Sushi class taking place in the hands-on classroom kitchen at the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, Mississippi(Courtesy Viking Range Corporation)
On one his frequent art-buying trips to Mexico, Hank Lee came upon Ocumicho in the mountains of the state of Michoacán. "It's eternal springtime there," says the co-owner of San Angel Folk Art in San Antonio, Tex. "There's never really a hot summer or a cold winter. The town is filled with flowers and vegetation, and baby chickens are everywhere."
The village, two and a half hours from the main road between Guadalajara and Morelia, is known for its clay devil figurines and painted pottery. "The artists get inspiration from the tabloids," explains Lee. "Everything is about sensational topics, like Ebola and killer bees."
Two stores off the main square serve food, and a typical dish is squash-blossom tacos with homemade cheeses. "But everyone wants to feed you," says Lee. "In a villager's home, you'll usually see a woman sitting in the living room with a pile of corn, shucking it, husking it, and grinding it by hand. And the women of the town all wear traditional dress: petticoats with aprons, puffy-sleeved shirts, and hair in pigtails." As for lodging, Lee offers three options: "Stay at hotels back by the main road, rent a house, or camp out in the town square. No one minds." Michoacán Tourism Board: 011-52/443-312-8081, turismomichoacan.gob.mx.
United States: Greenwood
The Mississippi town of Greenwood, 130 miles south of Memphis, is experiencing a renaissance. Much of the revitalization is thanks to The Alluvian, a high-design hotel opened in 2003 by the Viking Range Corporation, the kitchen-appliance manufacturer, which has its headquarters in town. The hotel and Viking's cooking school have attracted foodies and artists, who, in turn, are opening restaurants, shops, art galleries, and even a blues museum.
Last fall, Ari Weinzweig, cofounder of the Ann Arbor, Mich., culinary colossus Zingerman's, went to Greenwood for a conference. "Visiting the area is like going to another country," he says. "Not in a bad way! It's just the feel, the pace, is different. You drive through fields and see how cotton looks when it doesn't come in a box."
Weinzweig loves the pastries that Martha Foose, the cooking school's executive chef, makes at her Mockingbird Bakery. But his greatest find? "The Delta tamales," made with beef and cornmeal. "They're all over the area," he says, "but the best ones are at Doe's Eat Place." The family-run restaurant, 55 miles west in Greenville, has served Delta tamales for more than 60 years. The Alluvian: 866/600-5201, thealluvian.com, from $175. Greenwood Blues Heritage Museum & Gallery: 222 Howard St., 662/451-7800, threedeuces.net. Mockingbird Bakery: 325-B Howard St., 662/453-9927. Doe's Eat Place: 502 Nelson St., Greenville, 662/334-3315, doeseatplace.com.