by Anne Dimon,
When Chef Stefania of Vinos + Tapas in San Miguel de Allende invited me to join her on a shopping expedition to a nearby farm, I jumped at the opportunity to breathe some fresh country air and get away (at least for an afternoon) from the weekend crowds of this increasingly popular Spanish Colonial city in central Mexico.
It takes us about 45 minutes to reach one of her favorite local producers, a private, family-owned farm which turns out to be somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Literally. There is no name for the community where the farm is located, and the dirt roads that connect farms, homes, the local primary school and at least one store have no names. Fortunately, our driver Lewis – also the restaurants’ night bartender – knows his way around, as he drives the Chef out here at least a couple of times a month.
As we head out, Chef Stefani tells me there are just two items on her shopping list: arugula (the best in the region she says) and the farm-made cheese (also muy bueno.) Beyond that, she’ll simply check out what looks good, and buy accordingly.
At just 26 years of age, Stefania already co-owns and operates her own restaurant. The upscale Vinos + Tapas with modern Mexican decor, and located just a few blocks from the central El Jardine and the city’s iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. She describes the cuisine as “Mediterranean with a touch of Mexican.”
Fascinated by the culinary world since she started helping out in the kitchen of a San Miguel restaurant at the age of 12, she later went on to study at Colegio Superior de Gastronomía in Mexico City.
As we walk around the “aisles” of this sprawling farm, checking out the merchandise still rooted in the soil, the chef selects artichokes (squeezing them to make sure they are ready by the sound of the crunch) and garlic bulbs. “They look really nice,” she says referring to the garlic as gardener Jorge pulls them out by their roots, “and will last a week or two when placed in water.” As we pass a patch of baby beets and she stoops to pull out a handful, she admits, “I’m a big fan of beets and they are one of our best dishes.” A handful of alfalfa for infused water, baby carrots, purple broccoli and, finally, we stop at the arugula patch. The chef snaps off a leaf, hands it to me to taste and we agree that it’s the most flavorful arugula we have ever tasted. While Jorge busies himself with cutting the arugula, Stefania collects the plants’ tiny white, four-leaf flowers that will also eventually find themselves in a Vinos + Tapas salad.
Her shopping basket is already full by the time we make our way to the cheese shed.