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    Hechizo Restaurant

    By Steve Clouther

    Hechizo is a very fine dining experience on the Riviera Maya, and it can be considered to be the culinary Jewel in the Crown of the Riviera Maya. To some degree it has been quite a secret we have known about for almost a year now, thanks to Lisa & Phill Combs. Hechizo means “enchantment” or “bewitchment”.

    Hechizo is about a 40 minute drive from Akumal, and the time depends on how the dirt road is between Zamas and the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve. Hechizo, is located just north of the entrance of the biosphere, or about 3.3 miles from Zamas, on the pot-holed and wash-board road heading south toward Punta Allen.

    Hechizo is unlike any other restaurant on the coast, and you begin to appreciate that as you drive south from Zamas. The restaurant is located on the private property of Rancho San Eric and does not have a sign of its own out on the road. Enter through the gate to Rancho San Eric and follow the road as it meanders through the ranch property leading to the restaurant. Once, parked, there still is a short walk to the restaurant itself.

    Hechizo opened on December 24, 2003, for dinner service from Tuesdays through Sundays. It is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Stefan and Ying-Hui Schober, who will greet you as you enter. Stefan is the chef, and Ying-Hui makes the pastries and runs the front of the restaurant, and they are supported by one staff member, Juan Bautista Pool.

    The building is relatively new. Construction started in January 2001, and every component, from the design to the actual construction of the walls, floor, roof, aquarium, etc. was handmade by Stefan’s parents, Carlos & Berta Schober, with Stefan & Ying-Hui helping out with the detail work during their visits to Tulum.

    From the garden path, you cross a wooden bridge which “floats” on the surface of a lily pond and go through copper-paneled wooden doors to the entrance hall of the restaurant. This room contains a showcase filled with shells and a large fresh-water aquarium that extends the length of the room. Stepping down, you enter the crescent-shaped dining area with a palapa roof overhead, and windows that open to a garden terrace and the Caribbean Sea. Opposite the wall of windows, is the aquarium’s back view, which is surrounded by a beautiful mosaic, done by Berta Schober, depicting the area’s three components of jungle, ocean, and mangrove.

    On the far end of the dining room are two glass windows with a view into the kitchen, and the bar which features an illuminated line of antique glass buoys found by Stefan and his mother after Hurricane Gilberto. There is nothing spectacular about the interior, except its simplicity. There are about eight or nine tables, but fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, it has never been crowded.

    All the energy used by the restaurant is generated by solar or wind power.

    Once you have your cocktail or glass of wine, Stefan comes to the table, and he will verbally explain, in great detail, the evening menu. There is no printed menu, because Stefan serves only what he has been able to get fresh that day in Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and even Cancun.

    Stefan does not only tell you what is available for dinner, he goes into elaborate and exquisite details about the ingredients, spices, flavors, aromas, and presentation, and each diner’s mouth waters, and they inadvertently swallow more than once, just hearing what Stefan is serving. It never fails, that as he completes the presentation of the appetizers – usually 3 or 4, like watermelon with mild Mexican goat cheese, a portabella dish, or seared scallops – one of the diners will say, “I’ll have one of each of those.”

    Stefan then goes on to describe the entrees, and while I fondly remember some of the dishes, it would be a shame to even mention them when they cannot be given the justice they deserve. However, the bulk of the menu consists of seafood, with a few meat and/or fowl options. Stefan offers local produce - such as Caribbean lobster and local grouper, white conch, yellow-tail snapper, soft-shell crab, jumbo prawns and ostrich - as well as a variety of imported produce, such as ahi tuna, congrio from Chile, duck, and lamb. You have to be there.

    Needless to say, the quality of the presentation, the aromas of the food, and the ultimate taste do not hold back anything, and they delightfully exceed Stefan’s descriptions. It is a dining experience to savor.

    Then, there are the desserts, and the format and process is the same. Stefan comes to the table and exquisitely describes what Ying-Hui has made that day, and again, you wish there was a sampler plate, so you could try each and every one of them. The Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coconut Ice Cream and Passionfruit Coulis is a favorite, and that, unfortunately, is a very simplistic description of a fantabulously wonderful dessert – sinful.

    There is a simple but delightful Wine List, and the Placido Pinot Grigio has become a very favorite of ours. The Wine List has prices, but all the food comes without prices, and a three-course dinner for two, with a bottle of the aforementioned wine, will cost around $1,200 pesos, with tip.

    Chef Stefan does offer set “tasting” menus to groups of 9 or larger.

    Background Info on Stefan and Ying-Hui Stefan was born in Mexico City to Austrian parents. At the age of 13, he moved with his family to Tulum, and when he was 16, he traveled to Salzburg, Austria to begin his culinary education. As part of his training, he was apprenticed to the two-Michelin star Hotel Schloss Fuschl under Chef Rudolf Grabner. The Ritz-CarltonAt the end of his education, he returned to Mexico to start his professional career at The Ritz-Carlton Cancun as Garde Manger Chef of the banquet area. Later, he became Sous Chef of the two five-diamond restaurants Fantino and The Club Grill. After a little more than a year, he was sent as part of the opening team to The Ritz-Carlton Dubai, United Arab Emirates as Chef Tournant.

    In 2000, Stefan traveled to The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore as Chef de Cuisine of The Greenhouse, the hotel’s 242-seat capacity three-meal restaurant. Under Executive Chef Christophe Megel, Stefan perfected his craft and honed his management and operation skills. Ying-Hui was born in Singapore. She studied gastronomy at the University of Hawaii’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific, where she specialized her education in pastry arts. After graduating, she returned to Singapore and started her professional career at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia in the pastry department under Pastry Chef Philippe Egalon. She worked there for two years before she earned a position as Chef de Partie at Les Amis, a French fine-dining restaurant, under Pastry Chef Nicolas Galland.

    In 2002, Stefan and Ying-Hui married and in March, traveled to Cancun, Mexico, where Stefan started work as Banquet Chef at The Ritz-Carlton Cancun. In September 2003, Stefan and Ying-Hui moved back to Tulum to turn their dream of having their own restaurant into a reality.