A Look Back: The Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino Festival 2014

Bittersweet chocolate, bed of peanuts and cocoa, Cotija cheese meringue, xoconostle (a fruit of prickly pear cactus) foam, coconut cotton and a reduction of jamaica and passion fruit.

They say the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach.  And if you haven’t fallen in love with Mexico yet, our Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino Festival, would have you in head over heels, guaranteed!

Sabor + Vino 2014, which we held this past May, was Capella Ixtapa’s first culinary festival, and with the amazing feedback we received from our guests and visitors, I can promise you it won’t be the last!

Sommelier Lucian Mocanu and Chef Miguel Baltazar from Capella Ixtapa, with Guest Chef Carmen Valencia and Chef Ramiro Ortega.

Sommelier Lucian Mocanu and Chef Miguel Baltazar from Capella Ixtapa, with Guest Chef Carmen Valencia and Chef Ramiro Ortega.

“This region of Mexico has so much to offer gastronomically, offering an authentic Mexican cuisine experience.  We gathered well known chefs from different towns within the region to participate in festival Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino 2014, which established a sense of pride and honor, as we presented diverse traditional Mexican dishes, combined with exquisite Mexican wine and spirits for all attendees, complemented with a wonderful culinary event.  The feedback we received was fantastic, and I hope to see you all again at Capella Ixtapa’s Sabor + Vino 2015!” said Eliezer Quinones, General Manager of Capella Ixtapa.

The Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino Festival ran over two weekends in May, and featured Guest Chefs,  Carmen Valencia, Ramiro Ortega, Karla Chápero, Jesús Ordoñez.  Hosted by Capella Ixtapa’s Chef Miguel Baltazar, guests were delighted by appetizers based on regional cuisines, cocktail events, cooking classes, two exquisite 7 course wine pairing dinners and a special breakfast where each of the chefs prepared their own signature breakfast dish.

Bittersweet chocolate, bed of peanuts and cocoa, Cotija cheese meringue, xoconostle (a fruit of prickly pear cactus) foam, coconut cotton and a reduction of jamaica and passion fruit.

Bittersweet chocolate, bed of peanuts and cocoa, Cotija cheese meringue, xoconostle (a fruit of prickly pear cactus) foam, coconut cotton and a reduction of jamaica and passion fruit.

Sabor + Vino 2014 was an incredible experience,” said Chef Miguel Baltazar.  “Four different culinary minds came to Capella Ixtapa with the same objective; to satisfy the palate of our guests, surprise them with the magnificent flavors and show them the best of their cuisine.  It was a great pleasure having them with us and creating the first edition of Capella Ixtapa’s culinary festival together.  For me personally it was also a magnificent opportunity to create, innovate and practice with these amazing Chefs for the Chef of the Year in Mexico contest, at which I will be participating in June, and representing the colors of Capella Ixtapa and our region.  Some of the unforgettable dishes from the festival for me were jack fish with black radish, scallops tiradito, jicama fruit infused with beet and mezcal, cocoa with meringue of salt from Zihuatanejo, and crystallized nopal.”

You can see more photos from the festival here, and mark your calendars for May 2015, for the next Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino festival.  Our team is already hard at work planning next year’s festivities!

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2014

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

47 years ago, the first Smithsonian Folklife Festival was initiated in Washington, D.C.  Today, the Festival has become a national and international living cultural heritage expedition, home to over 250 artists and over 1 million visitors from all around the world.  I am so ready for this year’s lineup, kicking off June 25 to 29 and July 2 to 6 on the National Mall.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The theme of the program this year will be China: Tradition and the Art of Living and Kenya: Mambo Poa!  The China program emphasizes the themes of BALANCE and REUNION, processes of more profound importance than ever in China.  The program will also feature seasonal festival traditions, emphasize the exuberance of public life, share the meaning and preparation of Chinese foodways, engage visitors in craft and performance workshops, and highlight the country’s cultural diversity.

The Kenya: Mambo Poa program will present the ways in which the people of Kenya are balancing protection of their valued cultural and natural heritage with the challenges and opportunities for change in the twenty-first century.  Festival visitors will be able to interact with exemplary craftspeople who work with everything from clay to soapstone to recycled materials, learn about important fossil discoveries and so much more!

Smithsonian Folklife Festival China

What I love most about the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is the opportunity to meet carriers of cultural traditions in a very personal way.  You will have the chance to ask questions and engage with participants to hear their unique insider stories and experiences.  It amazes me to think how Washington, D.C. has become the quintessential cultural center, home to so many diverse groups.  This Festival is a time to learn and appreciate our fellow Americans and their family sagas from generation to generation.

To get myself ready, I’ve been listening to the Smithsonian Music of China and Music of Kenya playlists.

There is no admission charge to the Festival.  I highly suggest dressing for hot and humid weather- summer will be in full effect!  Parking around the Mall is extremely limited, so you are advised to use Metrorail.  Your Capella Washington, D.C. Personal Assistant is of course on hand to arrange transportation services to and from the Festival as well.  I look forward to seeing you there!

The Dusseldorf Altbier Brewery Tour

Altstadt - Bolkerstr.

Altbier, or “old beer” as it translates to, is one of Dusseldorf’s greatest traditions.  Altbier has been around since the 17th Century and has its roots in the region of Westphalia.  Its top fermentation brewing process is what makes it unique.  In fact, I’ve written about this special beer once before here on the Capella Blog.

Well, I am excited to announce the new Breidenbacher Hof, A Capella Hotel, Dusseldorf Altbier Brewery Tour!  Exclusive to hotel guests, this experience introduces the participant to five of Dusseldorf’s oldest breweries with special behind-the-scenes tours and tastings, perfect for both the beer aficionado and the novice alike.

According to Breidenbacher Hof Personal Assistant, Malte, this activity is an absolute favorite among guests.  Intrigued, I decided to schedule my own Dusseldorf Altbier Brewery Tour, after all, this is a tradition I already love and wanted to learn more about.

The tour began before we even left the hotel, with a tasting of the hotel’s signature Breidenbach meatballs served with ABB mustard (the Dusseldorf mustard!) and, of course, an Altbier.  Delicious – and the perfect way to start things off!

Altstadt - Bolkerstr.Our first stop was Schumacher brewery, which opened its doors in 1838, making it the oldest Dusseldorf brewery still in operation.  From there we made our way to four other quintessential Altbier breweries, Schlüssel, Kürzer, Füchschen and Uerige breweries.  At each brewery I was able to meet the Brewmaster, who shared secrets of their individual brewing processes.  Of course the highlights were the delicious tastings of each location’s signature brew.

Things weren’t all technical!  I also got a taste for the history and culture of Altbier.  At Füchschen brewery I learned an Altbier Song (definitely best sung after a day of beer tasting!), which of course was the source of much laughter.  And at Uerige I learned the funny history of the brewery’s name.  It seems the original owner, Wilhelm Cürten, was known for his unhappy disposition.  As a result locals began referring to the brewery as uerig, which means grumpy.  Ironically, these days people flock to Uerige in the afternoon for the good beer and great cheer.

Uerige-600The tour was truly a fun experience and by the end I felt like a true Altbier expert.  Be sure to schedule your own Dusseldorf Altbier Brewery Tour experience with your Breidenbacher Hof Personal Assistant during your next visit and discover one of the city’s greatest institutions.

Düsseldorfer Altbier Brauerei Tour

Altstadt - Bolkerstr.

Das Altbier ist eine der großen Traditionen Düsseldorfs. Es existiert seit dem 17. Jahrhundert und stammt ursprünglich aus der Region Westfalen.  Was dieses Bier so besonders macht ist die obergärige Braumethode.  Tatsächlich habe ich über dieses besondere Bier schon einmal hier auf dem Capella Blog geschrieben.

Heute freue ich mich, Euch die neue Düsseldorfer Altbier Brauerei Tour des Breidenbacher Hof, a Capella Hotel vorzustellen!  Diese Tour wird exklusiv für unsere Hotelgäste geplant und gibt Euch in wenigen Stunden Einblicke in fünf der ältesten Brauereien Düsseldorfs.  Mit Blicken hinter die Kulissen der Brauereien ist diese Tour sowohl für Altbier Liebhaber als auch für Neulinge ein perfektes Erlebnis.

Unserem Persönlichen Assistenten Malte zufolge ist diese Aktivität der absoluter Favorit unter unseren Gästen.  Ich war so fasziniert, dass ich direkt einen Termin für meine eigene Düsseldorfer Altbier Brauerei Tour vereinbarte. Ich mag die Altbier Tradition sehr und wollte unbedingt mehr darüber erfahren.

Die Tour startete bereits bevor wir überhaupt das Hotel verließen.  Als perfekten Einstieg genossen wir die köstliche Breidenbacher Frikadelle mit dem berühmten Düsseldorfer ABB Senf und dazu gab es natürlich – ein Altbier!

Altstadt - Bolkerstr.Unseren ersten Halt machten wir in der Brauerei Schumacher, die Ihre Pforten 1838 öffnete und damit die älteste noch betriebene Brauerei Düsseldorfs ist.  Von dort aus machten wir uns auf den Weg zu vier weiteren bedeutsamen Altbier Brauereien: Brauerei Schlüssel, Kürzer, Füchschen und Uerige.  In jeder einzelnen Brauerei wurde ich von den Braumeistern begrüßt, denen ich interessante Geheimnisse zu den individuellen Brauprozessen entlocken konnte.  Mein persönliches Highlight war jedoch, dass ich in jeder Brauerei das individuell hergestellte Altbier kosten und so vergleichen konnte.

Doch nicht alle Informationen waren nur von technischer Natur!  Ich erhielt einen einmaligen Einblick in die Geschichte und Kultur des Altbiers.  In der Brauerei Füchschen lernte ich außerdem das Altbier Lied kennen (das am besten nach einem Tag mit viel Altbier Genuß gesungen werden sollte!), welches mir natürlich großes Gelächter bescherte.  Und im Uerige erfuhr ich die  unterhaltsame Geschichte, wie die Brauerei Ihrem Namen erhielt:  Der ursprüngliche Besitzer Wilhelm Cürten war bekannt für seine schlechte Laune und so sagten die Stammgäste im besten Düsseldorfer Platt, er sei „uerig“, was übersetzt „schlecht gelaunt“ bedeutet.  Heutzutage besuchen allerdings alle Gäste das Uerige wegen des guten Biers und der guten Stimmung.

Uerige-600Die gesamte Tour war wirklich sehr unterhaltsam und danach fühlte ich mich wie ein richtiger Altbierexperte!  Bei Eurem nächsten Besuch im Breidenbacher Hof, a Capella Hotel in Düsseldorf solltet Ihr daher auf jeden Fall Eure eigene Düsseldorfer Altbier Brauerei Tour bei unseren Persönlichen Assistenten buchen und so eine von Düsseldorfs größten Traditionen kennenlernen.

Capella Singapore’s Insider’s Guide To Singapore

kampong_glam_s1

Singapore, often synonymous with its tall skyscrapers and giant shopping centres, also has a rich tapestry of culture and history that is sometimes overlooked.  However, to fully appreciate present day Singapore, it is essential that we look back to the past and appreciate the firm foundations on which our future has been laid.  It was an honour for me to help put together and attend a curated tour of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam, called the Insider’s Guide to Singapore, especially designed for Capella Singapore’s guests.

The tour began with a visit to Singapore’s oldest temple, Thian Hock Keng temple. While at the temple, I learned how Taoists and Buddhists worship together, side-by-side.  Thian Hock Keng temple, built in 1841, is also significant because, prior to land reclamation, it sat right at the shoreline allowing Chinese sailors to pray to the gods the moment they came ashore.  As sea sojourns in the past were often perilous and fatal, sailors risked their lives to come to Singapore in search of a better life and were so overwhelmed with thanksgiving when they arrived that they donated money and goods to the temple, allowing it to continue operations until present day.

temple1s

The two gods of death, 黑白無常 (Heibai Wuchang) work together to bring people to the afterlife. Legend has it that they are easily distracted by cigarettes and alcohol which is why believers leave cigarettes by their altar!

After the temple visit, I had a personalised tour of Little India where I walked through the busy streets taking in the sights, sounds and scents.  The tour shares much about the importance of gold in Indian culture and includes a visit to several old family-run goldsmiths.  Gold, which signifies purity, prosperity and fortune, is still a form of dowry and savings among the Indian people.  But gold wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye in Little India!  I also had the opportunity to choose and wear our very own traditional Indian flower garland.

Lunch was the next stop.  I could choose between a Muslim Malay lunch and a Singaporean Chinese lunch.  The Muslim Malay food option allowed me to dine in an authentic Minang-style house.   Minangkabau, an ethnic group indigenous to Minangkabau Highlands of West Sumatra, Indonesia, has people scattered throughout the Indonesian and Malay peninsular cities and towns, including Singapore.  The Chinese option gave me the chance to eat my favourite, Bak-kuh-teh, a rich herbal soup brewed with pork bones.  This soup is popular with Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia.  I decided to go with the Muslim Malay lunch and dug into a plate filled with rich flavourful curries.

kampong_glam_s1

(Photo courtesy: Singapore Tourism Board)

After my belly was full, my walking tour through Kampong Glam and Arab Street began.   One of the most interesting experiences was being able to create my own perfume at Muslim perfumery Jamal Kazura AromaticsMinyak Attar is a natural oil based perfume derived from organic sources.  The owner, Jamal Kazura, gave me the opportunity blend scents, creating a one-of-a-kind perfume that is unique to me.   Jamal Kazura Aromatics traces its origins back to the early 1920s.

kampong_glam_s2

(Photo courtesy: Singapore Tourism Board)

After a culturally rich day, it was time to head back to Capella Singapore.  It was truly a unique experience being able to walk through history with my very own personal guide and one I would recommend to others.  

This tailor made Insider’s Guide to Singapore can be enjoyed by booking the Capella Experience package or directly through your Capella Singapore Personal Assistant.

Easter Bonfires in Dusseldorf

rsz_easter

Easter is just around the corner and with it the great traditions I love.  When I was younger, Easter was one of the most exciting holidays to me.  I couldn’t wait for my dad saying “the Easter bunny was here, let’s see if he left some chocolate eggs!”  I would run out into the garden to gather as many eggs as I possibly could.  And while I no longer look for chocolate eggs, I still look forward to Easter celebrations!

rsz_easterToday, my favorite Easter activity are the bonfires.  Maybe you have already heard about the Easter bonfires  in Germany, a tradition where huge piles of wood are burned in the countryside?  There are different stories about this tradition but I’ll tell you the story I like most.  Usually, in Dusseldorf we celebrate the Easter bonfire the Saturday before Easter Sunday.  Large bonfires are erected and music is can be heard throughout the countryside.  I’ve heard that this tradition stems from the 16th century and is meant to dispel the winter.  In the past, the resulting ash was then used as fertilizer for the crops.  It feels very cozy and peaceful to watch the fire glomming with people you love, your family or friends.  Grabbing a cool drink, sitting next to the fire laughing, talking and listening to the music – this is the perfect way to usher in Easter.

It is hard to describe the amazing atmosphere while you are sitting next to an Easter bonfire, so I think you should come to Dusseldorf for Easter one day to experience it yourself.  Just ask the Breidenbacher Hof Personal Assistants to show you the best bonfire places during Easter to make sure that you will never forget these Easter holidays for the rest of your life!