When first returning to the US after living in Mexico for 6 years I was ready to put my new skills to use so I decided to start a catering company. Over the past several years of learning more about internet marketing, search engine optimization and other useful online avenues to generate leads for my business, I realized how much work it would be to own a successful business. Not only that, but I was also part owner and on-site manager of a small resort on the Yucatan, Peninsula. We had a beautiful thatched roof dining palapa with a reputation for some of the best food within a 100 kilometer range.
My kitchen staff was Mayan from the village of Chemax, and our cuisine was traditional to the area. We catered many weddings, birthdays and holiday celebrations with pig seasoned and wrapped in banana leaves, roasted in a pibil – a pit dug in the ground, along with other time honored favorites.
The local Mayan women taught me a lot about Mayan cooking. From the simplest things like how to prepare rice properly and consistently delicious, to the seasoning of different types of beans. There’s more to the basics than I would have thought and was grateful for the guidance of these knowledgeable self taught cooks.
Along the way I was able to travel to various parts of the country and pick up on some of the specialties of the area. I learned the many steps of putting together a creamy dark mole (pronounced, mo -lay) in Oaxaca and the best barbaquoa in Mexico City. To not use this expertise upon my return would have been a terrible waste.
So after learning how to live stateside again – a more challenging task than I expected, I set to work researching the catering business. I wanted to take my talents and introduce the North American palette to the richness of the life of food south of the border beyond the typical burrito.
The ingredients I needed weren’t always easy to find and often I would request friends, or friends of friends who were going into Mexico to bring something back for me. I didn’t want to compromise my uncommon style right out of the gate by giving up primary flavors or altering too much of the original recipe content, so I relied of the kindness of travelers.
In those early days I requested more than a few travelers to return with a little culinary goodness of whatever region they were visiting. One of the most unique flavors I loved cooking with when living on the Peninsula was the honey. Bees produce honey according to the specific plants from which they gather their pollen giving it an regional flavor. The honey of the Yucatan was like nothing I could find here in the States. If you’ve never had Pollo Miel, (chicken with honey) hunt it down until you do.
This approach to acquiring necessary ingredients was spotty and unreliable. As I grew I found myself making supply runs every few months which gave me the opportunity to return to a country I loved and that continued to teach me.
Juanita’s, my catering business opened with great success in 2001 and has been growing every year. The flavors of Mexico that I offer are not what someone would necessarily expect and that is exactly why I am successful. I continue to travel throughout Mexico and continue to learn. Different regions offer slight twists when preparing many of the old favorites. The off beat and traditional foods are fun to introduce to unsuspecting clients who come by for a tasting to plan their menu for an event.
I’ve set up a supply chain and getting the makings for a delicious and uncommon bill of fare is easier than ever. As time has gone on, more ingredients are available through the internet and local markets. It’s no great feat to acquire a good achiote any longer. The internet saved my menu to some extent, but the rural cooks of Mexico are my best source of all things scrumptious.