Enrique Silva’s passion and devotion to authentic, Mexican farm-to-table cuisine and sustainable agriculture in the heart of Los Cabos, Mexico is keeping traditions and community alive
Tucked away behind the historic, artsy town of San José del Cabo lies the farmland community of Animas Bajas. There along a dry riverbed is some of the most fertile land in all of Los Cabos, Mexico, and is home to a small handful of organic farms and farm-to-table restaurants including Los Tamarindos. Los Tamarindos remains one of the only ventures that is Mexican-owned and operated.
For the past 28 years, Enrique Silva, chef and owner of Los Tamarindos has worn many hats. Arriving in Los Cabos with a degree in agricultural engineering and a knack for selling Sonoran beef to high-end restaurants, Silva never would have imagined he would become one of the leading chefs, entrepreneurs, and visionaries in Los Cabos, Mexico.
“I came to Los Cabos in 1990,” Silva told me during a conversation we shared together at his organic farm this past March. “I had started out selling beef to the restaurants around the Corridor and Los Cabos, never imagining that I’d be in charge of so many projects today. I ended up becoming a chef almost by accident” Silva continued with a charismatic grin. “And soon, I will be launching a new community center of workshops open to the public. Perhaps this will be Silva’s greatest feat yet.
As Los Cabos is faced with the challenges of over-tourism, over-development, and climate change, Silva remains the only farm-to-table restaurant and property that is fully Mexican-owned and positioned to keep culture alive and protect the environment. To combat climate change, Silva is changing the future of farming in the community as he moves from sustainable to regenerative agriculture over the coming years. The fall opening of Silva’s new community center (6 specialized workshops hosting classes and shops) will continue to cement Silva’s focus on community and keeping long-held traditions, culture, and knowledge alive.
Silva’s beginnings in Los Cabos
Silva’s beginnings were humble. He was the last of seven children born in the Sonoran town of Navojoa near the coast. He has fond memories of his large family meals. While his mother didn’t teach Silva how to cook, she did inspire his love and passion for homemade Mexican cuisine. “Since we lived only 15 minutes from the coast, ceviche has always been a favorite of mine as well as fresh fish” Silva explained. “I didn’t actually start to cook until I left home to study agricultural engineering at university. But it truly wasn’t for years later that I became a chef”.
Silva moved to Los Cabos in 1990 selling Sonoran beef to high-end restaurants and hotels that were popping up all over Los Cabos. It was there he met lots of up-and-coming chefs and eventually began working as an events and restaurant manager at the luxurious One&Only Palmilla. That is where Silva met his mentor Chef Larry Nicola, and they started cooking together in their spare time for fun.
“When I met Larry, he opened my mind to how using fresh, local ingredients pared with a California wine could be so simple yet delicious. We didn’t need to use a lot of sauces to make our food taste divine. We could use what we have right here, growing in Los Cabos”.
That concept inspired Silva to take a chance. In 1996, Silva opened up his first restaurant with chef Fernando Hernández called Tequilla (later renamed Tamarindos Centro) in San José del Cabo. “At that time, every restaurant in town served traditional Mexican meals such as chile rellenos and huge Mexican platters with rice and beans. We wanted something different and unique” Silva explained. “So we began to create a new concept based on the cooking I learned from Larry. It was a gamble of course. The hardest part was finding local chefs who wanted to cook this way. And that is how I ended up in the kitchen cooking”. Their restaurant became a huge success and it also launched Silva’s own passion and devotion to perfecting his culinary technique.
The opening of Los Tamarindos organic farm
Around that time Silva started his organic farm Tamarindos, in order to provide fresh produce and ingredients for the restaurant. Silva purchased some land from an old sugar plantation about five minutes outside of San José del Cabo on a fertile dry riverbed called Ánimas Bajas and together with Fora Farms, was one of the first organic farms in Los Cabos. “I needed to have a readily available supply of fresh produce to use at my restaurant” explained Silva, “and Las Animas provided an incredible opportunity with its fertile land and ample sunshine. I also exported produce to the US and Canada under the Tamarindos brand, and you can say that together with Fora Farms, we were the first organic farmers before organic farming really became a big deal” Silva laughed.
Silva’s business continued to grow until he was eventually able to purchase the historic 19th-century brick home on the property which he remodeled to open a kitchen and start a cooking school in 2010. Tamarindos farm-to-table restaurant officially opened its doors in 2011.
Today, Tamarindos has grown exponentially in scope and acreage but retains a simple, vital authenticity and vision led by Silva. “All of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs we use in our cuisine are grown right here on the farm, ensuring their freshness and quality,” Silva said as we walked around the beautiful fields right below the restaurant. “Currently we’re producing around 80 to 100 different kinds of vegetables, many varieties of herbs, fruits, and even edible flowers”. As the growing season changes, so do Silva’s ingredients and what isn’t used is either preserved or sold. Tamarindos purchases fish daily at the marina from local fishermen, and sources other meat from nearby farms.
Protecting the land with regenerative farming
Besides running the restaurant, Silva is also the visionary behind the farm, putting his degree in agricultural engineering to use. “We are in the process of moving over from organic to regenerative farming” Silva explained as he pointed out all the fruit trees. “Not only do these provide ingredients for my cooking, but they provide shade so we don’t have to disturb the soil”. “It will be take a few years to fully convert over to regenerative farming but I believe it will better for the environment in the long term”. Thankfully the farm has an ample source of water given it is built on a flood plain and receives a tremendous amount of rain during monsoon season.
Silva dreams big with the opening of a community center
The future opening of a local community center located at Los Tamarindos is just another step in Silva’s vision to dream even bigger. The new community center slated to open later this fall will host six different workshops offering classes ranging from traditional medicines to cooking and regenerative farming techniques. With a focus on the future, Silva’s new center will help ensure that local knowledge, traditions, culture, and heritage will not be lost as Los Cabos continues to grow as a major tourist destination.
As Michelin-starred chef Francis Reynard puts it: “Over the years Enrique has become a beautiful mix of an entrepreneur, a gentleman farmer, a talented chef, a charming host and a great leader for the farm-to-table movement that has such deep roots in Baja California and in Tamarindos.” Now, Enrique can add “Community visionary” to his list of accomplishments.
If you go:
Tamarindos is a culinary destination (featuring a top-notch farm-to-table restaurant, organic farm, cooking classes, lodging, and a new community center with workshops) in a rural environment only 5 minutes from San José del Cabo downtown. Getting there is half the fun! The drive through the dry river bed and dirt roads makes part of the experience of this extraordinary venue (you feel like you are driving in the middle of the desert!). Visit www.lostamarindos.mx to learn more.