After my fourth trip to Oaxaca, arguably Mexico's most vibrant food city, I'm still convinced that it's one of the most magical places on earth. The open-air markets, which seem infinite in scope and scale, are extraordinary, the people of colonial Oaxaca are some of the most intensely welcoming in the world and the food is above reproach, especially the moles, of which there's one for each day of the week. The dry, temperate air is scented with chiles, chocolate and handmade corn tortillas griddled over an open flame; balloons, the colors of a pinata, bob and soar above the zocalo, Oaxaca's vibrant center square; and mezcal, Oaxaca's favorite head-hazing poison, is poured -- and drunk -- with reckless regard to hangovers.
All of which is to say that if you haven't had the opportunity to experience Oaxaca, you should go. Even better, you should go with Sean Yontz, exec chef of Tambien, Sketch and a new, still unnamed Mexican restaurant that will open in the next month at the corner of First and Broadway.
Yontz and Becky Creighton, who leads Denver's Culinary Connectors restaurant and market tours, have teamed up with Ron Cooper of Del Maguey Mezcal to lead the Oaxaca excursion, which takes place August 8-14.
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It's not cheap -- packages start at nearly $3,000 per person, but Yontz insists that it's worth every peso. "It's definitely a more expensive trip," he admits, "but while you can go to Oaxaca and sightsee on your own, you can't have dinner at mezcal pioneer Ron Cooper's bodega, participate in really intimate chef-led tours, stay at the best hotel in Oaxaca, have the chefs from the best restaurants cook for you and eat the best corn leaf tamales in the world," says Yontz.
"What we've got planned," promises Yontz, is "super-exclusive for Oaxaca." Plans, he says, that include market stops, hands-on cooking lessons, restaurant and mezcal distillery tours, chocolate and coffee expeditions and street food jaunts. "It's really a lot of cool stuff," says Yontz, who's been at the forefront of Denver's Mexican food scene for more than ten years, when he was first recruited by Richard Sandoval to be the executive chef of Tamayo.
The $2,995 per person price tag includes airfare, hotel and pretty much everything else, except for the handmade jewelry that the persistent Oaxacan women hawk around the zocalo, which will deplete your wallet faster than Sean Yontz can toss back a bottle of mezcal.
For all the trip details, go to www.savorytravel.com/oaxaca/.