Huh. I wrote this in a frenzy last week, and never posted it. Sad how the glory of pit-roasting wears off after just a few days back at the city grind. But right now I’m working at the building down at the WTC site, which is so beautiful, and the people in the office are so friendly, and the kitchen is so stocked with free cans of seltzer, that I’m getting a little giddy all over again…
Last night, while sitting at the prime table on the balcony at the restaurant at a super-prime resort in the prime tourist zone of the Riviera Maya, about to enjoy a seven-course tasting dinner, I began to experience a strange and novel feeling.
I’m pretty sure it was a sense of cheer brought on by loving my job.
And I’m not just saying that because I was being comped at this particular resort–though that certainly didn’t hurt–and not because I happened to be wallowing in luxury at that moment.
In fact, I wasn’t pleased precisely with that moment, though it was beautiful, but because I was wallowing in the afterglow of a kick-ass afternoon.
I’m drawing this out because even as I’m typing this, I’m having a hard time keeping my feet on the ground, keeping myself from jumping up in the middle of the Miami airport and clapping my hands together with glee.
Dude: Yesterday I got to cook something in a pib–a genuine Maya-style barbecue pit, with the freakin’ hot lava rocks and everything!!!!!
I should be more jaded–I mean, I started this blog back in 2004 with a post about roasting a whole lamb and a pig on Tamara’s balcony in Queens.
But there is something amazingly kick-ass about being led through a grove of palm trees to a little Maya-style hut, and then being led into the hut to find that it is 400 degrees inside, and there is a fire going in there, and it’s been burning since 8.30am, and pretty soon, we’re going to put something in there ourselves!
Never mind that this was on the grounds of a crazy-swanky resort, so it’s hard to call this an “authentic” experience.
Never mind that all we’d be putting in that giant pit was a wee little fish, because I was the only one in the cooking class.
Somehow, the fact that I was put directly to work chopping things on a wobbly table, under the bright midday sun, cut through the pampered setting. My knife was a little dull, and the handle–it was one of those all-metal Globals–was scorching from the sun. Behind me was a portable burner set in a bamboo rigging and fueled with a bottle of propane. This was rigged-up outdoor cooking in a way I could get behind.
So we prepped the fish–well, Chef Cupertino did, with that awesome take-the-bones-out-while-leaving-the-tail-intact fancy move–and covered it with crazy-red achiote sauce (magic ingredient: cloves! I had no idea) and my chopped-up vegetables. Then we stuck the whole thing in the ground! I’m about to jump up with glee again.
I cannot tell you how delighted this made me–I mean, hilarious that there was enormous fire and elaborate setup for…a teensy little sea bream. I can only imagine I would’ve fainted if we’d been sticking actual whole pigs in the ground.
The fish was crazy delicious, I got schooled on the difference between a lima and a limon (which I knew, but somehow never made the connection with sopa de lima–duh) and I got to talk shop with Chef Cupertino over lunch and yummy Mexican wine, all while sitting outdoors in what felt like the middle of nowhere. And then we tramped around in his herb garden and looked at the habanero plant that seemed to have gotten all eaten up–I never want to meet the bug that’s strong enough to eat a habanero , even if it’s just the leaves.
If I were a more helpful blogger, I’d tell you the specifics of what I learned–maybe I’ll get to that–but for now I’m still just basking in the idea that for once, on one of my research trips, I really got to do something. Usually I’m just racing around with my notebook, saying, “That looks fun–how much does it cost? And how many people in the boat? kthxbye, maybe next time…” And since I’m very familiar with my various turfs now, I rarely get to learn something new.
But throwing a fish in a roasting pit–that makes up for years of stagnation! And it was simply great to talk shop with someone about things I really cared about: cooking, what the Yucatan is like compared with the rest of Mexico, more cooking. Usually, I spend most of my days in the Riviera Maya hearing gossip about the latest condo developments.
Basically, I got a glimpse of what it would be like to write about only the things I’m really, really interested in. And then get served some amazing food on the side. Thanks, Chef Cupertino!