In 2003, David Sterling, a renowned chef working in New York, moved to Merida with his partner, and within a short time, he opened LOS DOS, a culinary school and cultural experiences tour company. He hired a young tourism student, Mario Canul as his assistant, and so began the long and mutually satisfying collaboration between the two of them.
In Yucatan every celebratory occasion features copious quantities of delicious food, and Merida is internationally known for its gastronomic offerings. Of the 32 states in Mexico, Yucatan’s cuisine is ranked number 5, although some critics argue that along with Puebla, ours should tie for first place. Puebla and Yucatan both feature dishes made with a great diversity of meats, grains, vegetables, seafood, condiments and spices; Puebla incorporates more dairy products than Yucatan, but our state uses more seafood.
LOS DOS specializes in authentic half-day culinary workshops, and over the years has welcomed legions of visiting home cooks and foodies. As well, many of the industry’s luminaries have collaborated with David, including Diana Kennedy. In her highly-acclaimed books about traditional Mexican dishes, Kennedy provides detailed descriptions of each state’s classic recipes. She has high esteem for Yucatan’s complex integration of Maya and European techniques and ingredients. After spending time with David Sterling at LOS DOS, she put him in touch with Casey Kittrell of the University of Texas Press. Chef David felt gratified when the two women urged him to write a cookbook, and he agreed to do so; but his meticulous nature forced the volume through umpteen revisions.
During the five years he spent writing and editing the book, Mario accompanied David throughout Yucatan, searching for sources of the finest natural ingredients; they also visited regional cooks who shared their tips for making the crispest panuchos, fluffiest flans, and other kitchen secrets.
Martha Stewart spent time with David at LOS DOS in 2012, and Rick Bayless featured him as guest in a segment of his popular show, “Mexico – One Plate at a Time”.
Finally, in 2014, “Recipes from a Culinary Expedition: YUCATAN”, was published. It received food critics’ acclaim, as well as the endorsement of cooking enthusiasts and foodies everywhere.
David Sterling felt honoured when his book was nominated for the James Beard Best International Cookbook in 2015. And then, to his surprise, and great pleasure, his book also made the shortlist for “Best Cookbook of the Year”. He won both awards, and the popularity of the cooking institute and his publication soared.
For David Sterling the attention and celebrity had dual affects. On one hand, who would not take great pride in such lofty professional accomplishment? But he had always been a reserved and quiet person, so the demands for his attention and the requests for access into his personal world made him feel uncomfortable. He found himself the object of greater curiosity than he wanted any part of.
Under David’s guidance, Mario Canul had grown into an extremely professional and capable chef. He is Yucatecan, naturally personable and energetic; he gladly took on many of the behind-the scenes details, which allowed his mentor to maintain the time and private space he needed to keep his creativity engaged. David Sterling continued to give classes, but he also had room in his schedule to research his next literary project, a comprehensive look at his principal source of inspiration.
The complexity and subtle diversity of Mexico’s open-air markets fascinated David. Mario says that his teacher wanted to explore and find out why each had a special charm, all its own. He set out on excursions to photograph and record what he saw. But it soon became apparent that David’s health could not withstand the daily demands required for travel into remote areas, nor overly-busy city centers. Mario offered to accompany David on his trips and was rewarded with new insights. He reflected how early on in his career, his employer taught him all about the multiple processes behind balanced menu planning, skillful preparation, and the art of presenting a beautiful meal. Now, on these travels through the markets of Mexico, David introduced Mario to his understanding of the spiritual relationship mankind has with the food that nourishes him. Mario appreciated David’s perspective on this topic, one he had always been exposed to but never actually named .
It turned out that David did not live long enough to complete his second volume, “Mercados – Recipes from the Markets of Mexico”. However, Mario Canul had been with David Sterling all the way; he had first-hand knowledge of the markets and knew which recipes David wished to use; even the photographs had been selected. Some of the ingredients’ exact measurements were missing, but Mario was able to fill in the blanks and complete the book as David had envisioned it.
Their last trip together had been in October 2016, one month before David died. When I asked Mario about the markets, and which had been the all-around favourite of theirs, Mario immediately said that Teotitlan del Valle’s market would certainly be his and David’s choice because it surpassed all others in charm, visual and aural attractiveness. He added that the market is indigenous and sustainable; it is clean, the produce is fresh and the market vendors, respectful of their traditions. He also mentioned that this market has “the best” freshly baked bread.
“Mercados – Recipes from the Markets of Mexico” and the David Sterling’s first book, “Recipes from a Culinary Expedition: YUCATAN” are both available for purchase on Amazon. But what about LOS DOS, the cooking school created by David Sterling? Fortunately, Mario Canul is able to carry on his mentor’s legacy at the school too, and he is now mentoring his assistant, Rosana Angele. They are a young team who place high emphasis on the authentic presentation of Yucatecan recipes and techniques, as well as their clients’ personal enjoyment.
Reservations to take a class can be made on line at: https://los-dos.com/cooking-classes/ .