The Signature Carolina Restaurant at St. Regis Punta Mita, honored consecutively since 2010 with the distinguished AAA Five Diamond Award, has embarked on a process of reinventing itself. Executive Chef José Meza now leads a veteran kitchen staff as they create and showcase innovative Mexican cuisine. The soft-spoken young culinary genius exudes a passion for life, family, time-honored recipes and fashioning an assortment of dishes that take you beyond gourmet.
Chef Meza said, “The idea is to take flavors from my childhood and national classic recipes to a new place.” His approach and style are reinterpreting established dishes and at the same time redefining the future of Mexican gastronomy. The imaginative, visionary Chef Meza offers a menu emphasizing fresh seasonal ingredients. Carolina is a fine dining experience that focuses on delivering Mexican cuisine that is traditionally inspired, inventively original, creatively formulated and artistically presented.
An ambiance of understated elegance and engaging hospitality continues at Carolina. The unique contemporary interior design reflects a stylish and charming backdrop with high-beamed ceilings, wood floors, large glass windows, cocktail lounge, and indoor and outside terrace seating. The evolution of Carolina is evident in the cuisine while the décor retains a familiar beachside theme with splashes of color added to enhance the spirit of Mexico.
Chef Meza utilizes contemporary techniques and established methods to offer a new-age of modern Mexican cuisine. I had the pleasure of savoring a variety of unique and delicious culinary formulations during a five hour tasting complemented by Casa Madero Chardonnay. The flavors were intoxicating, ingenious and fascinating fusions from locally sourced ingredients: perfectly ripened fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood, meats and spices.
The lineup of hits just kept coming. Appetizers of Tortilla Soup, a one bite creamy tomato paste consistency in a spoon; Scallop Chip with hints of lime and chili; and a uniquely contrived Quesadilla that looked like a subterranean truffle, but in actuality was a huauzontle leaf wrapped around Oaxaca cheese, covered with corn tortilla dough and fried.
Each entree seemingly better than the one before continued to impress: Green Pozole Ceviche with the catch of the day huanchinango (red snapper); Cacahuazintle Corn (Maize) and Fish Chicharron; Quail Tacos; Creamy Cactus Noodles over tuna toro on a crispy tostada; Cactus noodles and Cotija cheese topped with a quail egg (Mexican Alfredo fettuccine); Smoked Robalo (Common Snook), and Lobster al Pastor.
The desserts continued to please: Chef Meza called the first Apple Mezcal. It was sorbet blend of apple and mezcal sitting atop a cactus noodle granité. Second up was inspired by a tascalate drink recipe from Chiapas. The combination of ingredients resulted in a chocolate mousse covered with a crumble of tortilla, almonds, cacao chips and almond juice sorbet.
Carolina’s Mexican cuisine delivered subtle flavors and textures that were off the charts. Before the evening was over in rolled the tequila cart to sample a few top-shelf selections. I was sated and ready to call it a night. Ooh, la, la – viva la vida – good night, Irene!
Chef Meza’s family inspired cooking fervor, training, encouragement by master chefs and a developed style utilizing traditional recipes and local ingredients generate surprising combinations that are simply brilliant. His creations, fashioned with skill, artistry and originality are magical gastronomic delights that have left a lasting impression.
Dining at Carolina is complemented by an accomplished, affable and gracious team. The atmosphere, setting and contributions of the hostess, kitchen staff, bartender, manager, waiters and servers guarantees an excellent experience.
Meet some of the Carolina team:
You’ll find yourself surrounded by a pleasant group of talented hospitality professionals who know food and understand discriminating diners. Their collective contributions combined to prepare and present delicious cuisine and impeccable service in a luxurious and comfortable atmosphere.
Signature Chef José Meza offers a unique gastronomic journey where reinvention and an integration of customary methods and contemporary techniques that foster the creation of modern Mexican cuisine. In essence, his works of art are traditional Mexican family recipes with a twist. Deeply soaked in his country’s heritage, Chef Meza takes inspiration from his passion for classic ingredients, local produce and daily catches to create intimate connections with the people, land and sea.
Chef Meza’s interest in cooking began in his grandmother’s Mexico City kitchen. His road to Punta Mita was paved with a degree in gastronomy from Mexico City’s CESSA University, training under extraordinary world-renowned chefs, and at Michelin Star restaurants: at Martin Berastegui in Spain and Noma in Denmark (San Pellegrino’s #1 restaurant in the world) under chefs Bart de Pooter and Rene Redzepi. The prodigy returned to Mexico City where he joined the kitchen team at the highly acclaimed Pujol. With Chef Enrique Olvera as mentor, he developed a style using traditional ingredients, learned techniques, and mastered recipes that enhanced his adoration of Mexican cooking. As head chef, Meza opened Moxi, an Olvera restaurant in San Miguel de Allende (recently ranked # 1 restaurant in Mexico and # 3 in Latin America) before taking the helm at St. Regis Punta Mita’s Carolina as maestro of gastronomy. The 25-year-old Chef Meza defies his years, demonstrating a depth of knowledge and understanding imbedded in a dazzling menu of signature dishes.
I couldn’t agree more with Carl Emberson, GM at St. Regis Punta Mita, who said, “We are thrilled to welcome José Meza as executive chef of our beloved Carolina Restaurant, who will debut a new concept that promises to explore the past, present, and future of Mexican cuisine. We are confident that Chef Meza’s extensive knowledge and experience, along with his distinct take on fusing conventional and avant-garde Mexican cuisine, will push the boundaries of epicurean excellence.”
Restaurant Manager Abel Morales brings to Carolina an accomplished background of academic study and work at top level dining establishments. A Bachelor of Arts degree from Glion Institute of Higher Education in Bulle, Switzerland and a Masters of Business Economics from the University Anahauc del Norte in Mexico City, demonstrate a commitment to learning that continues on the job.
Abel’s skills and knowledge have been developed and refined through experiences in operations, food and beverage, revenue control and human relations at avant-garde and innovative restaurants worldwide. His impressive portfolio includes positions at Chef Diego Hernandez’s Corozan de Tierra in Ensenada, Baja California (considered one of the 50 best Latin America restaurants in the world), Grupo Restaurantero EMA and Hotel Las Alcobas in Mexico City, and at Sofitel Westlake in Hangzhou, China.
The 27-year-old maintains the quality and attention to detail essential for operating a well-run, fine dining restaurant. Abel said, “Jose begins as head chef with an experienced kitchen staff and enthusiastically works with them to maintain the fine dining experience at Carolina while working with their individual personalities to create exceptional Mexican food.” In a calm and respectful way, Abel coordinates with the staff to deliver the highest level of quality food, ambiance and service for Carolina’s discriminating guest diners to insure that hospitality is a whole exceeding the sum of its parts.
“I aspire to being able to grow within something I love,” he said. Abel’s adulation of Carolina Restaurant is evidenced by the way he oversees operations.
Waiter Cesar Estrada’s presence was immediately engaging. His easygoing demeanor revealed a genuinely sincere and gentle man whose relaxed manner and peaceful nature offered exceptional hospitality and good company. Cesar demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of the menu offerings: their ingredients, preparation, and presentation. In addition he is well-versed on wines and liquors, particularly the many top-shelf tequila selections at Carolina. The 28 year old Tepic native enjoys learning, not only to be better at a job he loves but also to provide a memorable guest experience.
Cesar completed a five-year college program in tourism at the Autonomous University in Tepic, Mexico. His final year included cooking and food service internships in San Francisco, France, and San Miguel Allende. While in school, he worked at a restaurant to pay bills and help his family. After graduating he was employed at the Grand Villas in Playa de Carmen before joining the St. Regis Punta Mita staff in 2010 as a waiter at Las Marietas and Sea Breeze. In 2012 Cesar accepted a position at Carolina where he has demonstrated competence, graciousness and a level of performance that’s made him a favorite.
When asked his thoughts on the new direction of Carolina, Cesar said, “It is with pride to share and create the meaning of Mexican gastronomy, a celebration of a culture, community and its food.”
Executive Chef Gabriel Kolofon arrived in 2014 with a resume befitting the important and prestigious position at St. Regis Punta Mita, a luxury resort known for its innovative cuisine. He oversees the entire culinary team including 55 staff members at Carolina, Las Marietas, Sea Breeze and Mary Mita restaurants, plus 22 additional personnel for guest functions and special events.
Chef Kolofon was happy to share his story that brought him to the shores of Punta Mita as executive chef, but was also eager to get back to work. On a daily basis, he applies his skills and talents honed through the years. He has been described as “creating and presenting food with simple sophistication and utilizing local ingredients to create unique haute cuisine that blends the traditional with a contemporary Latin flare.” I had an opportunity to watch Chef Kolofon demonstrate and lead a full contingent team in the preparation and presentation of a most delicious flavor laden surf and turf dinner I later savored on the beach at sunset and under the night sky.
Cooking was something Chef Kolofon has enjoyed since he was a boy living in his parent’s home. After earning a degree as an Electrical Mechanical Technician and a short lived job with his father’s business making and supplying dental hardware, he embraced his older brother’s encouragement to explore and do what he really wanted. A culinary diploma in his home country of Argentina soon followed from The BUE Trainers Institute, as did the study of Classic Spanish Cuisine at Oviedo Restaurant and Classic French Cuisine at Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires. Chef Kolofon’s 14 year professional hospitality career incorporates a consummate lineup of chef experiences at upscale luxury properties in Mexico, Chicago, Telluride, and St. Lucia. They include: Palapa Playa Mortes Tropical, a Mexican fusion fine dining restaurant in Puerto Vallarta; Westin and Rosewood resorts in Los Cabos; Capella Telluride, Capella Group, Telluride, CO; Hotel 71, Capella Group, Chicago, IL; Villa del Arco, The Villa Group Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Capella St. Lucia; and Capella Pedregal in Los Cabos.
Chef Kolofon doesn’t hesitate to roll up his sleeves and work cheerfully alongside team members in kitchens or wherever needed at the resort. He loves to eat as well as prepare authentic Mexican food at a beach palapa bar or a fine dining restaurant. Chef Kolofon envisions the Sea Breeze retaining its current focus as a Latin Bistro offering Peruvian, Brazilian and Argentinian cuisine. His passion and creativity will no doubt continue to develop innovative culinary ideas for implementation at St. Regis Punta Mita.