On invitation from Seattle hospitality legend Graham "GG" Graham, Sea Creatures' front of house managers journeyed to Oaxaca, Mexico. We had the pleasure of connecting with Oaxaca resident Alvin Starkman, "a recognized authority on local distilled and fermented beverages," who, by way of palenques and early-morning mezcal, introduced us to his adopted home.
Of course, we did more than drink mezcal. We toured pyramids and churches, took in the Easter processions, and met with artisans and craftspeople--sword makers, paper makers, painters, printers, weavers, ceramicists, mezcaleros, cooks, bartenders, and more. We left with full hearts, full bellies, and spinning heads.
In order to make sense of the experience, we exchanged pictures, stories, and reflections over email. A lot of what we shared fell into one of few categories--favorite foods and drinks, ideas borrowed, surprises, and favorite memories. Here are the highlights, copied and pasted from our emails:
FAVORITE FOODS AND DRINKS:
The tacos in general were a highlight – shrimp tacos at La Popular, tongue tacos at El Detilado, pork “gringo” tacos at that late night place Julio took us to our first night – but the taco at Sirilo was the winner for me--octopus, peanut salsa, chicharron, avocado and mango...-Yuriko
My favorite Drink was the Pepino Cooler at El Olivio. What is not to love about cucumber, mezcal, dry vermouth, lime and herbs.-Marley
One of my most favorite dishes...was a fully skinned mango on a stick dusted with chili and chapulines (dried, ground grasshoppers). Sweet, spicy and full of protein!-Ellie
The roast chicken in Tlacalulu market was exquisite.-Michael
I loved the meal we collaborated on together at Pilar's home--particularly the memilitas de huitalacochet [corn fungus].-Michael
My favorite meals were all of the lunches--street side, no electricity, barbacoa, musicians, playgrounds, homemade infusions--that felt so much more authentic and less catered to tourists...-David
My favorite was the tasting we did at Mezcaloteca...I found Andrea to be hugely engaging and informative. It was inspiring without being overwhelming...I liked the choose your own adventure technique she employed towards the end – having us choose what we wanted to taste based on what we’d learned and discovered up to that point.-Yuriko
IDEAS YOU'RE BRINGING HOME:
Agua Frescas!!! The flavors of Oaxaca--earthy, roasted chilies balanced with fresh, bright fruit and herbs.-Marley
One thing that is very prominent in Oaxaca is pride. The people take pride in their town, fellow artisans and products. We should do the same.-Ellie
This trip was a truly amazing reminder of how impassioned you can become about something when you know the story behind it. Meeting Felix, seeing his family and getting to witness the mezcal process first hand at his palenque – this was an experience that made his mezcal special to me over all of the others we’d tried...this trip was a great reminder for me of how to better try to inspire my team when it comes to continuing education. Make it about the people and the stories behind the products, not just the products themselves.-Yuriko
The biggest surprise of the trip is that I will absolutely be returning to the city. The organized itinerary was intense, but I feel we really only scratched the surface of what all is going on in Oaxaca.-David
I like mezcal now! Truth be told, I kind of hated mezcal before our trip. Casey has tried me on countless samples at Barrio, and I’d never found one that didn’t cause me to make a face. I had no idea that what’s available to us stateside is only the tiniest glimpse of what is produced in Oaxaca.-Yuriko
I was most surprised by the rudimentary and rustic nature of the palenques. I assumed, they would be a little more like a small distillery or brewery...I am enamored with their rural character. Though, visiting has raised a lot of question in our minds as to what will happen with Mezcal as an industry as the spirit grows in popularity.-Marley
Any and all van rides! When you put 13 people in a van together and start them off with Mezcal at 9 in the morning, you know shits going to get weird! Aside from the exploration of all things Mexico, this was a fabulous way to get to know my coworkers. We all work together but rarely get to play together!-Ellie
I think Jermaine sleeping in his underwear on the hotel lobby couch probably takes the gold for funny stories, but so many other experiences stand out in my mind! The first night for "team party," marathon eating through three dinners...Jamie singing the music to “Eye of the Tiger” as she recorded Jeremy running up the HUGE flight of stairs at Monte Alban...having breakfast together every (well most) mornings and recounting stories from the previous day and night...watching that woman make pottery entirely by hand without the use of a wheel...going to an art party that most of us thought was going to be a NYC SoHo wine and cheese kind of party and then realizing we’d walked into Oaxaca’s version of a warehouse rave...drinking margaritas on the roof with everyone at Las Bugambilias...the insanely beautiful grounds at the old textile factory...cooking together at Pilar’s house under a roof that opened to sky at the touch of a button...-Yuriko
Textiles, paper makers, ruins, market and cooking class--were all really amazing. Meeting and starting relationships with the industry crowd from the city was one of my favorite memories. Locals opened so many doors and offered so much in the way of getting to know the “Real Oaxaca.” -David
A very big thank you to Graham and Alvin for putting together an unforgettable trip, and an equally big thank you to the incredibly friendly, patient and gracious people of Oaxaca. If you're interested in visiting Oaxaca and connecting with Alvin yourself, find him here.