The Groupon/Social Living offer arrived in my mailbox in June, just the day after I had given up on trying to plan a trip to Sicily. Well! My traveling companion speaks Spanish and is a very good cook. Would she be equally agreeable going to La Villa Bonita instead? Yes, she would. We made our reservations for October and booked our flights. Five months later, we boarded our flights on to our culinary destination! Robb, Chef Ana’s husband, met us at the airport in Mexico City with the couple’s youngest son. The drive along the tollway was swift and beautiful, and we soon arrived in the small town of Tepotztlan. Its narrow cobblestone streets and colorful buildings were charming but not surprising, as both Shirley and I have lived previously in various parts of Mexico.
La Villa Bonita
La Villa Bonita rests behind high walls. It is both a cooking school and a hotel. The six rooms, all on one level, are welcoming and comfortable. We didn’t bother to unpack but headed straight for the pool and its veranda. We were so hungry! By now it was mid-afternoon, and all we had eaten that day was a granola bar. And we knew it was still some time before dinner. But here came a young man with botanas — chips, guacamole, and pickled vegetables (all made by Chef Ana). And he was soon followed by Ana herself, bearing a pitcher of margaritas. We sat in pure happiness for an hour or so, then explored the steep gardens descending to the back of the property.
After snack, we explored the gardens at the back of the property
Dinner, a good sleep, a fresh new day to start cooking
When dinner was announced, we climbed up to the kitchen and dining area. (There’s a great deal of climbing involved at La Villa Bonita as well as in the entire town.) We had already seen the big, no-nonsense kitchen, open toward the south to afford a view of the valley and surrounding mountains. The big table was set, and Robb joined us for a beautiful meal of squash-blossom soup, a miniature shrimp and chorizo taco, and lamb chops. The wine was poured. Dessert was a mixed berry crisp. That night — and all five nights we stayed at La Villa Bonita — the windows in our room remained open, and we fell into easy sleep hearing church bells from a distance. And then, before we knew it, the sounds changed to the raucous alarms of neighborhood roosters. It was cooking day!
Sleeping and rising up with the windows opened, to the sounds of church bells and roosters
After breakfast, we set out to walk to the market, about a mile from La Villa Bonita. Shirley asked Ana, “How do you choose which vendors to shop with?” and Ana responded quickly, “The ones who are nice to me.” Ana asked us if there was anything, in particular, we wanted to cook. Not me. I was just basking in being in Mexico. Shirley suggested mole. And there, standing in this bustling mercado, Ana whipped out her smartphone and checked the needed ingredients. (She later confirmed them in a cookbook printed in the early 1900s.) The chicken man whacked off several legs and thighs as Ana explained to us that chicken breast is rarely served except in wealthy homes. The pork man skillfully produced some fine-looking steaks. We accumulated sweet potatoes, apples, plantains, tomatoes, and other ingredients. It was a long, hot walk back to La Villa Bonita and involved several shifts of bags among us. Once we settled in to cook, Ana discovered that she had overlooked a few items. No problema! The “supermarket” delivers.
Maria cooked breakfast the first morning while Shirley sat waiting, the rest of the days we bought the pan dulce and hot coffee for breakfast
Ana handed us aprons and efficiently assigned tasks. We roasted dried peppers and tomatoes on the comal. We browned the meats in big cazuelas on the industrial range. We chopped and diced and stirred and blended. One of my tasks was to pick some epazote from the garden. Luckily I grow epazote and knew what to look for! We also cooked beans (for the following day) and started the corn for (tomorrow’s) tortillas. The masa with which we made that day’s tortillas was from the day before, and so on. We learned that the trick in making tortillas is the motion of the wrist and eventually we were happy with our results. We were tired and happy and simply sank into our chairs and dived into the amazing food we had made.
The trick in making tortillas is the motion of the wrist
We had one day of cooking with Chef Ana. The other days we had a day to explore Tepotzlan, a day for Cuernavaca, and a stellar day with a guide to see the ancient site of Xochicalco and the city of Taxco.
Mystical stone architecture of the ancient site of Xochicalco
Margaret Allyson wrote this article and sent her own pictures personally for BookCulinaryVacations.com. She went to La Villa Bonita in October 2012. Would you like to read more about Margaret's trips with Shirley in Mexico? Send her your greetings and ask her to write more by adding your comments below!
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