Eating Your Heart Out and Getting Away with It
We are what we eat, the better it is the better we feel, does the body good… When people say things like this, it fills me with romantic nostalgia for days that have long since disappeared from my life. My imagination is triggered back to early childhood. A time when snacking on something meant eating a bag of walnuts, biting into a caramel apple, or relishing in a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on a warm slice of apple pie.
That is, until I spent 4–5 months embedded in the Caribbean at The House of AïA. It’s hard to believe how good the food is until you try it for yourself. My sense of what it means to eat good food has been completely turned upside-down for the better. Because not only did I enjoy almost every bite, I gained energy, felt amazing, lost weight, and experienced something unique and new: all as a result of the plant-based-first diet. I like to call it my voyage to the temple of plant-based-first cuisine.
A Taste That Never Grows Old
Chef Eugenio and his kitchen staff have developed something extraordinary. They have managed to break the boundaries of what is possible in the world of inclusive resorts on the Riviera Maya, (https://g.page/thehouseofaia/review?rc) preparing dishes for a beach-front, wellness enclave that are incredibly healthy and remarkably delicious—by assembling a rare combination of dishes that explore the edges of what is possible, while at the same time renovating old favorites.
The result is a variety of both simple and complex dishes that are on par with the best restaurants in the world. As someone who has lived in Milano, San Francisco, Barcelona, Roma, New Orleans, Mexico City, and Boston, I know fresh, good food. And though I’m not a food critic, I did eat at The House of AïA for 19 weeks straight—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—at the restaurants and through room service. Just the fact that I did not get tired of the food is remarkable and says it all in my opinion (think about that and let it settle in… never got tired…19 weeks… just, wow!).
What could be the secret behind such a strong balance of flavor and health? I was curious to fond out so I sat down with the executive chef and asked him what, why, and how it all comes together.
The Secret Behind the Magic
What Chef Eugenio shared with me was at once obvious and also not, like the things we take for granted until we realize that they were right under our nose all along. His intention spoke clearly, he did not become the Executive Chef at The House of AïA because it’s a job or means to make a living, he did it because it provides him with the opportunity to do something ambitious and never-before-seen, certainly not at this scale. I found that he is a dreamer, with practical skills, a.k.a- he gets it done.
How? By taking a “plant-based-first” approach, using locally sourced ingredients as often as possible, and imbuing the process and dining options with love—seriously.
When he arrived he went on a tour of al the small farms in the area to see who grew their food to his liking. He works almost daily with ownership—who is intensely vegan with exacting standards—to develop higher and higher levels of quality and variety. A great combination of chef and critic, the duo seem to dance together around each dish looking for each secret taste that makes the difference to the palate undeniable.
For example, even with the simplest things, like when he prepares the chia that is often served for breakfast in the Yucatan—considered a superfood— he places it on the windowsill to absorb the morning rays of light, at sunrise. Just that gesture says so much: he loves his craft and it comes through in every flavor and nuance that emerges from the depths of his expertise.
Chef Eugenio also described how the process is not only vegan—not everyone should be vega, having something to do with our genetic lineage and blood-type—but how cross-pollinating techniques has allowed him to make dishes that borrow from traditional cheese, meat, and fresh seafood preparations.
I had an image appear, an analogy, of a French language poet who speaks very little English, but sees ways to combine the language (cuisine) that his English counterparts do not. Hence, his management of the language include a creativity and magic that is surprising and unusual, yet uses the same words (ingredients) as everyone else, leaving one satisfied and curious to try more.
A Balanced Approach
As if that were not enough, the wine cellar and variety of restaurants (https://thehouseofaia.com/cuisine/) feature wine and champagne pairings that are surprisingly worthy for a Mexican property, as Mexico is not renowned for its wines. The Italian restaurant has a risotto that is to die for, and while the restaurant servings are ample, I still managed to lose 12 pounds during my extended stay.
I understand the duality of giving and receiving to generate truly great work, like life, it reflects a balance of nature and human intention. Staying at Palmaïa with an inclusive package means enjoying the many pleasures this award winning resort has to offer, while giving oneself space to explore new things in body, mind, and soul. Though I imagine Palmaïa is the best all inclusive for foodies on the planet, hands down.
It’s also a great place for family vacations and adults only get-aways. While this contradicts the typical American perspective, at Palmaïa children occupy a more European-style presence, seamlessly contributing the the atmosphere as if playing around in a town square in the old world. Of course, the children’s menu is equally good.
In sum, delicious and healthy is a seeming paradox in a world that is dominated by sugar and fat-filled foods, but it’s true. See for yourself, perhaps if the world learns a little from what The House of AïA has put on offer, we can get closer to making life better for everyone.