and only such restaurant to receive an AAA Five Diamond award and is light years removed from the mass-market, all-inclusive dining outlet stereotype.

James Beard-awarded restaurant and travel critic Brad Johnson described Grand Velas resorts (there are several in Mexico) as “in a class of their own,” and “a game-changer for the all-inclusive concept,” equating their amenities and level of service with that of Four Seasons and other top-tier hospitality marques.

The first clue that Grand Velas Riviera Maya is something special is the two-kilometre driveway leading from the massive entrance gateway to the hotel lobby. The property is enormous — 212 acres of jungle and mangrove bordering the Caribbean Sea – with the resort occupying just over a third of that, leaving the rest of the Riviera Maya ecosystem, including several cenotes, protected and undisturbed.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya

There are three accommodation wings. The Ambassador and adults-only Grand Class complexes, balconies ablaze with bougainvillea, face the ocean and a beach of powder soft sand. For those in search of peace and quite, Zen Grand is a serene oasis in the jungle, home to birdsong, waterlilies and butterflies, and the resort’s award-winning SE Spa.

All guest rooms are suites and they too are expansive – over 1,000 square feet, all with private terrace and many with private plunge pools. Soft cotton robes and slippers are provided; there’s a pillow menu, a huge marble bathroom with jacuzzi tub, and a mini bar stocked with complimentary snacks and beverages. Every guest is assigned a personal concierge.

The same impeccable standards define the culinary offerings. There are eight restaurants at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, only one of them –- the gorgeous waterfront Azul (blue) — offering a buffet. Elsewhere, breakfast, lunch and dinner are sit-down affairs in architecturally stunning spaces, with a la carte menus, sophisticated ambiance and polished service.


After Cocina de Autor, I dined at Sen Lin, an Asian-inspired restaurant in the Zen Grand complex. First course, after a dry lychee martini, and a surprising amuse of peanut-crusted shiitake mushroom mousse with ginger ice cream, was a tartare of tuna crowned with a pretty posy of Asian greens, accompanied by a kaffir lime dipping sauce. Main course was a riff on Peking Duck — a sticky lacquered leg with plum sauce, crunchy vegetables and soft crepes on the side. Wine flowed freely. There are 50 wines and half as many spirits in the all-inclusive beverage portfolio – an impressive catalogue. Everything you eat and drink (short of a bottle of Dom Perignon, or other seriously over-the-top indulgence), is included in the room rate, so there is no need to hold your breath when calling for the check.


I wasn’t expecting another restaurant to match the calibre of Cocina de Autor but I loved the Mexican-themed Frida, for different reasons, just as much. Chef Laura Avalos takes regional Mexican cuisines in creative new directions, incorporating local ingredients into sophisticated, painterly plates that delight the eye and excite the palate. Guacamole, crafted tableside, was topped with (optional) fried crickets and chicatanas — giant flying ants from Chiapas, roasted into pitch black, crunchy little nuggets. Tiradito of tuna — pink tiles of fish dusted with ash afloat in a brick red guajillo chile emulsion – was a beautiful assemblage of colours and textures. Black bean soup came reimagined as Cappuccino, with Cotija cheese foam. Catch of the day, a fat slab of grouper, crusted with Mexican pepper leaf was accompanied by a creamy terrine of potato with Castacán (a melted cheese layer inspired by a traditional Yucatecan taco). Oaxaca chocolate mousse spiked with a chile-hot mole. Magnifico!


Every suite at Grand Velas Riviera Maya comes with a complimentary bottle of Olvidame si Puedes, an artisanal mexcal crafted in Oaxaca exclusively for Grand Velas. It is crystal clear and ultra-smooth on the palate. It has an intriguing flavour profile, redolent of humid earth and smoky vegetation. Olvidame si Puedes means “forget me if you can.” The mezcal, unlikely. And dining at this exceptional resort? Not a chance.

Passionfruit Mezcalita



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