18 January 2016


You think it is hard to get reviews for your new restaurant in Manhattan, think about how hard it is to get great reviews in Tulum.

Where is Tulum?


Heartwood embodies one of those tales that people talk of, but rarely do we see them come to fruition. So...once upon a time...2009, to be exact, Eric Werner and Mya Henery were headed back to New York after a brief vacation in Tulum, Mexico.  That's where Tulum is,  the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It was place Henry's family visited for years. But in 2009, they thought, why are we going back to the cold to cook food, make no money, spend most of it for rent, have no time nor money for kids when we could open a restaurant on the beach, cook great food, have no money but live on the beach.  It sounded too good to be true.

Truth is, for most people, cooking with François Payard and Wylie Dufresne would satisfy most people. They would talk a good game, but never save up the money to head to Mexico and open a restaurant. But Werner and Henery weren't most people.

And off they went. Before you think it was all surf and sand and rainbows, think again.  On the beach means slightly off the beach in the jungle.  It means no laundry delivery, no electricity, and no real roof. So cooking on an open fire, getting rained on, getting bitten by spiders are all in a days work. 

After many of those days, people started talking about Hartwood. It was worth the excursion and more and more and more people made it to this jungle hideaway. The food was simple but exploding with flavor, even if you might get rained on. The more people ventured out, the more they talked about the food.

Now you, too, can talk about the food and cook some of it right in your own kitchen.  Hartwood by Eric Werner and Mya Henry tells tales of their adventure and offers up recipes that can be replicated in lowly kitchen with its roof and electricity. While there is much fish and pork, this recipe, for one our favorite vegetables caught our eye.

Roasted Beets with Avocado Habanero Crema

4 large beets, scrubbed 
One 6-inch piece sugarcane, split in half (optional)
8 basil sprigs
Olive oil for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ground allspice  
1 ripe Hass avocado, halved, pitted, and peeled 
1/2 habanero, seeded (leave the seeds in if you want a hotter sauce)
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste 
 Chile Lime Salt (for garnish) 
Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Put the beets, sugarcane, if using, and basil in a baking dish and fill about one-third full with water. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until a knife pierces all the way through a beet easily. Remove the beets from the liquid and let cool slightly. Increase the oven temperature to 425 F.

Meanwhile, make the avocado-habanero crema: Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high for about 10 seconds. Turn off the blender and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula to make sure everything gets a turn. Repeat until a smooth cream forms—this will take more than a few tries. Season to taste if necessary. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until ready to serve.

Cut the beets in half and place in a large cast-iron skillet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the beets are hot all the way though and the ends have started to crisp up.

Serve the beets topped with the crema, dusted with allspice and chile lime salt.

4 dried árbol chiles 
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Grated zest of 3 limes

Toast the chiles in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Let cool. Pulse the chiles in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Mix with the salt and lime zest. Store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool place. Makes about 2 tablespoons.

Don't get caught up in what seems like a lot of ingredients.  Read it over and and it won't seem as intimidating.

After the food, get caught up in the adventure. You know you want to open a restaurant in Mexico...and it is snowing outside, so go ahead and dream.

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