When Chef Eleazar Bonnilla set out to do The Chef’s Table tasting menu at La Zebra Tulum, he was determined to bring to its guest the joy of cooking he learned as a young child. Growing up in a large family in Querétaro, Mexico, he was surrounded by people who loved to cook. His father owned a tortilla shop and his mother and grandmother were excellent cooks, bringing traditional tastes, scents, and textures to the table every day.
Querétaro is one of the smallest states in all Mexico and the traditional food there reflects a mix of Mexican culture going back as far as the Chichimecas that inhabited this region with Spaniard influences. Some of the most famous local dishes are the traditional Queretaro enchiladas, the pambazos of Santiago de Querétaro, the corn gorditas of Colón, the barbecue of Cadereyta, the bocoles of Landa de Matamoros, all filled with rich flavors and colors and reminiscent of a forgotten love for aesthetically pleasing foods.
Food was not only something that brought his family together around the table, but it was deeply centered in tradition and a love story to Mexico itself. After he learned all there was to learn from his family, he set out to travel around Mexico and learn from trained regional chefs everything he could about various spices, textures, flavors and how to mix them to yield the most delicious Mexican foods. He wanted to be innovative and at the same time traditional in his approach to food.
Chef Eleazar was a natural talent in the kitchen, something that was quickly recognized by the critics as he became one of the up-and-coming chefs in Mexico. He created and evolved his own style from an instinctual affinity for combining flavors and textures. After roaming throughout the entire country and learning from the best, Eleazar found a home in Tulum, where the Mayan team and Yucatecan ingredients resonated with him most of all and where he became a Head Chef. Along with a team of talented culinary masters which he oversees, Chef Eleazar took over the restaurant at La Zebra and shaped it to be a local and visitor favorite.
La Zebra, a boutique hotel on the beaches of Tulum is a luxurious haven for all who are looking for bliss and contentment. Newly remodeled and revamped, it offers a phenomenal dining experience, soulful drinks, and amazing music, embodying a tantalizing Mexican Caribbean beach chic vacation for all who visit. This is where Chef Eleazar found a home for his new Chef’s Table experience. To create one of the most amazing dining experience, Chef Eleazar developed a menu where he shares his very personal life story in a symphonic flow, taking his guests on a culinary journey of flavors and tales from his true Mexican heart. The dining room itself is reminiscent of a Mexican home, decorated with antiques and getting its glow from numerous candles lit around the room, yet with the comforts and luxuries of modern living. The table and chairs, made out of mahogany wood are in stark contrast with the simplicity and the colors of the rest of the room and offer an extra layer of luxury and comfort to the environment.
The eight-course tasting menu, designed for a maximum of eight people to make the experience intimate and feel more like a dinner with friends, rather than a bustling, busy restaurant, is a presentation of surprising creations, slightly familiar but at-the-same time decidedly modern and distinctive, paired with signature cocktails, local artisanal beer and fabulous wines from Mexico. The 8-Course menu is innovative, but it keeps the vitality and diversity of the Mexican culture intact, while at the same time elevating the dining experience to a luxurious standard. Over the course of multiple hours, the Chef’s Table experience is an escalated series of fire, smoke, sizzling, boiling, chopping, and an open curtain to reveal the chefs own culinary stage and the artistry in the kitchen. It is an intimate experience where he shares who he is through an evening of culinary magic. The guests can also opt for an open kitchen where they can see the chef in action before delivering the amazing dishes to their table.
The eight courses are a chronological and evolutionary storytelling of Chef Eleazar, how he started to get familiar with corn as his father made a living by making tortillas and how he started to understand cooking by his grandmother who would cook for his family of nearly 70 people every week to him becoming a professional cook and eventually moving on to more complex flavors as he became a Chef and to present time when he is an upcoming figure in the Mexican gastronomy scene. Every dish is corn-based or corn related, as Chef Eleazar thinks of himself as the son of corn, not only because of his father’s profession but also as a primary flavor and the base of Mexican food and true identity.
Besides corn, avocado, chile, radish, cilantro, and lemon are common elements in his cooking. Luckily, in the Yucatan Peninsula, fresh ingredients, particularly fruits and vegetables, are abundant, juicy, and full of flavor. However, having traveled extensively through Mexico, Eleazar brings several ingredients from other parts of the country such as tuna and octopus from Ensenada, queso oreado from Queretaro, flour tortillas from Sonora, or chile chilaca from Hidalgo. To get a better idea of his journey, Chef Eleazar named each course creatively and connects it with a stage in his life.
- EL HIJO DEL MAÍZ (the child of corn)
- MI ABUELA Y SUS CAZUELAS (my grandmother and her pots)
- SABORES PRIMARIOS (primary flavors)
- JUGANDO AL ALQUIMISTA (playing the alchemist)
- EN EL MAR, LA VIDA ES MÁS SABROSA (life has more flavor on the beach)
- DESCUBRIENDO LOS SABORES MAYAS (discovering the Mayan flavors)
- A MI MANERA (my way)
- DULCE AMOR (sweet love)
As Chef Eleazar himself puts it when he introduces the first course: “At the table is the first course, a plain and simple representation of who I am. I am the son of corn, like the tostadas before you, I am the spicy sauces before you, I am Mexican and proud of my indigenous origins and the happiness I have felt since the first time I put on my own white Chef’s uniform. Thank you for being now part of my story by dining here with me tonight. Enjoy!”
| Photos credit of La Zebra Tulum