I had breakfast with Yannis Dettingmeijer today. Yannis is one of my favorite San Miguel guys. I’ve known him for maybe three years now but this may have been our first “date”. I’m much more used to running into him wherever there’s good live music in town. There may even be a chair with his name on it at Santo’s Crudeteca. Not to mention a stool at Johnny’s.
Yannis chose the venue. He chose El Zaguan. For at least three reasons.
“The food and the hospitality are great”, Yannis told me, “plus they know how to make french fries.”
The third reason…or is that the fourth? Yannis is a photographer and he’s about to have his first solo show ever in San Miguel de Allende…ever in Mexico actually…and he’s very excited, very proud. It’s at El Zaguan and he was there to work out the nitty gritties of hanging the show with owner Alfredo.
Personally, I was there for a fourth reason or was it a fifth? The coffee. El Zaguan knows how to source good coffee beans. They know how to grind good beans. And they know the process that gets the most out of those good beans.
For those who are not familiar with San Miguel, it’s what is commonly called an art colony. Everyone here is some kind of artist…well almost everyone. We use lines like, “I met this really strange guy the other night at Hank’s. Couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t even an artist.” I even thought I was an artist one year. Until I thought better and decided to think I was a writer instead.
Yannis Dettingmeijer is a little different. He is what I call a consummate artist…though I’m never quite sure what the word consummate means (except for that sexual definition). He wears his camera round his neck like a priest wears his crucifix. Sooner or later, you know the black bag is going to be opened and out is going to come the tripod.
Yannis and I both ordered the huevos poché. It seems that’s what a lot of people order at El Zaguan. If you ask owner Alfredo, his wife Isabel, or daughter Isabel Jr. for recommendations that’s probably what they’ll suggest. It even has a little dot beside it on the menu. The poached eggs plate is something that should never be shot in black and white. That way you would lose the San Miguel sunset color when your fork pierces the perfectly cooked and very fresh eggs. The eggs come with an interesting sauce on the side, good thick-cut bread, and those french fries that Yannis raves about, lightly dusted with paprika. Huevos poché makes a very, very good breakfast and this comes from a guy who seldom eats breakfast.
El Zaguan is mostly a hotel but “we wanted to combine that with art, food and hospitality to give a more complete experience to our guests”, Isabel Jr. told me. It was someone’s home the first time Yannis Dettingmeijer discovered San Miguel in 2012.
“I came for two weeks. The beauty of this town was bewildering. It drove me crazy”, said Yannis. “The colors of the walls, the doors, the windows. The colors of the flowers. The colors of the market. The colors of the entire city. I couldn’t stop. I took over 1200 shots.”
Our coffee had now arrived. Espresso for Yannis. Americano for me.
I asked Isabel, “What makes your coffee so special.”
“Well my grandfather worked in Chiapas at a coffee company. He’s not working there anymore; he’s retired. But he still loves his coffee and he has taught all of our family to appreciate the very best,” said Isabel. “He does a mix of coffees from Chiapas and from Veracruz and he brings the coffee to us where we grind it in the moment and then French press it.”
“We love fresh coffee. We drink it every single day,” she continued.
“And why the French press?”, I asked Isabel.
“We just think it makes a fresher tasting coffee”, she replied. “The hot water in the correct roughness of grind gives us a very fresh coffee that people love. And yes, we like the presentation at the table when you use a French press.”
Yannis was pouring his second cup…another advantage of the French press…more in the pot and it stays reasonably hot…when we started to talk about what he was planning to hang.
“In Port Alberni (a town on Vancouver Island with some of the best Sockeye, Chinook and Coho you’ll ever taste and Yannis’ first home), I have a permanent exhibition. It’s in a music venue so, of course, musicians are a common subject.
There will definitely be musicians; the musicians in San Miguel are extraordinary…some black and white, some color”, Yannis told me. “Other portraits as well, though I know portraits are hard to sell if the subjects aren’t known to the buyer. And a lot of photos that show off this town that I love.”
“Most of all, I want the show to be fun, for me and for everyone that comes to see it”, Yannis continued. “I want there to be something affordable for everyone. I don’t want to have to double the price just to pay for the frames.”
“I’m a bit of a control freak. I want to be involved in every stage of the creative process. I’ve decided to print everything on vinyl. But then they’ll be mounted on foamcore so I’ll avoid expensive framing. It’s a pragmatic choice but it gives you super sharp images that you could even hang outdoors.
“Images by Yannis – Compartiendo mi pasión” opens on January 19 with a reception at 5:00 pm. I know I’ll be there even though it’s way past my coffee time. The show continues through til the end of the month.
El Zaguan is located at Zacateros #12 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant at El Zaguan is open from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm on Monday to Saturday, 9:30 am to 1:00 pm on Sundays.