3 Ways to Draw Inspiration from Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

by Culinary Spelunker / Jun 22, 2015 /
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The white walls of Puerto Vallarta’s La Leche restaurant stand as a contrast to the vibrant-colored buildings all around it. Black swirls crawl up each side appearing both whimsical and orderly, signaling to visitors they’re in for something surprising at this eatery tucked away from the Mexican city’s main center.

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

 

Everything about La Leche inspires creativity. Once inside, the white exterior gives way to matching interior walls that are strewn with white, industrial bookselves that are stocked with white paint pails and milk jugs all affixed with the La Leche label. Chairs, tables, plates, and cups are a mish-match of different styles but all the same stark white. A chalkboard stands on an easel to the side listing the night’s menu. The sea of white emanates a feeling of warmth while also acting as a blank canvas for the real art—the parade of entrees. 

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

 

Eating at La Leche became more of an interactive experience than a meal. The owner and culinary artist, Nacho Cadena, whose son Alfonso is also a chef at the restaurant, often walks among the tables greeting visitors and imparting his philosophy of food. “I was born in the kitchen,” Nacho explained to me, his eyes a mix of earnestness and mischief. “I would sit at my mother’s feet as she cooked and watch everything.”

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

 

After visiting Puerto Vallarta and La Leche, I wanted to bring some of Nacho’s artistic approach to cooking back to my own kitchen. While I’d recommend a visit to La Leche to anyone with adventurous taste buds there are a few lessons for creating a memorable meal I took back from Nacho.

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

 

Rethink place settings

At La Leche, simple, white paper bags held both our dinner napkins and in another bag an appetizer of bread you could slather with fresh butter. I felt like a kid again peering into my bag to see what was inside.

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

The plates and cups were also white but not of the same design. The overall effect was to create a cohesive and yet amusing start to the meal.

For special meals at your dinner table consider different ways to present the standard setting of forks, knifes, and glasses. You don’t need to break out cloth napkins, but like Nacho think about everyday objects that you could use in unexpected ways. Let kids color plain bags to hold certain elements of the meal like breadsticks, raw vegetables, or even silverware.

One dish at La Leche, a beef tartar, was served with chopsticks. The rich beef adorned with a design of garlicy aioli lent itself toward small bites, which made the chopsticks a wise choice. Consider if parts of your meal could be eaten in a different way—give kids a straw for soup in place of a spoon or use small, decorative forks (available at many party goods stores) in lieu of standard silverware for appetizers, salads, and sides.

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

 

Decorate your plate

My favorite dish of the multi-course meal wasn’t the citrus-splashed duck breast, the Ahi tuna, or even dessert (although I’d gladly have second helpings of any) but the velvety vegetable soup. Served in large, white mugs, I was taken aback by the lipstick smear on the side. At first, I thought I might have gotten someone else’s serving. But the smudge of rogue on the lip of the cup was a concoction of sweetened, pureed beets. As you drank the broth, which combined heavy cream with broccoli and earthy seasonings, the beet enlivened the flavor with a hint of both sweetness and sour.

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

 

Our pasta dish of avocado risotto topped with octopus included a black streak on the side of the bowl. I had almost convinced myself it was part of the dish design—turns out the streak was squid ink cleverly used to adorn each serving. While I don’t use squid ink at home the idea of painting a plate with an edible accent is appealing. For example, what about using a new, clean paintbrush to decorate dessert plates with a raspberry sauce before placing a slice of flourless cake on top?

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

Use fresh ingredients

“I never use recipes,” smiled Nacho. While there are house favorites at La Leche, Nacho believes it’s best to use fresh ingredients as the driving force for the menu. Whatever he finds at the farmers and meat markets in the morning is what he’ll be serving that evening. He teaches cooks at the restaurant to make meals but he doesn’t have them write down recipes. “I don’t want to fall into a rut with my cooking,” he added.

For your own favorite recipes switch them up by swapping in new ingredients based on what’s available both seasonally and locally. Let your kids pick a few new-to-them produce items to add to meals that they already like. This is a great way to urge picky eaters to expand their palates—let them choose.
 
Listen to La Leche’s Nacho Cadena describe his culinary style (in Spanish).
 

 

Puerto Vallarta’s Famed La Leche Restaurant

 

Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at MyKidsEatSquid.com.

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough