Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Chiapas Festivals and Faces: Photography Workshop

Arrive January 18 and depart January 25, 2016.

Two Options to Choose From:

  • Option 1: $2,395 per person (workshop and  7 nights lodging at boutique La Joya Hotel, all breakfasts, transportation to villages)
  • Option 2:  $1,295 per person (workshop only, includes transportation to villages. With this option, you make your own hotel reservations.)

The historic 16th Century colonial mountain town, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, is our base for making great photographs. Here in southern Mexico close to the Guatemala border, the Maya people hold on to a strong, proud and ancient past. Many on-going rituals and celebrations combine Spanish Catholicism with pre-conquest indigenous mysticism. Traditional hand-woven and embroidered Maya dress is still daily street wear. Before too long, you, too can name villages that people call home by the traje they wear.

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During the week we will take part in village festivals that happen only this time of year, meet indigenous Maya families who are back strap loom weavers and embroiderers, visit historic sites, markets, folk healers and mystics. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience that is centered in this compact, magical town where wide avenues are for pedestrians only. Our out-of-town travels take us to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapa de Corso for the Parachicos Festival and San Juan Chamula.

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We are on location with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful photographs.  You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot to iPhone to DSLR. Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them, capturing a sense of place with interest and an innovative eye. We also cover DSLR camera basics, how to use manual settings, and offer optional coaching on photo editing using Lightroom.

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for all levels of photographers including beginners. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We practice both impromptu street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions. We will also cover landscape, architecture and general travel photography.

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The Workshop Covers:

  • Using natural light and responding to different lighting situations
  • Moving from automatic to manual settings (for DSLR cameras)
  • Directing your subject through varying body positions
  • Identifying your own photographic style
  • Finding and executing photographs “on the fly”
  • Night photography and using a tripod
  • Capturing a scene or historical site
  • Learning more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt

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Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images. There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  How and when do you ask permission to take a stranger’s photograph? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera? How do you transform the mundane into an interesting photo?

At the end of our week together, we will select our best photographs of the week and hold a group show followed by a celebratory supper, included in the fee.

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About Your Instructor Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

This is going to be a fantastic workshop and I encourage any level photographer to sign up.  I recently had a class with Matt Nager and he is an excellent teacher and a fun person. You will not get a class this good for twice the price!  -Barbara Szombatfalvy, Durham, NC

His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

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In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal.

Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

Equipment:  Please bring your camera, your computer or tablet, a cable to connect your camera to your device to upload and edit your photos, a jump drive, extra batteries, battery charger, memory cards, optional tripod for night photography. If you use a DSLR camera, you may wish to bring a portrait lens (50mm) and a longer zoom lens. We will send a complete list of “what to bring” after you register!

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Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Mon. Jan. 18 – Arrive and check-in to La Joya Hotel or wherever else you choose to stay. (D on your own)

Tues. Jan. 19 – Our workshop starts with a learning session, welcome and orientation. We’ll go on a town walkabout, market stroll, capture photos on the fly, and end with a portrait session with well-known humanitarian folk healer. We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

Wed. Jan. 20 – Learning session and photo review. Depart for Zinacantan for Dia de San Sebastian. This is the most important celebration for this community, with rituals, ceremonies, a horse race, masses, traditional native dances and processions. We have arranged a private portrait session with Zinacantan family. We will have lunch  together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

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Thurs. Jan. 21 – Learning session and photo review. Portrait session with women’s weaving cooperative who come from their village wearing traditional Maya dress. We’ll have an exposition of their textiles, too.  We will have lunch and together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Fri. Jan. 22 – Learning session and photo review. Today it’s all about food. We go to the local food market to meet and photograph vendors and see all the locally grown food. Then we meet one of San Cristobal’s great chefs for a photo shoot in the restaurant kitchen followed by lunch. We will have lunch together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Sat. Jan. 23 – Learning session and photo review. Parachicos of Chiapa de Corzo, The Great Feast celebration that honors the patron saints Our Lord of Esquipulas, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Sebastian includes fabulous masked dancers, rattles, parades, a carnival, and opportunity for night photography.  We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

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Sun. Jan. 24 – On our last day, we will visit the church at San Juan Chamula, then prepare for the last presentation and Best of Week Show. We will have lunch and celebratory group dinner together.  Lunch will be at your own expense. Dinner is included in your workshop fee.

Jan. 25 – Depart

You are welcome to come early and stay later. You might want to go on to Tonina, Palenque, Bonampak or Yaxchilan to explore Maya archeology, or go further and cross the border into Guatemala or Villahermosa, Tabasco. We can recommend archeologist-led tour guides who can help facilitate customized travel plans at your own expense.  We can also recommend where you can enroll in a San Cristobal de Las Casas cooking class that features local indigenous meals.

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The workshop includes all instruction and personal coaching, transportation to three villages, cultural guide services and celebratory buffet supper at the end of our Best of Week Show. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the workshop begins.

The workshop does not include airfare, lodging, meals, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

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About Preferred Lodging: We will be based in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas at La Joya Hotel, our preferred lodging partner. La Joya is a small boutique hotel with five rooms.  We have reserved them all for this workshop! Previous workshop participants have described La Joya Hotel as “a sophisticated oasis” and a “fantasy home away from home.” If you wish to stay at La Joya Hotel, please register as soon as possible since space is limited.  All rooms have king size beds with private bath. 

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You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online resources for best prices and levels of accommodations. All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the lodging provider.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel. We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After November 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

About Travel to San Cristobal de Las Casas: The Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) airport is the gateway city, about one-hour from San Cris. You can fly there from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet. From the USA, Delta Airlines has a codeshare with Aeromexico. Both airlines are located in Mexico City Terminal 2. United Airlines flies between Houston and Oaxaca and does not serve TGZ. UA is located in Mexico City Terminal 1. There is taxi and shuttle van service from TGZ airport to San Cris starting at about 700 pesos. You can also take an ADO overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal. If you book your stay at La Joya Hotel, we will arrange taxi airport pick-up and delivery for you at your own expense.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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Mexican Impressions: Oaxaca Printmaking Workshop

Sunday to Friday, January 10-15, 2016, 6 workshop days. Starts Sunday morning and ends Friday evening with a gallery show and reception. Anyone with an interest, including beginners as well as emerging and established artists who want to build their portfolio and add a gallery show to their resume, is welcome. $995 per person.

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Oaxaca is a vibrant center for the arts with a rich tradition in the graphic arts. There are more than 20 active printmaking studios here and many more galleries where artists and their work are featured. We invite you to learn more about Oaxaca’s graphic arts scene and take part in an in-depth, hands-on workshop to apply the printmaking traditions of Oaxaca and Mexico. You will make your own carved relief prints using wood and multi-density fiber board (MDF), professional carving tools and a traditional press.

Who Should Attend: Anyone with an arts interest, emerging and established artists, and mixed media artists will want to incorporate this medium into their work.

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Your Workshop Leaders: THREE Amazing Professionals

Complete instructor bios are included below.

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Before we go to work in the studio on Monday, we take you on Sunday to museums, markets and Monte Alban archeological site to examine historical objects, fine art and popular crafts. Take a closer look at indigenous and vernacular design motifs, then use your sketchbook and/or camera to record your impressions and create a starting point from which to develop your relief print – an impression of Mexico.

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Our workshop is held at a fully equipped graphic arts studio located in the historic center of Oaxaca. During the course, you will make an artist’s proof and a small edition of six or more 18″x 24″ black and white prints. Then, you will carve an additional block to introduce color into the print. This is called a two-plate relief system.

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To ensure a quality hands-on experience, this workshop is limited to 10 participants.

During the week, you will receive group and individualized instruction, coaching, constructive feedback and review. Our final day will culminate in a gallery opening and reception with a group exhibition open to the public. You are welcome to invite guests.

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Before the workshop begins, we will send you suggested readings and materials to prepare you, including essays on the artwork of printmakers Jose Guadalupe Posada, the Taller Grafica Popular and artists currently working in Oaxaca. Our packet includes travel and packing tips, restaurants, shopping guide and more!

  • Sunday: Starts 10 a.m. with field trips to Monte Alban, markets and museums (shared taxis to/from Monte Alban)
  • Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Studio workshop time with lunch break) to develop designs, carve and print.
  • Friday Evening: Gala reception and Gallery Exhibition.

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About Kevin McCloskey

Kevin McCloskey, professor of Communication Design, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, has been visiting Oaxaca for over 30 years. In 2007, he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to study the visual arts of Oaxaca. He has written extensively about Mexican political prints and has curated eight exhibitions of Mexican prints across the U.S, notably at the Fowler Museum, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In 2012, he was invited to Princeton University to lecture on Mexican prints at the Woodrow Wilson School of International Studies.

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McCloskey holds an MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts, New York. His humorous illustrations have appeared in magazines and newspapers, including the Village Voice, New York Times, New York Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer. His prints and illustrations have been exhibited widely and his has published numerous books.

Articles on the Oaxaca art scene by Kevin McCloskey:

About Miles DeCoster

While Miles DeCoster teaches interactive design in the Communications Design Department at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, he is also a painter, photographer, printmaker, book artist, web artist and designer. He received formal training at the Washington University School of Fine Arts in St. Louis (BFA 1972) and the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA 1979). His work is in numerous collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the California Museum of Photography, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Washington University Rare Books and Special Collections and private collections.

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DeCoster has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, Post-Newsweek Stations, Nexus Press and the Chicago Arts Council. His studio is at the GoggleWorks arts center in Reading, PA, one of the largest facilities of its kind in the USA. His work is included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, The Walker, and many regional exhibitions.

As a professional designer, DeCoster served as art director for In These Times, a national news magazine published in Chicago, from 1983 to 1993, and has designed many print projects and web sites for clients including the American Heart Association, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Freedman Gallery at Albright College, Harcros Pigments, Trattoria Mario in Florence, FESTA, First Books, Yellow Press and others.

About Alan Altamirano

Printmaker/artist Alan Altamirano is one of Oaxaca’s young, up-and-coming artists whose work is collected around the world. His professional nickname is MK Kabrito! You will have to ask him what that means.

Alan is the founder of Taller de Grafica La Chicharra in Oaxaca, Mexico. He attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes, Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca (UABJO) and graduated in 2010 in fine and visual arts.

10848710_10206212116119828_1018688424988371677_oAlan has studied with noted printmakers Shinzaburo Takeda, Suzanne Simpson, Tamana Araki, Per Anderson, Raul Herrera. He his work is recognized and exhibited in Mexico, Spain, Italy, The United States of America, Rumania, Brazil and Argentina.

His resume includes a long list of expositions and seasoned printmakers recognize Alan as an important contributor to the Oaxaca art scene. At the end of March 2015, Alan traveled to University of California at Davis where he had an exposition of his work and gave a week-long printmaking workshop. He was in California for three weeks to explore the printmaking and contemporary art scene in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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The workshop includes

  • all instruction, coaching and review sessions
  • personal attention from three practicing, exhibited artists who are also expert teachers,
  • all printmaking materials (except sketchbook, pencils)
  • dedicated use of a professional graphic arts studio
  • gallery exhibition of group work at the end of the week

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The workshop does not include airfare, lodging and meals, taxis and admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals. When you register, we will send you a list of suggested hotels and B&Bs.

About Suggested Accommodations: We are based in Oaxaca city for this workshop. To keep this workshop affordable, we are not including lodging and meals. We will suggest a range of hotels and B&B’s where you may choose to stay, complete with contact information and estimated pricing. You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online agencies for best prices. All reservations for lodging are to be made and paid for by you directly with the hotel. You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel. We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

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Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After November 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you take out trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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Ready to register? Send us an email and we’ll send you an invoice to make your $550 deposit. This guarantees your space.

2015 Day of the Dead Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico, is the place to be for Day of the Dead  and you will capture it with your camera: parades, cemeteries, family traditions, special food and decor, markets, fiestas and faces. Follow the copal incense and marigold trail. Starts Sunday morning, October 30 and ends Thursday night, November 3.

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Cost:  $995 per person. Price includes all instruction, feedback sessions, personal coaching and transportation to and from Xoxocotlan and Teotitlan del Valle cemeteries. Does not include food or lodging.  We will provide you with a list of hotels and B&B’s to choose the level of accommodation you prefer after you register. Then, make your own reservations directly. Come early or stay later, too.  We will recommend sightseeing and other activities!

  • Limited to 10 participants. Small Group. Personal Attention.
  • Beginners and more experienced photographers welcome.
  • Bring any camera: DSLR, iPhone or Point and Shoot!
  • Registration is now open!

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This is a hands-on photography workshop for learning and improving technique while you experience Oaxaca’s famed Day of the Dead rituals.  By the end of the week, you will better use your camera for visual storytelling, photojournalism, portraiture and cultural discovery.

Your Workshop Leader is Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Matt speaks English and Spanish.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

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His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News.

In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal. 6_Zapotecs-7

This cultural immersion workshop tour offers you a deeper appreciation for the food, religious symbols, rituals and family celebrations both in Oaxaca city and in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.

You will learn to:

  • Use natural light and respond to different lighting situations
  • Include portraits in your travel photography
  • Direct your subject through varying body positions
  • Identify your own photographic style
  • Find and execute portraits “on the fly”
  • Practice street photography
  • Use skills you learn through daily assignments
  • Learn more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt
  • Contribute to a gift for subject families — included in your workshop fee

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During our week together, we will review each other’s work, give feedback, and offer supportive critiques.  The workshop includes a mix of class instruction and being out on the streets to capture the action.

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Technical topics covered include natural light, exposure, manual camera settings and night photography. We will offer optional editing sessions using Lightroom photo editing software.  13_Sunset@Xoxo1a Xoxocotlan2014-14

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change) 

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Day 1, Saturday, October 30:  Meet after breakfast at a central location in Oaxaca City where we will have a welcome and learning session, with a review of camera settings, exposure and using natural light. Then, we’ll hit the streets and local markets! Option is to meet up for a group dinner at your own expense. 2014DOTDTeoti-28

Day 2, Sunday, October 31:  We meet after breakfast. After showing your best work of Day 1, with review and feedback, we will have a learning session on night photography.  At 3:30 p.m. we depart for the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an extraordinary Day of the Dead extravaganza.  Matt is with us every step of the way for coaching and technical support. This could be a late night, so be prepared!  We will stay until at least 10 p.m., maybe later! Includes transportation to/from Xoxocotlan.

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Day 3, Monday, November 1:  You will have the morning on your own to prepare your best of the Xoxocotlan cemetery. We will meet midday to share our work with a feedback and learning session, then get back on the streets to catch the calendas and other processions. Some may want to share an optional taxi to San Pablo Villa de Mitla for their Day of the Dead festivities that start mid-afternoon

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Day 4, Tuesday, November 2:  We leave for an afternoon and evening in Teotitlan del Valle after our morning learning and photo feedback session.  You are paired with another workshop participant to share a traditional meal with a local host family and go with them to the village cemetery. To be embedded with a local family is an amazing cultural immersion experience to learn more about indigenous customs and traditions.  We return to Oaxaca city mid-evening. Includes transportation and lunch.

Day 5, Wednesday, November 3:  We meet after breakfast to share experiences and photos of the day. You’ll have the rest of the day on your own to meander and prepare your Best of Week photo presentation.  We get together in early evening for a Best of Week photo presentation followed by goodbyes. Please feel free to invite guests! Then, we’ll meet for an optional group supper (expense on your own).

What You Should Bring

  1. Camera, either Digital SLR camera with lens(es) — wide angle, zoom, and/or fixed focal point 50mm, or iPhone or Point and Shoot
  2. Optional tripod for night photography
  3. Laptop computer for photo editing
  4. External hard drive
  5. External card reader
  6. Extra batteries (2) and battery charger
  7. Memory cards (at least 2) and jump drive
  8. Pen and notepad
  9. Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Before the workshop starts, we will send you a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list, and other useful information.)

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Cost:  $995 USD.  Deposit to reserve your space is $500. Workshop includes:

  • All instruction and coaching
  • 1 lunch as specified in the itinerary
  • Transportation to villages included in the itinerary
  • Gift to local Teotitlan del Valle host family
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning packet (via email)

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Not Included:  The expedition does NOT include lodging, meals that are not specified in the itinerary, airfare, taxes, tips/gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages and optional transportation.

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About Recommended Accommodations: We will be based in Oaxaca city for this workshop. We will recommend several outstanding hotels and B&B’s where you may choose to stay, complete with contact information and estimated pricing. You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom.  All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the hotel.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel.  We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will reserve your space.   The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before August 1, 2014.  We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After August 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before August 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

We require that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, and at least $50,000 USD of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com  We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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This workshop is produced by Norma H-Shafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.

Don’t let this workshop pass you by!

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Pop-up Expoventa San Felipe Usila Saturday Only

Textile show and sale from San Felipe Usila
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When: 1:30-4:30 pm, Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where:  Las Granadas B&B, Avenida 2 de Abril #9, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

What:  think Danza de la Pina — Dance of the Pineapple– at The Guelaguetza to picture what these garments look like

San Felipe Usila is a remote mountain village near Tuxtepec, about an eight-hour drive from Oaxaca. The women weave extraordinary textiles on back strap looms. I was there last October and met a talented family.

Jorge Isidro is coming with his mother, an accomplished weaver, and bringing excellent quality pieces to show our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat participants. Because he is making such a long trip, I want to open up the opportunity to you to see and buy the work.

The sales go directly to the weaving families.  Prices are reasonable because you are buying direct.

Please invite your friends and share this post to support fine indigenous Oaxaca textile culture.  Thank you.

Norma H-Shafer

 

Boulenc: Bringing a World of Flavors to Artisan Bread + More in Oaxaca, Mexico

We invited Martha Sorensen to write this post. She has raved about Boulenc since they opened.  Martha makes it a daily breakfast habit to include a slice or two of toasty, crusty rye or whole grain bread from Boulenc topped with their not t00 sweet house made mango jam.  She’s got me hooked.

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Bernardo (left) and Juan Pablo send greetings

Bernardo Davila (left) and Juan Pablo Hernandez, founder, welcome bread lovers

Walk through the doorway of Boulenc and the comforting scent of fresh-baked bread and pastries envelops you. On the high shelves behind the front counter, whole grain sourdough loaves topped with artistic flour swirls or leaf patterns delight the eye.  More than a bakery, good food to eat is here, too.  Boulenc is a cafe, restaurant, bakery and provisions shop. 

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In the glass cabinet below, cardamom rolls sit beside ricotta berry Danish, orange chocolate brioche and buttery concha rolls decorated with a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Each beckons with the promise of a taste sensation.

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To the right, a bread oven from Sweden purchased via eBay warms the room. The six bar stools are usually filled. Behind the bar is a bookshelf with a collection of master bread making books, including Tartine Bread from San Francisco’s renowned artisan bakery. In the kitchen, four young bakers look up from their  floury hands with a smile of greeting. Can this be Oaxaca?

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Born in Saltillo, Coahuila, Juan Pablo Hernandez, a.k.a. Papa, is the founder of the European-style artisan bakery Boulenc.  He began baking years ago while still in school, ordered books and later experimented in a friend’s Oaxaca restaurant. Passionate about producing the highest quality, he gave away bread in exchange for comments.

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Then, he sold loaves at El Pochote while learning the art of baguette and croissant making from a young French baker who was traveling through Mexico. In January 2014, with Bernardo Davila and two other friends from Saltillo, he opened Boulenc.

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Juan Pablo’s European apprenticeship came from an unlikely source: a Dubai entrepreneur who found him via an international bakers’ Facebook group.  She was looking for someone to open an artisan bakery there. Last autumn she sponsored his travels to Sweden, Denmark and France. In October, he was in Dubai for a month where he made sourdough pan de muertos. Juan Pablo says that over 5,000 Mexican families live in Dubai. 

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His time in Scandinavia was life-changing. In southern Sweden, he took a sourdough course from world-renowned baker Manfred Enoksson, (who taught him to make cardamom rolls) learning more about stone-milled organic whole grains and the sourdough fermentation process. The living microbes in the culture need care. As Juan Pablo says, it is a relationship that must be nurtured.  “It makes you humble,” he says.  Most of products in Boulenc have a sourdough element. All other ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, including wheat from Nochixtlan in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca and cacao cream from another part of Mexico.

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Using a term from his permaculture training, Juan Pablo says that he and his partners see Boulenc as “a spiral, not a pyramid.” While there is some specialization, everyone at Boulenc has multiple roles, contributes ideas for new products, and values working together for the good of the community. This includes sharing sources and information with new bakeries that have a commitment to quality.

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They have given one bread making class and hope to do more. At the end of the day, any bread that is left over goes to an orphanage and a social service organization. Part of Juan Pablo’s mission is to educate about the importance of eating bread that is nutritious vs. bread made from white flour and chemicals in an industrial process. He sees this as vital, particularly here in Mexico where obesity rates are among the highest in the world.

Boulenc, Porfirio Diaz 222, between Murguia and Morelos, Centro, Oaxaca, (951) 514-0582

Boulenc’s future plans include opening a pizza cafe at a location nearby. For more information, including photos and short videos go to:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boulenc/534647166618801

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Norma’s Notes:  Belly up to the bar and grab one of the six bar stools that overlooks the kitchen. Come for breakfast and order Shakshuka, a Lebanese poached egg and spicy tomato dish or a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup, nuts and fresh fruit. Don’t be in a rush. This is slow food. Wait with a cup of the organic coffee or aromatic hot chocolate made with milk. Lunch offers up pizza rolls and tasty sandwiches on crusty bread. My favorite is the 100% rye infused with nuts, a meal in itself.