78.8 F
Saturday, October 16, 2021

MANO is baking the handmade treats that Mérida was craving all along

Robert Willson returns to the kitchen to roll out a handmade baked-goods line with modern twists

Latest headlines

Cozumel’s cruise industry bounces back in a big way

Quintana Roo has come to depend on a steady stream of cruise-goers, to maintain jobs at businesses including restaurants, excursion operators,...

Massimo Bottura’s community dinner is fighting hunger in Refettorio Mérida

Refettorio is a cultural project designed to offer dining experiences through the transformation of surplus ingredients into nutritious and beautiful dishes.

In Europe, Mexican Indigenous organizations denounce the Mayan Train

Indigenous groups from across Mexico, including Yucatán and Quintana Roo, sailed to Europe in what they describe as an invasion of conscience.

A private paradise at your Yucatán country estate

A private country estate is all yours in Yucatán. Contact Eric Partney at Mexico International. Ideal for those...
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our top headlines will appear in your inbox each Monday and Thursday.
Robert Willson’s MANO line of baked treats were introduced at Epicure in Mérida’s Santiago neighborhood in mid-September. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

Robert Willson hates the idea of a perfect square or a precise circle, at least when it comes to his baked goods. 

His slightly rustic scones, shortbreads, brownies and cookies are clearly hand-made, and just to underscore that point, Willson has named his new enterprise MANO, or “hand” in Spanish. Even the logo was made by hand, and so are the labels, but more about that later. 

Mérida artist Manolo Tauré, whose studio happens to be called the Graphic Bakery, hand-created a linocut logo for Robert Willson’s MANO brand.

“The pastries that are made here in Mérida have a very different flavor than many of us are used to in the rest of the world. The butter has a very different flavor profile, even the water, the flour sometimes,” Robert says. “There are some things I taste that just taste like Mérida to me.”

He experimented with his own flavor profiles before introducing MANO to the community. 

Robert Willson’s MANO adds a twist to traditional bakery favorites, and the result is Mrs. Walker’s Rich Chocolate Brownies, Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Spiced Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Photo: Eduardo Vázquez / Yucatán Magazine

“Traditional but with modern flavors” is how Robert describes his line. “I make a lemon tart but it’s with olive oil, for example.”

Peanut butter cookies have roasted peanuts and dark chocolate and are dusted with sea salt. The flaky shortbread is “The Queen Mother’s Recipe,” but it’s not the famous Scottish brand. He named the brownies for a Mrs. Walker who lived down the street when he was six years old. No cocoa, just chocolate and they’re cakier than what might be expected. His spiced oatmeal raisin cookies have dark chocolate chunks, just because.

Robert Willson’s MANO puts a clever flavor twist on traditional bakery favorites. Within Mérida, MANO products are sold at La Epicure in Santiago and Voltacafé in Santa Lucia. Photo: Eduardo Vázquez / Yucatán Magazine

The best-sellers are the green-tea raisin scones, which hit on a gap in the market for high tea’s most famous accompaniment. “It’s not only for expats, everybody likes this,” he tells us.   

Robert launched the line three weeks ago at La Epicure Boutique Gourmet, which recently moved from Santa Ana to a much busier location in Santiago. “We got a good response,” he says. On Monday, MANO baked goods will debut at Voltacafé in Santiago. He expects to roll out the product to more locations in the future. 

Many of us first learned about Willson when he and partner David Serrano were featured in Architectural Digest, back when it was still a little unusual for Mérida to get that kind of attention. They ran Downtown, an eclectic showroom in Los Angeles’ La Cienega Design Quarter for 23 years. Downtown once even hosted some other local notables for a “Dream Life in Mexico” roundtable discussion. 

MANO adds a flavor twist to traditional baked goods such as scones, shortbread and brownies. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

“It’s a big city that changed, and life in the big city is not easy,” Willson says, on their departure from LA. “We’re in a very competitive business and a very demanding business.”

Once here, Robert assumed he was at the very least semi-retired. But no.

“I just had a lot of time to cook again and I fell back in love with cooking,” he says, while sitting in his all-Viking, light-filled kitchen, which has been featured in more than one décor magazine. 

Going into foods isn’t the radical career change that it might at first appear. 

“My two loves in life have been food and design,” Robert says. “I started in the food business in Los Angeles when I was in my early 20s. By my mid-20s I was a partner in a very large catering business. Did lots of Hollywood film premieres and celebrity weddings, you know, the whole thing.”

By the early 1990s, he got a job at a billion-dollar international food retailer and he worked with the Ritz Hotel in Paris on developing a product line aimed at the United States market. 

“I traveled every week, so it was kind of a burnout situation and the food business can do that to you,” he says. “It’s a really tough business.”

Robert catered a few parties, including a sit-down dinner for 80 guests. ”Those are 18-hour days,” he says. After asking himself “can I still do this?” it turns out he could, “and I had a good time.” 

Then the pandemic happened and catering was naturally sidelined. The pause gave him time to think about baked goods instead. 

Manuel Taure’s printmaking studio kept the MANO concept in the realm of the handmade. Photo: Courtesy

The design expert in him has served him well. To work on MANO’s very clever branding, he commissioned a linocut by Manuel Taure, who happens to be known as the Graphic Baker. For years, Manuel has opened his studio each Friday to introduce his prints alongside his freshly baked bread loaves.   

Related: Manuel Taure’s Toilet Paper Story keep us sane during lockdown

“It’s all hand cut out of linoleum, and then he hand-presses the letters, so it went along with the brand,” Robert says. 

“None of the product should look like it was made by a machine. Actually, I try to make them look more handmade. When I’m forming the cookies, I try to make them not look even, so I think it’s more appealing. You eat with your eyes.” 

La Epicure, Calle 59 between 72 and 74, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m Monday-Saturday. Voltacafé Santa Lucía, Plaza Carmési, Calle 53 at 62, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Instagram: @mano.mid.yuc.mx

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

More articles

Yucatán’s bars and cantinas forge a new lobbying association

The group, which is now known as Asociación de Cantineros, is already made up of over 120 members but is yet to elect its first president. 

Progreso to host the Americas’ largest shipyard

Yucatán's Gov. Mauricio Vila Dosal in Trieste Italy with the executive board of the Italian company Fincantieri. Photo: Courtesy

The Dresden Codex, the great Maya book of the stars

The Dresden Codex is a Mayan book believed to be the oldest surviving book written in the Americas, dating to the 11th or 12th century.

How photographer Mike Diaz captures Yucatán’s unique environment

As Mike grew up, he dove back into nature, researching the environment, wildlife, and space. He understood the process he had to follow in order to achieve the photos he dreamed of.

Live music is back at Yucatán’s restaurants and bars

e measure was put in place over a year and a half ago along with a series of other restrictions to help against the spread of COVID-19.

Monument to the Montejo ‘covered in blood’ once again

A group of protesters staged a demonstration in front of the monument to the Montejo, vandalizing it and chanting anti-colonialistic slogans.

Camino del Mayab connects visitors with Yucatán’s remote communities

Photo: Camino del Mayab The Camino del Mayab, a network of trails that begins in Dzoyaxché, spreads out...

Parque De La Alemán — The bustling heart of one of Mérida’s original neighborhoods

The park, which measures about a full city block, features a roller skating rink, a children's playground, a large esplanade with a musical fountain, green areas, and a stage where artistic and cultural events are frequently held.

Yucatán cancels Xmatkuil fair and Hanal Pixán altars at Plaza Grande

The news comes as a disappointment for many who thought that a return to yellow on Mexico’s epidemiological traffic light system would mean more of a return to normal for public events. 

New sterilization campaign in Progreso cracks down on stray animals

The number of stray dogs and cats on the streets and beaches of Progreso has become a public health hazard, admits Mayor Julián Zacarías Curi.