The unique dishes that come out of Ana Cecilia Avalos Reyes hands continue to amaze foodies of all nationalities. Each dish radiates passion and creativity and is custom designed to match clients' tastes and styles. In this interview, Ana spills the beans on her multi-talented professional life as A Chef in Sayulita.
Ana, you grew up in Mexico. How do you incorporate your Mexican roots in a multicultural culinary place like Sayulita?
I like to think I'm a 'multi-cosmo-rainbow-woman' who happens to be a chef. This means I am a cosmopolitan woman, doing multiple things, in a wide range of ways. I have always been the mind behind the rebellion. I always seek the whys. I'm constantly learning new things that are not related to my Mexican roots per se, and I apply those techniques/knowledge to whatever I cook.
Having that said, Mexico does play a significant role in my cooking. I've lived in three different big cities and two beach villages, but Sayulita is by far my favorite place in Mexico. I have visited twenty-two out of thirty-two states, and while traveling, I've gathered all the recipes I've been able to get my hands on and made them my own. Also, my thesis in college was based on how the traditional Mexican food evolved into what we know today as Mexican cuisine. Therefore, in my cooking today, I use a lot of ancient and historic recipes. The dishes in my menu fall into two categories: traditional recipes and my version of traditional recipes with a personal pop culture twist.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Although my brother had it clear from the very beginning, I didn't. My mom hated to cook, so I learned to cook by need more than by passion. But soon, I found myself stealing my grandmother's recipes, and watching cooking shows on television. My brother always said I was the best chef in the world. When I went to med school for four years, I was the girl always baking and cooking food for my friends and study groups. They were always bringing new recipes for me to try. Once I decided to quit med school, my brother took me to this famous cooking school because “I was the best chef in the world”. I believe that's when I knew I wanted to become a chef.
What's your favorite food memory?
I remember one day my cousin, Emilia, took me to a tea shop in Coyoacan. She told me the story of a special chocolate mint cookie that was called "The Peace Cookie". The cookie was named so because it was said that when people ate this cookie, they'd leave their arms and share cookies rather than fighting a war. That tale inspired me and stayed with me forever. Now, I'm constantly trying to share peace and love through food.
What makes a private party or event catered by A Chef in Sayulita a unique experience?
I follow the Buddhist belief that every meal is a celebration, because nothing will ever stay the same. Most people come to Sayulita celebrating something: A wedding, retreat, birthday, vacation, or even life itself. I love to be part of that and honor that. So, each meal I cook and each drink I make is different and has a different intention and context to it.
Where do you draw your inspiration from, creating a new menu?
I feel like an alchemist mixing things that I think will go well together, rather than I feel a chef. In my head, I create the recipes before tasting them and I instinctively know whether those will work or not. To create a menu, I go to the local farmers market and try a bit of everything, and check the local ingredients available. Once I create a menu, I still challenge myself to improve my recipes. A dish will almost never taste the same twice.
What do you enjoy most about owning your own catering business in Sayulita?
What I enjoy the most about my catering business is that I get to meet a wide variety of people from all over the world. All these people have different cultures, traditions, and stories, and I love that! Also, I now have a private collection of ingredients that people bring from their country. This generosity, and these gifts, always wow me.
We follow a plant-based diet, eat Halal, and/or have allergies. Can we use your services?
Totally. I do my best to serve everyone. I personally have my own dietary restrictions, so I completely understand how hard it can be to order food and not get what you wanted. Also, most people may not realize this, but Mexican food is often traditionally vegetarian and gluten free.
Ana, do you have a secret ingredient, or signature spice that you use in your dishes?
One of the most characteristic things of me, as a chef, is that I barely use spices of any kind. When people ask me what spice or herb I used, my answer always is "love". Most people think I say this to avoid the question, but it's not. My main goal when you eat my food is that you feel loved. Everybody deserves to feel loved. Cooking my food, I don't use additives, and sometimes not even salt and pepper. My cooking style is more related to the chemical reactions between ingredients. If I do use spices, I prefer my own homegrown spices and herbs.
What kind of events do you organize or generally cater to in Sayulita?
I organize and cater to all kinds of events. Although Sayulita is famous for destination weddings, there are also other kinds of celebrations, such as birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, bridal parties, and retreats in which I organize and cater. For example, a few days ago, I organized a surprise pool party for a ten year old's birthday. A few weeks prior to that, I arranged and catered a delicious mimosa spa day for a bride and her friends. I particularly enjoy working with families and groups of friends. It's so fulfilling to bring a smile to someone's face and seeing that joy shared!
Ana, apart from organizing and catering events, you also give cooking and mixology classes at A Chef in Sayulita. Would you tell us more about that?
Yes, I get super excited every time somebody asks for a mixology class. Classes are always a 100% hands on experience where you have fun and learn something you can actually practice at home! My classes are not solely focused on recipes, but more on practical tips and tricks that you will be able to work with at home. After the course, you will receive a certificate.
You can contact Ana on her SayulitaLife.com page.
Written By: Inge Poell