The Perfect Meal

A perfect meal has just as much to do with the company as it does with the food.

Recently I had guests from Slovenia, a quintet of classical musicians, to be exact. All well-traveled gourmands, this sophisticated group of charming men were well acquainted with fine food. They came to San Miguel with an open mind and empty stomachs (and also fear of Montezuma’s revenge…it seems it’s in all the guidebooks).

After playing a small, intimate concert at the Casa de Sierra Nevada, we—the five musicians, four girlfriends, and myself, sat down to an incredible gastronomic experience. On a cold fall night we were ushered into a cozy private terra-cotta hued dining room with a large, wooden round table in the center backed against a blazing fire. The group allowed me to order for them, so I did something I’ve always dreamt of—ordering one of everything on the menu. I surprised the waiter, and even myself, with my request. There was a new chef at the Sierra Nevada that evening, a young man by the name of Gonzolo Martinez, who had just come back to his native town by way of Dallas and New Orleans. I was anxious to see what he could do. We were not disappointed. The multi-course meal kept coming: Grilled Vegetable Terraine, Huitlacoche Risotto, Grilled Mezcal marinated Oaxacan Quail, Chicken with Shrimp Mousse and Caramelized Apple Pudding, all accompanied by endless bottles of wine.

One of the musicians was a long time friend. We had gone to college together in Germany and as more than next-door neighbors we had shared many meals together. Most of our friends at the time were from Yugoslavia (whose northern most republic became Slovenia after their 10-day war of independence in 1991). We didn’t bother with plates at the time; everyone just grabbed a fork and dug in. It was always communal eating and we referred to is as eating Yugoslav style. Feeding each other bites of spaghetti and salad (a common meal, since no one had any money) was how we bonded, something I didn’t realize for a long time. Returning to America, where most people wouldn’t allow someone else’s fork to enter the perimeter of their plate, was sterile and unfriendly territory to me. The fun was gone, the camaraderie and the intimacy. In Germany different experiences and relationships filled our days, but at night, around the dinner table, we were a family.

So, on that cold evening huddled around the cozy fire we started eating Yugoslav style. This was new to my American and British friends; however, they didn’t flinch when a charming European man fed them a morsel of a rare beef. Forks flew across the table, stabbing and scooping bites of food, which were then offered to fellow diners. Each time eyes would lock, a mouth would open, sounds were made and a connection would develop. Conversation reeled around the table, interspersed with oohs and aahs, sensual sounds of the dining room. Even when my friend Connie, got up from the table too fast and spilled her full (that would be a 6 oz. pour, not a 3 oz.) glass of red wine down my white shirt, the mood did not change. I wasn’t going to let a cold, wine-soaked shirt ruined my evening. I knew such dining perfection would never be repeated. Chef Gonzolo’s food did help make a memorable evening, but honestly, if it were only spaghetti and salad, it would have still been the perfect meal.

Fresh Corn Soup with Huitlacoche Compote

Sierra Nevada restaurant, San Miguel de Allende

This recipe features the best of Mexico’s summer harvest: huitlacoche, or corn truffles. They are only available a few months of the year; the rest of the time they can be found canned in specialty stores.

6 servings

12 organic yellow cobs of corn with husks
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 dried bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Huitlacoche Compote:
4 cobs of corn with huitlacoche*
1 tablespoon butter
1 diced tomato, peeled and seeded
1/4 cup diced onions
2 tablespoons chopped and seeded jalapeño chiles or to taste

Ranchero or Cortijo cheese and chives to garnish

1. Husk the corn. Cut the kernels off the cob. Set aside.

2. Heat the vegetable stock in a large saucepan over high heat. Place the corn  husks in the stock and boil for 15 minutes.

3. Melt the butter in a medium-sized stockpot over medium-high heat. Sauté the corn for 2-3 minutes. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes.

4. Pour the stock into the corn mixture. Bring to a boil.

5. Place in a blender and purée until smooth. Strain with cheesecloth. Return to the stockpot.

6. Add cream, salt and pepper.

7. For the compote, remove the huitlacoche from the cob. Wash and chop roughly.

8. Heat butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When melted, add the onion and jalapeño. Cook until tender and browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato and chopped huitlacoche, cook another  5 minutes.

9. Ladle the corn soup into 6 bowels. Top with the huitlacoche compote and garnish, if you like, with cheese and chives.

*if fresh huitlacoche is not available, substitute one 16-ounce can.


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