A Minute with Hartwood's Eric Werner

Take a second and pretend you're in Tulum. It rocks.

August 12, 2016 ● 2 min read

Hi there! We just felt like dropping a little nirvana into your day. Joining us is nirvana-expert chef Eric Werner of Hartwood in Tulum, whose scruffy, peaceful visage always makes you consider finally giving in to that dream of yours — you know, the one where you escape into the gorgeous scenery of your screensaver and build a life doing the kind of creative stuff you were born to do. 

Take a deep breath, learn a little something, and consider the balance of the universe for a hot second. 

What were the most unfamiliar ingredients when you arrived in the Yucatan? 

Everything I learned and am still learning has been taught to me by the Mayan community; there are so many unique ingredients that embody this culture. Maize, squash, and climbing beans are some of my favorites. 
One of the first ingredients I learned to work with was the mecal — a very large tuber that grows on the milpa. The mecal can grow to over 70 kilos. We pickle it, lightly fry it, season with chile and lime to make deliciously seasoned chips.  

Mecal can also be cooked underground and then sweetened with honey while it’s still hot.
 Melon de Milpa is another favorite ingredient. It’s a cross between melon and squash: it looks like squash on the outside and sweet melon inside, an excellent example of how nature continues to surprise and protect itself.            

Was it necessary for you to break away from the NYC scene to fulfill some variation of destiny?  

I was born in raised in New York. I learned to cook from NYC chefs who would become not only my mentors, but my family. They are very much an integral part of my cooking today.
 When I was in the city, I would work a station for four or so years, save up enough money and then travel to distant parts of the Caribbean for six months. At 21, I was traveling the world by myself, learning from old-school chefs on the island, studying in their homes and their kitchens. Then I would go back home and work another station for four or five years and then do it again, traveling to another Caribbean country. It was this exposure to different cultures and different foods that was so important to my discovery of myself, and it shaped the person I am today. 

Are you someone who thrives on constant change, or going deep on a few things?

I’ve lived in the Yucatan for now for seven or eight years; I thrive off of a balance between change and consistency. True happiness is found in the balance of all things.

Did the remoteness of Hartwood ever scare you? Personally, professionally, creatively? 

Remoteness is peace. I’m usually in the middle of nowhere — on the milpa or miles off the coast fishing in a boat. After a while, remoteness becomes comfortable. It allows for quiet time, for silence. In order to learn and to understand the direction of your cooking, you need quiet. 

Photo via Todd Selby