cacao cuisine with a Mexican twist

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the culinary team of Prairie Ink Bistro in Winnipeg over the past two years in developing chocolate-based dinners that would teach chocolate lovers about the sweet and savoury side of chocolate and cacao.


Cocoa nibs are a featured ingredient in the delicious gazpacho soup featured at Hotel Chocolat Boucan in St. Lucia, where cacao cuisine is king. The team at Prairie Ink Bistro replicated it by following the recipe in Chocolatour.

My appreciation for the versatility of cocoa in the culinary world developed after spending a week on the beautiful island of Saint Lucia and being inspired by the incredible offerings of cacao cuisine.

I now travel the world, seeking out chefs who are bringing the nuances of chocolate into their culinary offerings. Mexico was no disappointment. I ate molés in numerous places–each slightly different, and learned to train my palate to identify the different ingredients that made each unique.


All great meals begin with quality fresh ingredients. Chef Hugo used fresh herbs and chilli peppers, Ibarra Mexican chocolate, and freshly roasted cocoa beans to perfect the multi-layered flavours in his cacao cuisine.


Rocio Martinez (left) of Concierge Online planned my trip to Mexico and introduced me to Chef Hugo.

While staying at Villa Azalea I had the good fortune to meet Chef Hugo Ahumada, who pleases gourmands with his culinary offerings at Maia Restaurante in Puerto Vallarta. Chef Hugo treated me to a meal that included his amazing Hugo Cacao Salad, a salad that included mixed greens, berries, nuts, fresh cheese, and freshly-toasted cocoa beans topped with a chocolate vinaigrette. It was one of the best salads I’ve ever had.


Chef Hugo’s Cacao Salad features strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cashews, candied pecans, raw pecans, toasted cocoa beans, fresh cheese, and more!


Super Chefs like Chef Hugo use cacao/cocoa to add a ultra-rich savoury flavour to various recipes.

Our next course was the main event: Molognesa–Chef Hugo’s innovation of a molé and cacao based bolognese sauce served over pasta. I loved it!


Chef Hugo’s molognesa was truly delicious.

I had several other meals featuring cacao cuisine during my Chocolatour of Mexico, but I would have to say the special meal in the outdoor kitchen at Villa Azalea thanks to the creative ingenuity of Chef Hugo Ahumada was the one that still leaves my taste buds tingling.

If you’re in Puerto Vallarta, do visit his Maia Restaurante and you will no doubt bring home some tasty memories of your own.






Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

24 Responses

  1. It’s 8:20 in the morning, Doreen, and I’m about to raid the cupboards looking for any form of chocolate. These meals look incredible!
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Hawaiian Hiking – Part 2 – Hawaii “The Big Island”My Profile

  2. Maria says:

    Really lot of innovative dishes… I can never thiink of chocolate pasta, salid or chocolate soup… and would love to know how they taste… great rich blog this is.
    Maria recently posted…How To Get Rid Of Underarm Hair Permanently ( Home Remedies )My Profile

  3. Lux says:

    I can imagine how deliciously this place smells like with the cacao.
    Happy Christmas! 🙂
    Lux recently posted…The Miss Universe 2015 Pageant: Life Lessons And Steve Harvey’s StoryMy Profile

  4. Chris says:

    Not somewhere we got in Puerto Vallarta, but it looks amazing.

    Such creativity, colour and flair! 🙂
    Chris recently posted…Trujillo and the case of a most worthy desert sandwichMy Profile

  5. I’m a big salad eater, and that salad sounds fabulous. Who knew all the ways you can use chocolate!
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…The Downside of the Decline of Blogging Among the Fortune 500My Profile

    • Hi Jeannette. Yes, I could live on salads like Hugo’s Cacao Salad. It’s got everything. The soft crunch of the greens, the firm crunch from the nuts and the cocoa beans, the tartness from the fruits, the soft texture of the fresh cheese, and the slight sweetness from the chocolate vinaigrette. Totally yum. Enjoy the holidays!

  6. Hi Doreen, oh my goodness does that Hugo Cacao Salad at the Maia Restaurante in Puerto Vallarta look delicious! Chef Hugo created something that looks like a work of art and sounds like dessert, but can be called a salad…Brilliant!
    Susan cooper recently posted…Slow Cooker Mulled Cider: #RecipeMy Profile

    • Hi Susan. I’m not certain whether Chef Hugo has added the Cacao Salad to the menu at Maia. I was fortunate to have him create those dishes for me in a private dining situation at Villa Azalea. I shall have to go back to Puerto Vallarta and check out more of Chef Hugo’s offerings. He really prides himself in working with local organic ingredients and that pumps the fresh flavour factor up by 100%! Happy Holidays to you!
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…cacao cuisine with a Mexican twistMy Profile

  7. Esther says:

    Wow, Doreen! This is so exciting. I can hardly wait until your next book comes out. It is going to be fabulous! You, my dear, are changing the face of food on the planet!
    Esther recently posted…Liver-Gallbladder FlushMy Profile

  8. Christine says:

    These dishes look positively mouth-watering. I’d love the chocolate vinaigrette recipe. If anyone still thinks that chocolate is only for dessert, they would be pleasantly surprised by your findings. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Christine. It is indeed my goal to share with chocolate lovers all there is to learn about chocolate, cocoa, and cacao, so that the word ‘sweet’ is removed from the connotation, and instead we think of ‘magical powerfood.’ Have a super wonderful festive season and an amazing 2016. 🙂

  9. WOW! That salad looked amazing. Great photos Doreen. Thanks for this:-)
    Kathy Andrew recently posted…Have you #Read My Two favorite #Books from 2015?My Profile

  10. Sounds like a great thing to be part of, Doreen. Very cool.

  11. Linda says:

    I agree, the cacao salad…ummmm! Do you ever pick up recipes from these delightful chefs?
    Linda recently posted…Leaving – 1942My Profile

  12. Beverly says:

    What an exciting twist on Pasta! I am looking forward to future posts on chocolate cuisine.
    Beverly recently posted…accommodation options for Puerto VallartaMy Profile

    • Thanks, Bev. Perhaps you can come to the Chocolate & Wine dinner at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg on Feb 14th? It will truly be a night to enjoy cacao cuisine paired with fine wines. There are still tickets available. Thx again for your support of my site. It means a lot to me to have you join the conversations on the posts.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…cacao cuisine with a Mexican twistMy Profile

  13. That cacao salad looks fantastic! I will have to remember Maia Restaurante should I get to Puerto Vallarta.
    Donna Janke recently posted…The Medieval Cathedral City of WellsMy Profile

    • Right on, Donna! As I know you enjoyed the chocolate dinner at McNally Robinson, I am sue you will enjoy a further exploration of cacao cuisine. All the best to you for wonderful holiday season, and thanks so much for being a dedicated supporter of Chocolatour.

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