Q&A With Chef Eric Werner of Hartwood in Tulum, Mexico

 Doug Young’s photo essay of Tulum for Edible Long Island’s 2014 travel issue can been seen here. 

Hi Eric! How is everything going on the milpa? (A milpa is a crop-growing system based on the ancient agricultural methods of the Maya, Zapotec and other mesoamerican peoples.) Are there any unique ingredients growing that you are particularly excited about cooking with at Hartwood?
Chile Pajaro is a great bite-size chile that has high strength and is one of my favorites. We started growing it about four years ago.

How far away is the milpa from Tulum? Did you have to do much in the way of amending the soil?
The milpa is three hours away from the restaurant. Once there, to reach it, we must walk seven kilometers into the mountains to reach farm’s red  soil, or tierra roja, which is produced by an erosion of the limestone and is great for growing.

What regional methods have you learned or continue to learn about farming in this part of the world?
Quite a lot. It’s totally unique farming here and we use no machinery; everything is done by hand. We also use no pesticides or fertilizers. Everything is 100 percent organic.

Can you tell us a bit about the milpa’s self-sustainability?
The Mayan philosophy on farming is naturally sustainable. They have a respect for the land and the energy that is exchanged between man and earth. Sustainability is a truth that we must all understand and practice.

Did you learn or have a fascination with farming while you were living and growing up in upstate New York?
Yes, of course. I was always surrounded by the yearly harvests and the beautiful farms that produced them.

How is the pibil (a Yucatan-style pit oven) at Hartwood coming along?
It is completed and was made all by natural materials.

Is this method of cooking similar to smoking?
It combines both smoke and steam and is beneath the ground in an earth oven. Our main source of heat comes from large fire-heated rocks.

Did your restaurant experience in New York City help or influence you and your wife Maya’s vision for Hartwood?
Yes, for sure!

While biking past Hartwood, I saw freshly caught fish being dropped off an hour before the restaurant opened. Is it still exciting to you knowing how fresh your ingredients are?
Yes of course, I am constantly grateful.

What would you recommend to someone dining at Hartwood for the first time?
The whole roasted fish with pickled radishes and lima dulce.

Besides the wonderful food, I think the magic at Hartwood is dining in the glow of the wood fired oven, kerosene lamps and candles everywhere. Do you find cooking in this atmosphere as inspiring as your guests do?
Yes, and when the moon is out, we are particularly thankful.

Thanks Eric, I am looking forward to returning soon!
We look forward to your return. We have always been big fans of the Edible magazines.