For Mexico City-born chef Xavier Pérez Stone, Mexican cuisine is all about honouring and enhancing the inherent flavours of simple, regional ingredients. Pérez Stone is the executive chef at Cocina de Autor, located inside Playa del Carmen’s spectacular Grand-Velas Resort, and his straightforward cooking philosophy and abundant creativity have elevated resort cuisine to impressive heights: Cocina de Autor is the only AAA Five Diamond all-inclusive restaurant in the world.
Pérez Stone attended culinary school in Mexico and has since worked with some of the world’s best chefs in both Spain and Mexico. Since Cocina de Autor opened in 2008, Chef Xavi, as he’s known, has achieved a number of other honours, including being named Mexico’s Chef of the Year at the Alimentaria Expo Mexico in 2012 and winning the International Iron Chef Competition in Toronto in 2014. But at the root of these heady accolades is a boy who grew up hunting with his father, cooking with him in a modest kitchen and preparing orders while working in a local polleria (chicken butcher and store).
At Cocina de Autor, Pérez Stone serves up a 20-course seasonal tasting menu of dishes that mix traditional and local ingredients with artistic flair (think mini Mason jars of foie gras and fruit topped with cotton candy and edible flowers). If it weren’t for his restaurant’s tall ceilings, white linens and marble accents, one taste of his warm poblano sauce would have you believing you’re right in an abuela’s kitchen in the middle of the barrio.
Cocina de Autor
What sort of culinary influences did you have growing up?
My dad used to be a hunter, and when I went hunting with him, I learned a lot about how to properly kill the animal—how to clean it, how to prepare every part of it. It’s different when you learn in that way. It teaches you to be more respectful of the products that arrive in the kitchen.
How are you changing resort cuisine?
When I started working at Cocina de Autor, I had to be very serious about making it clear to guests that they couldn’t just order a burger or a steak—we only have a tasting menu. There’s only one choice, but it includes 20 dishes. People get to sit down and then eat, eat, eat, and they learn a lot about local flavours.
How often does the tasting menu change?
We change it every four months, with the seasons.
What are your favourite Mexican ingredients to use?
I really don’t have a favourite, because all of them are my favourite. For example, when I cook with coconut, my favourite in that moment is coconut. But the ingredients that I must always have in the kitchen are coriander, onions, garlic, tomatillo, avocado and lime.
How does the food at Cocina de Autor reflect the cuisine of the region?
About 90 per cent of the ingredients we use in the kitchen are from Mexico. We use venison from Mexico, we use lamb from Mexico, we use fish and vegetables from Mexico. We try to represent new flavours with classic ingredients.
What do you like to cook with your family at home?
Traditional food. We cook poblano peppers with cheese, ceviche with salad, then we make cookies with ice cream. It’s so good.