LOS DOS: Respecting tradition and moving along…

Mario Canul at the presentation of MERCADOS

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.

The entrance way to LOS DOS

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.

The iconic LOS DOS kitchen

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.

Two details of the living room’s mural thatdepicts Merida’s Main Plaza

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.

Rosana Angele and Mario Canul, – the hard-working young duo now in charge f clssesaaaaaaat LOS DOS

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 .

Another detail of the mural at LOS DOS… who is that smiling man waving at us?

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/ .

International Womens’ Club of Merida… Our 35th Anniversary

A Bevy of IWC Beauties

This coming week will be a memorable one because the IWC is celebrating its 35th Anniversary. I can still remember the first meeting so clearly. There were 22 women present; and for many, of us, this was the first time we realised that quite a few English-speaking women were living in Yucatan.

Some of those present were born in Merida, but they had studied or lived abroad and welcomed the opportunity to spend time with other like-minded women. Others came to live here from other countries, and for some of them, the club was literally a lifeline. I think all of us feel that cultural diversity is enriching, but for most, adaptation has been wrought with difficult periods. And the IWC has helped many of us get us through them.


Visiting Coba

Vilma Moray, a beloved member for many years used to say, “The IWC is like a buffet… you’ll love some of the offerings, but not all of them… so you take what you want to and leave the rest.” For me, that assessment is so true; I have made some of my closest friendships at the monthly meetings of the IWC. Now there are many places where the international community gathers… there are facebook groups, and… and… and… But back in 1984, the IWC was unique; and in many ways, it still is.

Friends always… Vilma, Joanna, Loretta, Rose and Juanita…

If you visit https://iwcmerida.com/  you’ll NOT be able to read about all the IWC activities our stellar board has planned for this week… so scroll down here for more details

Lenny one of the IWC scholarship recipients received her Law degree from UADY

  • A special get-together to celebrate the accomplishments of our scholarship recipients will be held on Friday November 15th at Chloe Pacheco’s home. If you can, please bring a savoury or sweet treat to share… Send me, or another member a message, and we’ll get back to you
  • And on Sunday the 17th, we’ll all enjoy a festive “White Dinner” at a local club.

(An RSVP will be appreciated if you plan on attending either of these events … further details are available in the BB, or from an IW member)

  • Art History lovers will be happy to see, that one of our members, Estela Keim will present: “Transformations of the Mona Lisa: From Middleclass Housewife to International Icon” on Saturday afternoon from 4:30 – 6:00 pm at the NH Hotel / Paseo 60.

Other activities are:

  • Hi Tea at Becky Gebser’s on Tuesday November 12th … you can find the address and directions to her house in this week’s BB. Please bring a sweet or savoury treat to share.

Menly… such a great sport always…


IWC Fridas

And following Estela’s talk on Saturday:

  • From 6:30 – 8;30 pm, the Restaurant “Cartas a Frida” on Calle 55 between 60 and 58 will have tables available for more catching up, to enjoy a drink or a snack, or just to listen to the favourite tunes we’ve recorded (in English and in Spanish) There is no minimum charge at the “Cartas a Frida” open house; whatever you order is what you’ll be charged for. Long time members will be excited to know that two former IWC presidents will be on hand… Loretta Miller and Dalila Leon … as well as a few more, I’m sure.

If you are a former IWC member, a present one, or think you might like to become a member, you are so welcome to join us. Get in touch with me, other members or a board officer.

Dalia and Joanna… Socias por siempre


Thirty-five years is a fair bit of time; hopefully over the next 35 years

Loretta and Joanna… love to cook

IWC members will continue to positively impact our community, form many wonderful friendships, continue to learn from one another and make as many memories as we have done the past  35.

I hope to see you this week! Meanwhile … here are some more photos…


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Maybe we need to think again?

Jorge and me in Gisele’s studio, 2007

Like most children growing up in Canada during the 1950s and 60s, I knew a lot about WWII history; it hadn’t been long since “the war” ended, and many families had lost uncles and fathers. As teenagers we became aware that war, disease and famine made life hell-on-earth in many parts of the world; in Vietnam and other south-east Asian countries, in much of Africa and on the Indian continent. But most of the time, we felt secure and safe from armed conflict; in Canada we had no compulsory military service, no draft. We had inner controversies that had not yet come fully into the light, but our country was not at war with any other.

I lived and worked in Peru during the early 1970s, and there, I could not deny the poverty and need I saw all around me. When I moved to Merida, I knew guerrilla combat raged in Guatemala and other Central American countries, not so far away from us. Yet, despite this exposure and peripheral experience, I never suffered hardship, and I suppose this is why I did not fully recognise the “red lights” – the clear signs – that significant changes were taking place in the world.

For my 50th birthday in 2003, my sister and I traveled to the Netherlands, and there I met my 90 year old Aunt Gisele. An accomplished artist herself, she told stories about Paris during the period when she – and Picasso, Utrillo and Matisse – were living there. She actually showed me a photo of herself and “Henri.” Everything about her was sprite-like. Even her walk. She didn’t shuffle along like most older women, she tip-toed like a ballet dancer. However, her eyes turned from forget-me-not blue to brooding navy once she started sharing her stories about the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WWII. In the living room of her XVII century home she made me understand the magnitude of Hitler’s iron-hand control over Europe. She told me about the group of Jewish friends she protected throughout the occupation of her city. She showed me where she built false walls, and opened a cavity in a player piano – so they could hide during raids – she told me about what she endured to feed them. And she told me about meeting my father.

In 1939, when he enlisted in the Canadian armed forces, he was underage; just 19 years old, but the Canadian army recruiter did not ask many questions. When Dad was deployed, his Dutch-born father gave him the contacts for his relatives still living there. He hung on to those addresses during his six years of combat. He was not quite 25 years old when he visited Gisele after the liberation of Amsterdam; I’d heard Dad’s version of the story.

“My buddy and I ‘liberated’ supplies from our unit’s kitchen; what else could we do? No one in her apartment weighed more than 80 pounds; they were starving and had nothing at all to eat.” She claimed that the food and other staples he brought saved her life and the lives of everyone in her household. Aunt Gisele’s stories deeply moved me; in fact her example inspired me to write a family memoir, CIRCLES, which was published in 2015, and presented here, in Merida on Remembrance Day of that year. I wanted the future generations of my family to know about her. In truth, her wartime role was immortalized in 2014 by a best-selling Dutch novelist; and another well-known author has researched and published an extensive biography telling about her accomplishments, as well as her foibles. Several catalogues of her art are in print – my slim volume is by no means the definitive book written about her – but CIRCLES is special to me.

Researching and writing about my aunt forced me to look deeper than what lies on the surace. One day I asked Gisele how it had been possible for the Nazis to amass so much power. I could not understand how they managed to spread such evil across much of the world. “It was easy for them,” she said. “They preyed on people’s fear. And “good” people looked away. They didn’t want to get involved; they declined to speak against Hitler because they worried his goons would come after them, which of course did eventually happen.”

I am writing about this today because recently, several people have told me they are tired of talking about the state of our world; they don’t want to read about it or see it on the news. “I have no say; so I am better off to stay away from it all,” said one of them. And to be honest, I agree that the news these days is overwhelming.

But I applaud my friends on Facebook (John, Sean, Patricia and others) who say what they feel about the very worrying state of worldwide politics and policies. And in some of the blogs I follow, people like Richard share their research into controversial issues. “Beating a dead horse,” is the horrible cliché that one person used to describe the actions of those who speak out. I know it is frightening to look closely at what is going on. It seems like a stretch to imagine that history could be repeating itself to this degree. But think about the rise of intolerance, xenophobia, thugs in the streets, and no-holds-barred materialism – many of the same “signs”, present in pre-war Germany, are flashing bright-red warnings now – and we do have our own 21st Century  bully, don’t we?

Remembrance Day is on November 11th, and I for one will take time to give thanks for the many freedoms I could easily lose. My friends who tell it like they see it don’t like standing up on a soap box – no one does – but they do so often and with determination. Some say only alarmists think a worldwide conflict could ever happen again. Maybe we need to think again?Shouldn’t each of us try to be aware of what the ill-intentioned voices are saying, and resist complacency?