Mexico’s 32 states promise tremendous diversity when it comes to flavors and specialties.

Executive Chef Juan Zahoul Retes
The Grand at Moon Palace Cancun

In Cancun, much of the cuisine is inspired by neighboring Yucatan, including many dishes made with pork, such as cochinita pibil or lechon, according to Juan Zahoul Retes, executive chef and director of food and beverage at The Grand at Moon Palace Cancun.

Retes’ passion for food started at a young age.

“I was always in the kitchen as my mother prepared meals, and I was captivated by how you could put so much love into something so tasty,” he said.

At his restaurant, Retes likes using salsas—from mild to spicy—in all kinds of dishes. In addition, by using fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh-caught fish, Retes is continuously looking for ways to raise the bar for the guest dining experiences. New pastry chef Marelis Teran has also elevated the dessert offerings for groups.

“From donut walls and cake pops, to handcrafted flower petals made of sugar on a nine-layer cake, we can make the sweetest of dreams a reality,” Retes said.

Executive Chef Sergio Zarate
Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun

Mexican-born Executive Chef Sergio Zarate of the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun, traveled around Europe after high school where he decided to become a chef.

After culinary school he worked in the Middle East, Florida and Costa Rica and believes moving from place to place allowed him to pick up a little culture—and many culinary ideas.

Zarate said his cooking technique is extremely ingredient focused; he’s constantly searching for new products and developing new recipes for such classics as ceviches.

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His passion shines through as he experiments with exciting ways to incorporate fresh and seasonal ingredients, such as fresh thyme, basil, hinojo, achiote and epazote.

“I like mixing sweet with savory; that’s how I come up with different preparations for salsas, moles and marinades,” Zarate said.

For groups, the chef’s table is the most popular, Zarate said. And for meeting planners, Zarate will sit down with them for a tasting.

“This is where we listen to their specific needs and discover what they are looking for,” he explained. “We also taste different wines to see what is the best pairing for the food.”