Eric Werner, the Yucatán-obsessed chef behind Tulum’s Hartwood restaurant, has spent years exploring the colorful peninsula. Along the way, he’s picked up the recipes and techniques that underscore his breezy, buzzy restaurant and his new book, Hartwood, which debuts in October. He also developed an incurable fascination with the place—and was more than happy to share a few of his favorite discoveries.
You can swim in an ancient cenote: “We really like to go to Valladolid, which is about an hour and a half from Tulum. The market there is very special because it’s all about the small family farms in the area. Every day they bring in local vegetables and fruit, anything from beans, corn, and squash to pineapple, mango, and sugarcane. It’s a very large larder for me. My wife and I usually take our daughter to visit Cenote Zaci, in the center of the city. It’s a beautiful cenote (a natural swimming hole) that’s existed for hundreds of years—it was used by the original Mayans in that area. I highly recommend it as a day trip.”
You can go far, far off the beaten path: “I love to go to Campeche, on the Gulf Coast. It’s a very large, colonial city in the Yucatán. It’s a little different from the rest of the peninsula because it doesn’t really have any beaches. It doesn’t get many tourists. But it’s where a lot of the shrimp comes from, which you can eat prepared as a ceviche on the malecon. There’s a special hacienda there, called Hacienda Campeche. You could easily spend a weekend here.”
Isolation equals inspiration: “The state of the Yucatán is separated from many things. We don’t get much news down here—a lot of places still don’t even have internet—so we don’t get a chance to see the trends that are happening. And that allows for a heartfelt, creative direction, or it allows for a following in the traditional style of cooking that the Yucatán is known for. It’s very freeing as a chef—it has allowed my true direction to come through.”
The produce is a trip: “There are some very rare and unique vegetables here. My recent discovery is melon de milpas, a cross between a melon and a squash. It looks like a squash on the outside but when you open it, it’s all cantaloupe and smells very sweet. We serve that with grilled pork belly with cacao—in the book. If you come to Tulum, you can learn about these rare vegetables in one of our food workshops with Casa de las Olas.”
You’ll feel right at home: “All throughout the Yucatán, people are so welcoming and always curious about new faces. I’ve never come across a misconception about this place. It’s the best of both worlds: The Caribbean sea, in all different colors, combined with a Mayan culture that is forever teaching and accepting of tourists and other communities. It’s what drives my creativity and will always be a major part of my life.”
Planning a trip to Tulum? Here’s what you need to know.