Practice Makes Perfect: Staying Competitive in Puerto Vallarta’s Thriving Restaurant Scene-Main

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2006 issue.

Many of us have heard the joke in which a famous musician is stopped on the streets of New York by a passer-by with a question: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” And the musician immediately answers: “Practice!” Whether this is, indeed, a joke or an anecdote is hard to tell; however, the fact is that you can only excel at what you do if you practice constantly. And when you are a chef in Puerto Vallarta, a city that is now considered Mexico’s gourmet destination of choice, the challenge to constantly reinvent yourself is never-ending.

Just as athletes train for the Olympics, chefs around the world look forward to analogous competitive events that allow them to showcase their expertise, and also serve as opportunities to learn from one another. Puerto Vallarta’s culinary fraternity takes this aspect very seriously, often partnering to participate in such competitions. And just as athletes rely on their coaches for advice and guidance, young Vallarta chefs look up to their more-seasoned colleagues for mentorship.

Pivotal to this philosophy is award-winning master chef Thierry Blouet, founder of world-famous Café des Artistes here in Puerto Vallarta. A member of the Academie Culinaire de France, in 2000 Blouet was awarded the rank of Maitre Cuisinier in France, the most prestigious of all chef awards. He has been a member of the jury in virtually every national culinary competition, including those that qualify winning chefs to participate in international events. Truly committed to preserving his craft, Thierry Blouet began mentoring young local chefs a decade ago, beginning with Felipe Pelayo, who currently is executive chef at Bogart’s in Puerto Vallarta.

Blouet’s latest successful mentorship is Agave Grill’s chef Oscar Galván, who just returned to Puerto Vallarta from Mexico City having received a gold medal at Expo ABASTUR, organizer of Mexico’s most important gastronomic competition. Galván’s association with Thierry Blouet goes back to 2000. While still attending cooking school in Mexico City, he was invited by Blouet to do his practical training at Café des Artistes, where he remained for several months. He was only 19 years old at the time, but had already displayed a keen interest in both French and traditional Mexican cuisine. Back in Mexico City, Galván completed his studies at Ambrosia, Mexico’s finest culinary institute, and went on to Sheraton’s Centro Histórico hotel in Mexico City, where he quickly climbed the ladder to become sub-executive chef. He participated in several competitions during his Sheraton tenure, one of which resulted in a chance meeting with William Carballo, owner of Puerto Vallarta’s prestigious Barcelona Tapas restaurant. A friendship quickly developed. Carballo, who was partnering with Terry Hale to open Agave Grill, a new gourmet Mexican restaurant in El Centro, invited Galvan to join the venture. Galván accepted the invitation. The combination of his culinary expertise along with Carballo’s restaurant experience and Hale’s long-time passion for Mexican food, wine and tequila, paid off. And in only two years they have turned Agave Grill into a top-notch restaurant dedicated to preserving the heritage of traditional Mexican cuisine, while keeping it fresh with a contemporary flair.

And how fortunate we are that this passionate, ongoing commitment to reach the highest standards of culinary sophistication is taking place right here in Puerto Vallarta! By the time you read this, Agave Grill will have closed for a few weeks and re-opened after a substantial kitchen and dining room renovation. The changes will be subtle, but will allow chef Galvan to continue his quest. So if you are a Mexican food aficionado, you will feel right at home in Puerto Vallarta at restaurants such as Agave Grill, Los Xitomates, El Arrayán and a few others, where you will savor a rich variety of our cuisine. If, on the other hand, you associate Mexican food with tacos, tostadas, fajitas or other items commonly found in a popular US fast food chain, you simply must sample other aspects Mexico’s cuisine at any of these fine restaurants. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.