As Puerto Vallarta heads into the dog days of summer, the last place most want to be is in the heat of a kitchen. The opposite is true, however, for chef Miriam Flores of Puerto Vallarta. One of the city's hottest new restauranteurs, Flores has been selling out twice-weekly cooking classes at her latest venue, La Luna. She's also working on a line of private-label salsas to be sold in food stores across the US.
Flores, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Arts Program at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, has been making a name for herself in Puerto Vallarta since accepting the executive chef position at sea-side restaurant Época, where she focused on bringing a modern flair to traditional Mexican flavors.
It was at Época where Flores hired sous chef Veronica Colin, a recent graduate from la Escuela Culinaria Internacional in Guadalajara, who would soon become a partner in the transformation of an old hotel that Colin's family owned into a state of the art venue for cooking classes and events. Flores completed her vision in the fall of 2011 and named La Luna , which now consists of a quaint bar, a deli, and a show-kitchen designed to seat fourteen people for cooking demonstrations. I had the chance to catch one of the last classes of the season, which happened to feature guest chef Joe Jack of one of Vallarta's most popular restaurants, Joe Jack's Fish Shack .
The class began with a hands-on baking demonstration in a traditional Mexican bakery (also owned by the Colin family) that sits aside La Luna, where we learned how to make organic dough out of the most basic of ingredients. We then shaped and topped the dough with herbs, olive oil, and garlic and placed our creations in a massive brick oven. While our bread baked, we moseyed on over to the bar at La Luna where Joe Jack taught us how to make his famous Mojitos .
Back in the kitchen, a gorgeous open-air courtyard, Flores and Joe Jack took turns walking us through the creation of some of their favorite signature dishes including Shrimp Aguachile, Miso Marinated Cod, Traditional Fish Ceviche, and a Whole Red Snapper wrapped in Banana leaves.
Both chefs were entertaining and insightful, clearly demonstrating a mastery of their craft. Both were extremely generous as well, giving each attendee a booklet with the recipes from the demonstration as well as a muddling baton from Joe Jack's, which we used to "bruise" the mint leaves while making our Mojitos. Not included in the booklets were several tricks of the trade like Flores's advice of using a spoon to portion out the meat of a fish cooked whole as the bluntness of the spoon stops when it contacts the fish's bones where as a knife will go all the way through, leaving bones in the meat.
Flores usually runs her cooking demonstrations alone with the assistance of Veronica Colin; however, teaming up with chef Joe Jack was not the first time she's partnered with a local celebrity chef. A few weeks earlier, Flores spent some time filming a video interview series with Vallarta's most famous chef Thierry Blouet , who owns several award-winning restaurants in the Bay of Banderas area. Although Flores isn't yet sure what will become of the footage, the material will ultimately end up on a blog she plans on starting in the near future, which will include interviews, instructional videos, recipes, and more.
When asked about the objective of her recent efforts, Flores commented: "My goal is showcase the amazing chefs and the buzzing culinary scene in Puerto Vallarta. We Mexicans are blessed to have such a fertile country that produces such incredible ingredients, and Puerto Vallarta has really become a hotbed in terms of talented chefs bringing these flavors to life."
Like any good businessperson, however, Flores's goals are not entirely benevolent. She's got her sights set on a few national super-market chains in the US for distribution of her line of signature salsas and sauces called Flores Gourmet. The salsas have already been selling well in Ireland, of all places, since she started the brand in 2006 while living abroad in County Cork. In fact, Flores Gourmet won the Bridgestone Award for Best Gourmet Product of Ireland in 2007. When asked about the success of the salsas, Flores commented, "Well they're all made from organic Mexican ingredients, so it's no surprise people from around the world enjoy them. Mexico has been producing incredible fruits and produce since the beginning of time! It's my privilege as a chef to come up with creative ways to combine them for everyone to enjoy."
It's not easy to succeed in a crowded space and Puerto Vallarta definitely has its fair share of delicious restaurants. In fact, Puerto Vallarta has the highest concentration of signature chefs in all of Mexico. But like a spicy chili explodes in your mouth, Chef Flores has erupted on Puerto Vallarta's culinary scene - and as Flores Gourmet works its way through the FDA's system of approval, it looks like this success story is headin' for the border.
+Chase Buckner