[By Sheila Madsen, March 2019. Full disclosure, MazatlanLife were guests of Cardón Culinario.]
This extraordinary culinary experience located in an extraordinary setting was started by three young Mexican surfer dudes. Not a single chef among them, just a bunch of guys who rode the waves on the weekends. When Omar Valdez was 19 he bought a small piece of land, built a flimsy palapa and he and his friends used it for snacks and surfing.
Today, Omar Valdez at 49 years-old is the founder/operations manager and one of the owners of Cardón Culinario. [Cardón is a type of cactus]. In 2006 an elegant [some say “modern rustic”] boutique hotel was built by the owners in partnership with the closest town, Celestino. Cardón is a community project; it shares profits with Celestino. Cardón employees more than 20 people from the town and Cardón also built a shrimp processing plant creating more jobs and one hopes additional profits.
Many businesses in Mazatlan [Cardón is located about one hour north from Mazatlan, 15 minutes past Las Labradas] complain about the summer months. Not true for Cardon Adventure Resorts ; it’s fully booked with surfers who come to this beach from all over the world. One surfer told me “this is a first -class private resort, with the friendliest staff and it has my favorite breaks.” The surf dies around October so how to fill the 13 well-appointed rooms in the winter?
Food, glorious food, glorious gourmet food served on three levels outside, that’s how! The owners elected to partner with the famous chef, Drew Deckman*. And while we are at it let’s invite some guest chefs such as Enrique Olvera, Angel Vázquez, Lalo Garcia and Lula Martin. We’ll have 14 courses, wine pairings, and include round-trip transportation and overnight in a beautiful bedroom with an en suite bathroom. Deckman took time away from his popular restaurant in Ensenada, Deckman’s en el Mogar, to create and hone the Cardón experience with his team. As Deckman says “every day you vote with your fork. I like to think of it as table to farm, every ingredient whenever possible must be local.” Hint: ‘ingredient facilitator” is on his business card.
Chef Andrés Salazar has worked with Deckman for five years and uses only premium local ingredients but all the wines come from Valle de Guadalupe. Chef Salazar is a pro so I’m not going to drag out adjectives that foodies usually use to describe all the dishes. There are 14 courses, so just trust me on this: each one was plated beautifully, each one had the ideal garnishes and sauces and each one was perfectly cooked. The staff moved with grace and speed and never missed a beat.
When you arrive at Cardón you put your carry-on in the bedroom, thinking you’ll come back and change for dinner. But that didn’t happen as it was 4:30 p.m. and immediately the sparkling wine was opened and we were all standing around a curved shaped wooden table talking and getting to know one another. You have to enjoy the sunset setting over the endless beach with fine sand while also looking at the infinity pool and jacuzzi. Then a divine Granaila Viña Garza was uncorked [sells for $500] – a blend of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. As that is sliding down like liquid silver, wild oysters caught in the bay three hours ago were served. Saki was also being offered to pair with the sushi. Just too late for a wardrobe change because you don’t want to leave as you may miss something. Conversation is becoming more animated as little lobster rolls are served. Everyone was moaning. Up next, is an octopus ceviche followed by raw shrimp. That’s four courses “upstairs”.
We go down a level and this time we sit at yet another hand carved curvy wooden table. A blush Zinfandel is opened and you sip on that with roasted beets and shredded beef cheeks. The Zin continues to flow because it’s the ideal match to savory quail. All the meats [and these are strict rules by Deckman] are cooked on a massive wood-burning hearth. A to-live-for red wine [Jardin Secreto, $850] is opened to accompany the rib eye. If you are counting, that is seven courses. Small, and no one feels “stuffed”, just delighted to be part of this experience.
There’s another level awaiting us – the beach with a huge bonfire – along with seven bite-size desserts. With the waves rolling in and a crackling fire you can imagine people are more chatty than ever [especially as tequila and mezcal are being poured] -“unique, the best experience, genuine, authentic, not stuffy, not snobby” – but they do stop talking to try: panna cotta, “pancake” cookie with almonds, lemon zest parfait, chocolate confit with meringue, goat cheese with a local jam, a lemon tart and a passion fruit tart. Fourteen deliriously delicious experiences. Ok, a few adjectives snuck in there.
Over breakfast [yes, you are welcome to order what you want for breakfast before you return home] Chef Salazar explains that no two dinner menus are ever the same. The wine remains, but many of the courses do get reinvented. Oysters are a given, as well as shrimp but the presentation varies.
Cardón Culinario is simply every thing you’d want in a gourmet event. Friendly well-co-ordinated service, fresh surprise dishes, expensive wines, and a tranquil setting. You feel excited to be part of this experience and that level of excitement combined with expertise doesn’t happen often. And it’s only an hour away from Mazatlan!
[Cardón Culinario’s gourmet events will be once a month from November to March. Reservations essential, call Arlette Calderon, 669 106 0289 or Omar Valdez 667 751 0640. Let them know if you have any allergies. My chef, Andrés Salazar, happened to be cooking a completely gluten-free dinner, but he would have been happy to accommodate me. The bedrooms each have their own patio with ocean view, and come with two double beds, bottled water, tea and coffee/maker, a safe, a hammock, fans, tv, ac and Wi-Fi. The bathroom has lots of space and the toilet is separated from the shower stall and sink. Finally, someone figured that out! All towels, body wash and shampoo are supplied. There’s even a desk if you need to stay plugged in. Most of the resort is handicap accessible. You can buy the wines the morning after, major credit cards accepted. Depending on the chef, or how many guest chefs, the price starts at $6000.You can drive there, or the Cardón bus will pick you up at the Marina parking lot beside the condo Puesto del Sol.]
*[Chef Drew Deckman, after growing up in Peachtree City, GA and completing a degree in Philosophy from Rhodes College, embarked on a culinary journey that has brought him to Guadalupe Valley in what is now “DECKMAN’S en el Mogor.”. Chef Drew spent 10 years in France, Switzerland and Germany cooking with Gastro-Masters such as Paul Bocuse, Jacques Maximin, Gilles DuPont and Tommy Byrne. Drew was awarded a coveted Michelin Star for his work in Restaurant Vitus in Germany as well as Rising-Star Chef in Berlin in 2003 during his tenure as Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Berlin (17pts Gault Millau) and in March 2014 was Host Chef of James Beard Foundation: Baja meets NYC Dinner. After mentoring under star-teacher and cookbook author Madeleine Kamman, Chef Drew was part of the final class of the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards.
He has worked in Kona Hawaii, Cancun, Mx, Rome, Italy, Shanghai, China and spent time as a private Chef to an entertainer in Los Angeles.
Chef Drew has finally found a permanent home in Baja California where he enjoys blue-water sport fishing, scuba diving and golf. Drew is dedicated to local, sustainable ingredients, is Regional Governor for Slow Food International, and has been the culinary consultant for Casa de Piedra Winery, Paralelo Winery, Estacion por Venir Winery and La Contra Vinos. Chef Drew is also an active participant in various Culinary Festivals and Events including the Baja Culinary Fest, Baja Bash, and Chefs al Rescate. ]