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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEntertainment | Restaurants & Dining | November 2009 

Everything Food with Seth: The Joys of Jan
email this pageprint this pageemail usSeth Cloutman - PVNN
November 04, 2009

Mark's Bar and Grill is located at Lázaro Cárdenas 56A in Bucerías, Nayarit. Call (329) 298-0303 for reservations.
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. A few weeks ago that is exactly what happened when I met Jan Benton, the Chef de Cuisine of Mark's Bar and Grill in Bucerias.

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 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 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.

Known for its delightful decor and excellent cuisine, Mark's Bar & Grill is located at Lazaro Cardenas #56 in Bucerias, Nayarit. Whether dining at the bar with great conversation or on the outdoor patio under the stars, the Mediterranean and Asian inspired food will exceed your expectations. For reservations, call (329) 298-0303. For more information visit

Click HERE to learn more about Mark's Bar & Grill.

Seth Cloutman is the owner of Food by Seth, which provides services as a private chef, caterer and cooking class instructor. Specializing in French cuisine, Chef Seth develops menus that use these traditional techniques to include a broader cooking style that includes Northern Italian, Spanish, American Regional and Mediterranean cuisines. Full rich flavors, beautiful presentation and freshness coupled with experienced staff and attention to all the details will make your dining experience memorable. For more information, call 044-322-131-8808 or visit

Click HERE for more articles by Seth Cloutman

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