Chez Panisse Comes to Playa Viva

Shrimp Ceviche slaw and salad at Playa VivaLast week was a landmark moment in the culinary experience of Playa Viva. Zack Nishimura, a chef at Chez Panisse, came down to work on the Playa Viva menu and teach our team a few of his tricks for making the most of local food.

After a night of soaking in the tranquility of Playa Viva, Zack jumped right into his work. First off was meeting Alejandro, the head of Playa Viva’s kitchen and his wife (and co-cook) Feliz. Even with a slight language barrier, they chemistry was clear they shared a love of Italian food and spicy salsa—this was going to be a fun week. Zack especially liked Playa Viva’s open air kitchen with a view of the ocean and the wood fired pizza oven out back.

Zack’s second day at Playa Viva started bright and early with a trip to scout fresh meat, fish and veggies for the week from the local market in Petatlan. As soon as we got out of the van it was clear that this was no tourist market. Piles of whole fish, fresh from the ocean lay on tables lining the street along with stalls offering just butchered chickens, pigs, massive cuts of beef. Zack surveyed the scene with a savvy eye. Scouting nice looking whole bass, he started to brainstorm meal ideas.

As we walked through the market he noticed beautiful spring onions, an amazing array of fruits at their peak of ripeness. This was quite a selection, even compared to the bounty of northern California. The freshness of the handmade cheeses also caught his eye. Loading up the van with bag after bag of bright vegetables and carefully wrapped meats and cheeses, it looked like we had food for a month, not the few days we would be cooking together.

But, once back in the Playa Viva kitchen, immediately started organizing the food and pulling together meals. Lunch would be an array of the seafood and fresh salads: spicy shrimp with Chile and Tomatoes, Jicama Salad with Grapefruit and cucumber, a deliciously light ceviche served on crunchy house-made tostadas. The plate was full of bright contrasting flavors and colors.

Living in Northern California, Zack is pretty familiar with Mexican food, but he was impressed with the rang of ingredients that were new to him, such as the variety of peppers available, unique cheeses and new fruits such as the Lima (a cross between a lemon and an orange). Using simple techniques and a keen awareness of flavor combinations he created fresh and inspired meals that mixed the best of California and Mexican cuisine.

With so much to learn in the kitchen and delicious food to eat, the week flew by all too quickly. Lucky for us, Zack agreed to keep the inspiration coming. He is eager to help us create recipes and menu idea for some of Playa Viva’s own readily available bounty of produce, including: Coconuts, Papaya, Mangos and Squash. This is clearly just the first taste of a delicious culinary adventure at Playa Viva.

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