The 16-acre farm is owned by Enrique Silva, a fixture in Cabos’ food scene for the better part of 30 years. Head waiter, chef, beef salesman, restaurateur, he’s had many titles, always connected to food and hospitality. Twelve years ago, he added farmer to his resume. Obsessed with field-to-table cooking, he went out and bought the damn farm. After renovating the historic homestead that overlooks the estate, he opened a small cooking school and named it Tamarindos. Shortly thereafter he added a restaurant, where the dining room is entirely outdoors.
The “cooking class” begins with a walk through the fields to see what looks ripe: heirloom tomatoes, squash blossoms, cantaloupe, passion fruit, limes, habanero chiles, avocados, mangos, bananas, beets, carrots, rosemary, mint, sage… Before you know it, you’ve filled an enormous straw basket with more bounty than you can possibly eat. When you partake in a cooking class here, you become an unwitting farm hand. That’s the whole idea.
But for a burly, jovial man in a floppy straw hat who drives the tractor, the actual farmers here are all women. Tamarindos raises chickens and quail but no four-legged livestock. So any meat on the menu other than poultry comes from neighboring producers who specialize in those things, much of it bartered.
Los Cabos is best known for its seafood, though, and for that Silva drives daily to a nearby marina to buy fish directly from the fishermen. On the day of my visit, this means beautiful red snapper and kampachi.
The scent of wood smoke fills the air as we tie on our aprons. The classroom on the terrace includes a large grill, a comal and a hearth, all fueled by wood. Inside the 1888 house, the original kitchen has been retrofitted with a modern gas stove. That’s where much of the prep gets handled.
We quickly transform our freshly picked herbs into a fragrant oil, which we’ll use to make green Mexican rice. We also brush it onto beets, carrots, eggplants and other veggies still filled with sunshine and now destined for the raging hearth. The kampachi gets broken down into excellent Cabo-style sashimi with fresh avocado and serranos.
By now the mezcal is kicking in. We started drinking an hour ago. Now’s when the chef takes over and rubs the snapper with the guajillo chile paste we just made. That’s our queue to move to the shaded dining room — where tables are set with just-clipped daisies and zinnias — and wait for that snapper to emerge from the oven.
Don’t look now but here comes more mezcal. It’s time for a vertical tasting of artisanal bottlings made not from farmed agave but from from wild-harvested plants foraged on the hillsides around Santiago Matatlán, in Oaxaca. It’s Sylva’s own label, a small-batch mezcal called La Venia. The gift shop here is one of the few places you will ever find it. And you really don’t want to leave Mexico without a couple bottles of this stuff.
Long story short: The fish is delicious, and here’s the recipe.
Tamarindo’s Red Snapper a la Talla
4 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. sundried oregano
1 medium garlic clove
5 guajillo chiles, seeded, deveined and blanched; reserve 2 Tbsp. the cooking water for later
Roasted black pepper
1 red snapper (about 5 lbs), scaled, gutted, butterflied and boned
Freshly pressed and griddled corn tortillas
Step 1. Catch a red snapper.
Step 2. Build a fire in the wood-burning oven* and pour yourself a mezcal.
Step 3. In a blender, combine the chiles, reserved chile water, oregano and garlic. Blend until smooth, then strain to remove some of the seeds and large fibers.
Step 4. Whisk in the mayo, mustard and paprika. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Step 5. Spread the paste over the fish, inside and out.
Step 6. Roast the fish at 300F for about 25 minutes, until the paste looks toasted. It should have a light crust on top while still very moist underneath/inside.
Step 7. Serve with tortillas and limes.
*Pescado (fish) a la talla is typically cooked over a wood-fired grill (talla). At Tamarindos (and throughout Los Cabos), many chefs prefer a wood-burning oven. If you don’t have one of those, a conventional oven will suffice. And if you happen to have a large cedar plank for roasting fish, this might be a good time to remember where you put it.
Classes start at $95 and last about three hours. Calle de Las Animas s/n, Animas Bajas, 23407, San José del Cabo; +52-624-105-6031; lostamarindos.mx
NOTE ABOUT TRAVELING DURING COVID: Tourism in Los Cabos is open to international travelers. However, COVID-19 is still a huge concern. You can monitor the local virus situation here. All things considered, though, Los Cabos feels pretty safe. The local government currently mandates that all individuals continue to wear masks throughout the destination at all times when interacting with others who are not members of their household, except when eating, drinking, swimming, etc. Most hotels I witnessed take the mitigation protocols very seriously, with strict social distancing, touchless menus, enhanced cleaning, etc. Note that U.S. and Canadian citizens are required to present a negative COVID-19 result within 48 hours prior to returning home. All hotels in Los Cabos offer convenient testing on-site (a system that also allows them to routinely test their own staff). #getvaccinated and #stopthespread