Learning to cook a variety of regional dishes just may be the best souvenir anyone can bring home from a trip to the Yucatán. An accomplished chef, the late David Sterling lived and worked in New York City for 25 years before his deep love of Mexican food led him, in 2003, to Mérida, where he opened a cooking school, Los Dos, in a beautiful colonial house in the heart of the city.
Sterling single-handedly raised the profile of Yucatecan cuisine during the years he lived in Mérida. He authored two highly regarded cookbooks on the region’s cuisine. “Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition,” which was published in 2014 (winning two James Beard awards), and “Mercados: Recipes From the Markets of Mexico,” which came out earlier this year. Following Sterling’s death, Mario Canul, Sterling’s sous-chef and right-hand man, took over as the head chef at Los Dos.
One of the main missions of Los Dos is to differentiate Yucatecan cooking from that of other Mexican regions. In contrast to the prevailing perception that all Mexican food is fiery, Yucatecan fare is rarely spicy, though some restaurants offer xnipek, a piquant sauce akin to pico de gallo, made from habaneros, tomato, onion, coriander and sour orange. Generally, though, the flavors of the Yucatecan kitchen are subtle and savory. Its most famous dishes are made with ingredients that are readily available in most American supermarkets.