Gourmand Cookbooks Finalists – Photographer Ignacio Urquiza


Congratulations to our friend, Nacho Urquiza for his outstanding photography for the cookbook, Cocina Mexicana, Patrimonio de la Humanidad, (Larousse de Mexico). Nacho was selected as one of the finalists in the Publisher’s Photography category for Gourmand’s COOKBOOKS FINALISTS 2013 which will be awarded this spring in Paris under the Pyramid of the Louvre Museum, in the Carrousel du Louvre, February 22-24, 2013. The book celebrates 200 years of Mexican cuisine.

Nacho is one of Mexico’s outstanding award winning photographers who provided photography for four Gourmand 20012 cookbook winners and in 2004 he won Gourmand’s best photography in a cookbook. You can see more of his work at Estudio Urquiza.

Vows on Horseback at Rancho Pitaya

This holiday, during our usual sojourn to Oaxaca, we had the privilege of attending my good friend Mary Jane Gagnier’s spectacular and very unique wedding to Bobby Ortiz. Mary Jane and Bobby own Rancho Pitaya a deluxe B&B-style accommodation in the Valley of Tlacolula, the eastern arm of the great valley of Oaxaca 20 minutes from downtown Oaxaca. Mary Jane was led into the ceremony on her horse guided by her son, Gabriel Mendoza and wearing my white leather riding gloves from my rodeo days. True to their passion and love for their ranch, Mary Jane and Bobby took their vows while seated on their favorite horses. The ensuing party was a perfect combination of good friends, family, food, laughter and dancing! Pictures were taken by my friends Bill Blair and Shelora Sheldon.

Rancho Pitaya offers overnight rides, adventure holidays, trail rides, hiking and birding activities. Mary Jane also owns and runs a vacation rental in downtown Oaxaca at Casa Murguía. You can find Rancho Pitaya on Facebook.

The Blind Burro, A Chef’s Dream

Once in a while, you receive affirmation that your life’s work has made a difference in someone else’s life. When Rick Bayless and I decided to commit to having chefs’ trips for food professionals twelve years ago, our purpose was to share our love for Mexico, its people and its cuisine, and to encourage young chefs to explore the richness and diversity that make this cuisine so wonderful. I wanted to share this letter that we received from one of our chefs who has participated in two of our trips. Sara has just opened the Blind Burro in San Diego at 639 J St., specializing in Baja cuisine. We are so proud of her and appreciate the small part that we had in inspiring her to make her dream come true.


I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for creating the outlet for the many chefs and food professionals who have attended your trips over the years to be exposed to and inspired by the Mexican culture and cuisine. Without the opportunity I jumped at 2 years ago, I would not be experiencing what I am right now. Although my passion for authentic Mexican food and its culture was initially inspired by Rick and his show, it has been elevated to a new level each time I come back from one of your trips. The knowledge, techniques, flavors, experiences and inspiration from the chefs, colleagues and culture around me when we are on the trips is priceless and has truly changed my life and who I am as a person.

I am writing this to you not even 24 hours after the most surreal experience of my career. I just spent the last 3 1/2 months developing a menu for a Baja inspired restaurant, Blind Burro, that we opened last night in downtown San Diego. I have never been prouder of anything I have accomplished in my career and it seems to be the consensus of the guests as well. We served an overwhelming number of people last night and it was as if we had been open for years. As I walked the dining room talking to guests, they commented that they had never seen anyone so excited about the food. I owe so much of that to you and everyone involved in my experiences over the years. From Rick to Roberto (Santibañez), Ricardo (Muñoz), Ana Elena (Martinez), all of my fellow chefs and everyone I have met along the way on this incredible journey.

I know that not everyone will enjoy the food, that is just the nature of the game…..but I know that I put my heart and soul into this project, because it has become so much a part of me. I have so much more to learn about the food and culture and it will become part of my life journey to dive deeper with every experience. I had the opportunity to work side by side with Javier Plascencia (Misión 19) last week and talk with Miguel Ángel (Guerrero Yaguës of La Querencia) at his museum exhibit and I feel like there are great things to come with them in the new year.

I just wanted you and the others to know how much I appreciate what you/they have done for me and I thank all of you!

Happiest of Holidays!

Sara Polczynski

To follow the Blind Burro you can like their page on Facebook. To read more about the Baja experience our chefs experienced in September, go here. Our next chefs’ trip will be to Mexico City and Puebla September 22-24, 2013.

Taking on Tamales

Banana Leaf Wrapped TamalesPhoto by Ignacio Urquiza

Banana Leaf Wrapped Tamales
Photo by Ignacio Urquiza

Tamales are one of the staples of holiday menus throughout Mexico and to anyone of Mexican heritage, it is the single food that is inseparable from Christmas. I think it is important for Mexican restaurants to serve at least two or three different types of tamales throughout the holiday season, and those home cooks may find it a fun family activity to make them together, even in advance and then freeze them to use later. As described in the “Taking on Tamales” article written by editor Kathleen Furore of el Restaurante MEXICANO, Fall 2012, I suggest corn husk-wrapped Tamales Navideños with shredded, cooked turkey or chicken in a mole of ground toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, chiles anchos, mulatos and pasillas, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and Mexican chocolate. Another recipe is a banana leaf-wrapped tamal, such as one from Veracruz pictured above, where the masa is filled with small chunks of pork, zucchini, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and chiles, and always, a tamal dulce recipe (sweet tamal). This could be tamales de piña con coco served with ice cream, toasted almonds or pecans, and fresh pineapple, or a sweet and spicy tamal recipe with canned pumpkin purée and spices mixed into the masa.

To read the full post and get recipes, go here.