Whether one is a devout Foodie or culinary philistine such as myself, the eight course Chef’s Table experience at La Zebra Boutique Hotel goes well beyond simply enjoying an inspired meal. An “educational gourmet feast” might be an apt description as guests partake of a rich ancestral heritage in which food plays a key celebratory role.
Designed to resemble a traditional family meal — albeit an extravagant and inventive one — this three hour gastronomic adventure is hosted and curated by acclaimed chef Eleazar Bonilla in a private dining room that emulates eating salons in homes throughout Mexico and more specifically his own.
Replete with family pictures and heirlooms, Chef offers us both an illuminating glimpse into authentic Mexican customs and a fascinating road map through his own personal history and epicurean journey.
Animatedly explaining — between courses — the genesis of each dish and beverage accompaniment, Chef Bonilla’s passion and pride in his culture is evident, infectious even. “I am the son of corn,” he declares as way of introducing both himself and the significance of the platter of multi-colored tostadas placed before us at the start of the meal.
“My father sustained our family by making and selling tortillas. My mother cooked and sold food on the street. Everything was about corn and huge pots of frijoles,” he reminisces. “I grew up surrounded by expansive fields of corn grains – which served as my first playground. I would dive into the heap of grains as if it were a swimming pool,” he happily recalls.
That joyful memory and his respect for one of Mexican cuisine’s staple ingredients informs much of his cooking – from his early years crafting simple food to the intricacy of flavors, colors, and textures that characterize the Chef’s Table. The event – and yes it IS an event — is fun and colorful, evocative and redolent as we time travel through Eleazar’s development as a distinguished culinary story-teller.
Raised humbly in Querétaro, a small state in north-central Mexico, Chef Bonilla’s fervor for food was ignited when he was merely a toddler. Preferring to help his abuela (grandmother) in the kitchen rather than hanging with his many siblings, the primarily self-taught gourmand harnessed the innate artistry that every talented chef possesses to find his own voice.
Fashioning nuanced dishes that are at once distinct and true to his roots, he embraces ingredients that define his native cuisine, offering up progressive renditions of “everyday street food” such as Antojitos and conjuring imaginative recipes that represent his evolution as a chef. All while maintaining his philosophy that food is “the great equalizer.”
And we, as his guests, are along for the delicious ride. Although I am referencing the menu, I honestly can’t describe what I was served beyond the whimsical names Chef assigns each creation. As mentioned, I’m a fine dining neophyte. What I can share, however, is that everything was divine and served with such visual flair that I almost didn’t want to disrupt the presentation by eating.
But I’m glad I did. Eat, that is… As a vegetarian, Chef and his crew happily modified recipes to suit my dietary needs, and will always oblige special requests. I also don’t drink, so the customized beverages that are specifically chosen to complement each course were delivered sans alcohol. Utilizing local fruits and spices, all are intended to either cleanse or titillate the palate.
As the meal continues, delicate wines are carefully chosen from several award-winning Mexican wineries, further validating Mexico’s growing sophistication and reputation among food and wine connoisseurs. At some point, the curtain between the kitchen and our ambient air-conditioned private chamber dramatically opens to expose Chef and his crew preparing our feast. Food as Theater.
Experiential Dining as Entertainment. Masterful cuisine presented in an interactive elucidatory setting. What’s NOT to enjoy?
By the time the first of three desserts was proffered, my dinner companions and I had been transported — through different eras and Mexican locales — into a surprising and welcome world of taste sensations. Sort of like a gastronomic Magical Mystery Tour through the past, present, and future.
And passage on this fantastical gourmet voyage will be a highlight of your visit. Guaranteed! Don’t miss this exclusive and memorable opportunity to travel far and wide through this mythical country – without ever having to leave your seat!