The Joys of Jan at a Bucerias Restaurant

Seth Cloutman, who lived with his partner in Puerto Vallarta, was an amazing connoisseur and creator of delicious foods in many Bucerias restaurants and all over the Riviera Nayarit, and in Mexico. Sadly, Chef Seth Cloutman passed away this year, and this article is in honor of him.
Chef Seth wrote this letter about Chef Jan Benton,who is the Chef at Bucerias restaurant Mark’s Bar and Grill,  about one of their experiences together.


The Joys of Jan

by Chef Seth Cloutman

It is a rare day when I meet another person who shares my enthusiasm for food. Okay, obsession. So imagine my surprise when on a site visit to another chef’s kitchen, I immediately found a kindred spirit and someone whose life revolves around the search for a great combination of flavors or a fresh ingredient not found before. Two weeks ago that is exactly what happened when I met Jan Benton, the Chef de Cuisine of Mark’s Bar and Grill, a Bucerias restaurant in Mexico.

Jan is a native of New Zealand but found herself in many parts of the world before she finally landed permanently in Mexico. One of her earliest training grounds was the family garden in the land of Kiwis. It was there that she developed an intense fascination with fresh, home raised vegetables. That initial education was only further enhanced when she worked in the perfume industry. In her position, it was necessary to take scents and identify them thereby honing her olfactory senses. This only assisted when she finally took to the kitchen.

Living in San Francisco she took up cooking as a home chef. One of her first dishes, one that friends requested again and again, was a Pesto Negro. It was simply a basil pesto with black olives but this was to be the beginning of what would become her
greatest passion. Soon she was hording cookbooks by Charlie Trotter, Nobu Matsuhisa of Manhattan’s famed Nobu Restaurant, Japanese-Australian Tetsuya Wakud of Sydney’s Tetsuya and Judy Rodgers of San Francisco’s Zuni Café to name a few and honing her skills.

Fast forward to Bucerias 1991.
Mark purchased the building which still houses the Mark’s Bar and Grill Bucerias restaurant, and essentially created a hot dog and beer hall where he could hang out with his buddies. Little did he realize that a year later Jan would arrive in town and that they would fall in love. One Valentine’s Day Jan suggested that they do a meal special and see what happened. They purchased 25 pounds of fresh San Blas shrimp, put a sign out on the street and before the Bucerias restaurant closed that evening, they had sold out. At the time such an investment in that much shrimp was a real risk but clearly worth it.

Since this flight of fancy, Jan has been creating menus that dazzle the palate. Her intensity when she discusses food is such a joy. The first day I met her she and I ended up huddled at the end of the bar talking about ingredients and dishes and meals like two little children discussing an upcoming vacation to Disneyland. But what impressed me most was her “food geek” level. I am often accused of being the consummate food geek (I accept this gladly) and to sit down with someone else that has the same leaning was more exciting than I can possible describe. The ability to get so feverish about a certain cooking method or flavor or flavor combination is just not up everyone’s alley.

But for all the talk about food, I had still not tried Jan’s cuisine. I admit I was a little nervous because I did not want to be disappointed. I had found a new friend and I wanted to be as proud of her actual culinary skills as I was about her knowledge and enthusiasm. One of the first things she did when I arrived after we had been introduced was to ask me to come into the kitchen and look at the tuna her fishmonger had just dropped off. As we approached she said nothing but “can you look at this and tell me what you think?” In retrospect, I think she was testing me a bit just as I was about to test her as I bit into one of her creations. Upon seeing the tuna, we both instantly agreed that it was not up to quality so without a moment’s hesitation she rang the fisherman and said, no way. That meant no tuna for that evening menu but she simply would not serve that fish.

The dish she wished me to taste was a toasted coriander seed crusted tuna filet with a wasabi sauce. She asked if I minded trying it with Huachinango (red snapper). Of course I quickly agreed.
When she brought it out the scents were amazing and when I bit into the firm fish, I was relieved not only to be enjoying the delicious flavors but also to have confirmed that not only was my new food geek friend great fun to talk endlessly with about food, but she could cook as well.

Mark’s Bar and Grill is located at Lázaro Cárdenas 56A, Bucerías, Bahia de Banderas,
Nayarit 63732 Reservations are recommended (329) 298 0303

Chef Seth Cloutman

What  a wonderful writer and food enthusiast! He will be dearly missed!
Chef Seth was an inspiring cooking instructor specializing in French cuisine. He used the fresh and local flavors creating delightful food creations from Northern Italy, Spain and of course Mexico.   Seth was the owner of Food by Seth, which provided services as a private chef, wrote a book called Everything Found with Seth, as well as hosted Vallarta’s Culinary Corner cooking show, and was a weekly food columnist for the PV Mirror.  And even more,,  Chef Seth was also the founder of Nuestra Huerta, which means, “Our Kitchen Garden”, which was to create an educational garden for students in Puerto Vallarta about the complete process along with environment and water conservation, and of course how to prepare the food!

Chef Seth was considered by others a “consummate food geek” and loved this role in life. He also donated his time to help children and families in need here in Mexico.  He was dearly loved, honored and appreciated by his family and friends, and everyone that knew him in the restaurant and food industry. Here’s to you Seth Cloutman!

Discover great cuisine at a Bucerias Restaurant, Move to Mexico for Life!

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