Tag Archives: food

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.

Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

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Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.

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The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

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I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.

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Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

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She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

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Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

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It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

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I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.

Penland School Cooks in Oaxaca

We will be going back in time this week. A few days ago our participants from Penland School of Crafts gathered at Casa de los Sabores, the cooking school operated by chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo.

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Our menu focused on mezcal including a flaming skewered pineapple and shrimp dish that went up in flames before we ate it. The pineapple chunks were soaked in mezcal so the natural sugars ignited instantly. They were accompanied by a salad featuring tiny tomatillos that we ate raw.

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Pilar has been preparing great food for a long time.  Her La Olla Restaurant is well known in the city for using organic ingredients that are artfully prepared. Because our study tour focuses on Oaxaca arts and artisanry, food is an important ingredient in the Oaxaca mix.

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Pilar is also very knowledgeable about the artesenal process of cultivating and distilling mezcal, too.  Before we sat down to the meal we participated in preparing, we enjoyed a four-flight mezcal tasting that began with young espadin.  She explained the different varietals, aging process and the rising cost of the smokey beverage based on escalating international interest.

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First, it’s important to smell.  Then, take a first sip and let it go down your throat slowly.  At the end of your drink, suck on an orange slice dipped in worm salt (sal de gusano) for a perfect finish.

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After the memelitas with squash blossoms and queso fresco, and after the chicken with mole amarillo, we ended with an incredible flan.

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With a beautiful table and an array of complex tastes, we were more than satisfied.  Oh, and I forgot to mention a shopping trip to the Mercado de la Merced before the class started to pick up essential ingredients.

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I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

Street Life, Veracruz, Mexico

We are walking down a Veracruz street with guide Martin and I had this sudden feeling that I could be in Havana, Cuba. I’ve never been to Havana. But it’s a port town like this one, facing an unrelenting ocean and assaulted with the same kind of weather that beats up beautiful buildings so that overtime they become like dowagers who have lost their glamour and their inheritances, become shabby and unkempt if attention passes them by.

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When I asked him, Martin said Yes, this area near the Zocalo is very much like Havana, and I had a sense of being in an exotic place filled with the wonder of a five hundred year old history, a blend of Afro-Caribbean music and steamy heat.

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Restoration is underway. Buildings are undergoing renovation in preparation for the city’s five-hundred year anniversary in 2019. As we looked closer, we could see that many of the ancient walls were constructed with coral.

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The morning started with mega-doses of lecheros at El Gran Cafe de La Perroquia on the Malecon. Now, there are two of these restaurants with the same name located next door to each other because years ago there was a split in the family. The real authentic, original with the silver coffee service imported from Italy is the first one you will come to.

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We didn’t know that until we found ourselves at the other one, which was truly enjoyable nevertheless. While we ate huevos Mexicanos and huevos Moltuleños, and slurped rich, hot and milky coffee, we were entertained by dancers and musicians. This was easily an almost two-hour breakfast, filled with reverence for coffee preparation.

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Then, we took one of those city tours in a double-decker vehicle, followed by a walk out to the pier to see the transport ship that carries two thousand Volkswagens made in Puebla, Mexico, to other parts of the world.

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By three in the afternoon, Sheri and I are ready for a rest. Mary Anne is the energizer bunny and keeps on going. Looking forward to eating more seafood before we leave here on Sunday.

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But, before we got back to the hotel, we made a stop at Galerias PopulArte Tlacihualli, Calle Mario Moline No. 23, Planta Alta, Centro, Tel (229) 931 9640.  They are not always open, so we considered ourselves fortunate that we found it, and there was extraoardinary Veracruziana folk art to be found there. artepopular@secturveracruz.gob.mx

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In addition to ceramics and jewelry, there is a good selection of finely embroidered textiles, including table cloths, runners and clothing.

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Along the wharf there is a bas relief cement sculpture representing scenes of agricultural life in Veracruz and the importance of Africans as part of the region’s development. There, too, are classical Baroque-style Spanish buildings that served as the customs house, post office and telegraph office.

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Veracruz, Gateway to La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Just as Veracruz was the gateway into Mexico for Hernan Cortes in 1519, I begin my journey here to explore remote textile villages that are part of the Chinanteco and Mazateco regions of Oaxaca state called La Chinantla.

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We start at Veracruz because it is a short two hours by car to cross over the border to Tuxtepec. From Oaxaca city, this trip can take as much as eight hours over winding, two-lane mountain roads of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Cortes landed in Veracruz on Good Friday and name the place The True Cross.

I am traveling with Stephanie Schneiderman of Tia Stephanie Tours. She made this trip on her own three times to research the villages and put the tour in place before opening it up in 2013 to textile lovers and collectors.

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This is the land of fresh fish, seafood stew, a paella-like dish called arroz a la tumbada and ceviche. It is where women have been weaving on back-strap looms and creating glorious embroidered designs for centuries. They are preserved because the region is remote. The conquistadors were more interested in gold, silver and cochineal.

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It’s the end of the rainy season. From the airplane window as we descend into Veracruz, I see the rivers below are full. The earth is forest, spring, olive and lime green. It is the middle of October. I see the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. It is low, flat and warm here. The port city is Mexico’s most important shipping and naval center.

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Our Gran Hotel Diligencias is on the Zocalo across from a stark white cathedral. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants,  son jarocho music and dancers, and late night lechero coffee drinkers. It’s colonial architecture reflects the sequence of conquests: Spain, France and the United States of America.

I will be here for two days before our textile journey begins.