Start talking to Clayton Carnes about food and you'll soon find that he's talking about his medium as an artist.
As a professional chef, Clayton could work just about anywhere in the world (unfortunately, he has—he headed back to Miami for "an offer I couldn't refuse"—we still offer his story as an example of the type of people who are moving to Cuenca).
He landed at Casa Alonso restaurant, nestled within Hotel Mansión Alcázar in downtown Cuenca.
Clayton exudes the true amazement of a traveler who has landed in paradise almost by accident.
It was love that brought him to Cuenca. He met his wife in the US, and decided to move back to Ecuador with her, to this city of four rivers.
The many roads he's traveled that brought him here have made him one very thankful and infectiously enthusiastic lover of Cuenca.
"The hotel found me, and I couldn't be happier," Clayton told us in the lush garden that surrounds the Casa Alonso gazebo. "I had been to Cuenca because my wife is from here. When I got this great job offer, we packed up everything, the dog and all my stuff to come to Cuenca to live! I mean really, the living is easy!"
It wasn't an accident that he was offered the chef's job at Casa Alonso. He trained for years at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, before heading to Parma, Italy, for more training.
It was in Italy that Clayton learned about the slow food movement.
After completing his training in Italy, he headed to Miami, where he met his future wife in the restaurant where they both worked.
"It's all about the idea of relaxing, enjoying life, and choosing a slower pace of life. It's easy to live here, it doesn't cost very much, the quality of life is wonderful. And the beauty of the country is incredible.
"The living is easy, even as far as business. I still have the same responsibilities I had before, but it's less demanding and feels so much more family-oriented here." Clayton told us that his hours are long as a chef, but they're more flexible, and his bosses are more willing to let him attend to his family as needed.
I've slowed down a lot in so many ways. That's what I needed, coming from New York to Miami, to—screeeeech... Cuenca. Ahh! What a change it is.
And just as my grandmother told me she would, my wife became pregnant when we were coming to Cuenca. I don't know how my grandmother knew, but we're expecting our first child in three months! (December 2010)
As a chef, Clayton is thrilled with the availability and quality of organic and local foods here in Ecuador.
In August 2010, he introduced a new menu based on many of these local and regional foods.
His new tastes have received raves from locals, visitors from Quito, and expats from around the world (check out our review of Casa Alonso).
He's also working with another chef in Cuenca to introduce slow foods to the city, to share good food as a way to slow life down and preserve culture.
This is a movement that started in the 1980s in Italy as a response to the fast food "infection" there. It's a means to save culture through the lifeline that families and good cooking share. It's this slow time together that binds the social fabric together in a society. It's this fabric that's destroyed with all the hum and buzz and hurry of the world's hectic pace.
Slow food is what I didn't experience growing up with a single mom who was always on the go. We rarely ate at the table together. Maybe my lack of that bonding time with my family is what made me realize and recognize the importance of family and just sitting down and sharing a good meal together.
The bond that forms during long, slow meals prepared and eaten together, with everyone talking and sharing their lives, is what has been lost in America. Kids grow up too fast and everyone is too busy to realize how important it is to sit down and eat good food together at the family table.
And as we've learned from eating at Casa Alonso, even dining out can bring people together. That's something Clayton enjoys doing. If he's on duty when you come for a meal, you'll likely meet him, so that he can personalize your dining experience in this wonderful restaurant.
Clayton Carnes, we wish you and your new family well. Thank you for coming to Cuenca, bringing your adventurous and giving spirit, and your excellent chef's training, to this city. You're another reason why we call it Captivating Cuenca.
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I just want to thank you both soooo much for creating this web site. I am originally from Cuenca but moved to New York 11 years ago and have not being back since. My husband and I are planning on visiting Cuenca over the Summer and this web site has helped me a lot.
When I came to the US we still had the "sucre," the bus ride cost 1,000 sucres and a pack of trident gum would cost 3,000 sucres. I am very nervous to go back, but thanks to your web site I now know what to expect.
My husband is American and Captivating Cuenca has taught him a lot about what my great city has to offer, things that I had forgotten about myself! :)
Thank You both so much! I cannot wait to visit Cuenca!!