In December, I was invited by Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts to come to Mexico City and get a taste for their “Éclair Diaries” program led by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini. Through his partnership with Le Méridien, Iuzzini has the task of creating signature eclairs for various properties within the U.S. and overseas. So far, the project has taken him to New Orleans, Paris, Barcelona, Cote D’Azur, and New Delhi, where he scouts out venues for obtaining local ingredients and creating a destination-themed eclair.
Now, for the “Eclair Diaries,” Mexico City has become the latest chapter, with Le Méridien Mexico City being the recipient. To see how Iuzzini begins his recipe process, our group accompanied him to Central de Abasto, Mexico City’s major wholesale market. It was the perfect place for Iuzzini to conduct his research, and for me to learn more about Mexican cuisine.
Joining us were Jared Reardon and Sonia Arias, a husband/wife culinary duo from Jaso Restaurant in Mexico City. The couple led Iuzzini around to different vendors, providing details about what was on display and negotiating with various merchants.
We followed Iuzzini, as he examined foods by sight, scent, and taste. He tried fruits unique in look and flavor: the citrusy granada china, the papaya-looking mamey sapote, and the dark colored but sweet tasting zapote negro. (I did too.) With every stop, Iuzzini pulled out his notebook, jotting down notes and first impressions. And, of course, he made some purchases like piloncillo, a brown cane sugar molded in a cone shape.
As Iuzzini spent the following day immersed in kitchen R&D, I got to spend time with another Le Méridien ambassador – coffee connoisseur Esther Maasdam. Maasdam is in charge of training Le Méridien’s master baristas and creating a series of latte art inspired by property destinations.
And she knows her coffee. On the final day of our visit, we got to watch her work her magic at a barista machine and hand-paint latte images inspired by her time in Mexico such as cacti and a Mexican wrestling mask. Also that morning, Iuzzini unveiled the finalized recipe for his Mexico City éclair. It consists of a mole-flavored shell with a mamey-vanilla cream filling, a tamarind-lime glaze, crispy peanuts, caramelized bananas, and crystallized huitlacoche.
Along with Central de Abasto, our group got to explore other sites in Mexico City. They included:
Restaurante Nicos: In the Claverai neighborhood, this family-owned restaurant has simple yet elegant décor, and its breakfast/lunch menus are quite refined. For lunch, we had a mix of orders such as a river fish steamed a corn husk, barbecued rabbit, and turkey and pork with mole. Desserts were just as grand: Mexican buñuelos, a fried dough, served in molasses, a corn cake with eggnog sauce; and spiced popcorn paired with pumpkin gelato and zapote negro sauce. Of course, an order of guacamole is great for starting off your meal, and Nicos staff makes it table-side. At the end, order Mexican coffee, as it’s also prepared right in front of you.
Museo Tamayo: Le Méridien’s “Destination Unlocked” program partners each of its properties with a local cultural institution, giving guests get free admission. Le Méridien Mexico City is paired with Museo Tamayo, a contemporary art museum in Chapultepec Park. Named after abstract painter Rufino Tamayo, his featured works include “The Watermelon,” inspired by his childhood selling fruit. Outside, find a swing set that, yes, you can go on. However, it’s best that you don’t climb on the adjacent jungle gym; you might get yelled at by security. The museum’s restaurant offers modern takes on traditional Mexican cuisine, with one must-try being the chicken stuffed with cuitlacoche and goat cheese over pinto beans.
Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec): Also in Chapultepec Park, this hillside castle was once the Imperial residence of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I, and his consort, Empress Carlota. Over time, it also served as the official home of Mexico’s presidents. Now it’s a history museum. Spend some time at the royal couple’s furnished rooms, a stained-glass corridor, an observatory, and a terrace with aerial views of the city.
Eno Petrarca: In the Polanco neighborhood, this coffee shop/sandwich place gets good remarks for its meal selection but I can more so vouch for its java. I savored a nutty flavored Latte Cacahuate and sipped on a cold coffee infused with almond and lemon. And while we were there, Maasdam had a turn at their machine (ironically, one of the employees recognized her!). This place is also the sibling of Pujol, a fine dining establishment next door that’s hard to get into (it seats about 13) but specializes a seasonal tasting lunch/dinner menu.
Licoreria Limantour: As a place suggested to Maasdam by one of her colleagues, this cocktail bar in Roma Notre is definitely where to get a quality mixed drink. Bonus: If your knowledge of Spanish is un poco, not to worry: the menu feature pictures of their selections alongside drink listings. I had the Vicqua, a fruity concoction topped with a dried carrot/beet garnish.
La Bodega Mexico: It’s easy to spot this restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood, due to its bright red sign and drapery. Inside, it’s even more colorful with decorative fixtures and a room specifically for live music and dancing. The menu is just as interesting with choices ranging from coconut shrimp to chicken in a mole poblano sauce.