The story begins in a pleasant little shoreline towns near New Haven, Connecticut. Bob and Margaret begat Mark Shepard in 1950, Elizabeth Emerson in 1954, and Paul Stuart in 1961.


Looking back, the early years were about as sweet as they come; our street in Guilford was filled with families with their own three kids, plenty of woods and brooks and caves in which to play, and great friends with whom to share the magic.

We moved to Madison, the next town over, in time for Junior High and High School, and I'm in touch to this day with my great group of Class of '72 classmates. (When's the next reunion, guys?)

After high school I spent a year at Emerson College hoping to become an actress, until I realized I didn't have the drive nor chutzpah (nor talent, for that matter) to make it in that field.

But the food and hospitality world beckoned, and for many years—aside from a brief stint in a bellhop outfit delivering singing telegrams in Santa Cruz—working as a waitress allowed me to work hard all summer and travel all winter.

Determined to lose my preppy roots and become a hippie, I traversed the USA with friends in a VW bus, stopping along the way in towns that intrigued us - Key West, New Orleans, Santa Cruz.


In the early 80s I married and settled down in Connecticut, where I managed a few restaurants (one of which received a swell review in the New York Times food section, a stellar moment in my restaurant career) before my love of cooking drew me into the kitchen, where I found my calling as a chef and caterer.

Life does march on, however, and after an amicable divorce and the loss of two very dear friends all within a year, I needed a change. In 1989, I moved back to Santa Cruz (just in time for the Loma Prieta earthquake!) and dove into the catering scene there.


Many years of great times, good friends, and wonderful food followed, but one day I found myself about to hit 40, tired of working fourteen-hour days, and wondering, "What's next?" Little did I know that saying that out loud would lead to an introduction to the amazing Joan Summers, the owner and creator of La Casa de Espíritus Alegres Bed & Breakfast in Guanajuato, Mexico. I was looking for an adventure, Joan was looking for help, and thanks to our mutual friend Jane my life took a sharp turn south of the border.


My first-ever visit to Mexico was in December 1994. My Spanish was limited to the days of the week, numbers from one to ten, and phrases like "Please put the carrots in the large cold room." All very useful in a catering kitchen, but a little out of place in a house with seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, and no big cold room in which to put the zanahorias.

I spent a week learning the ropes with Joan before she left for India, a training that more often than not meant laughing hysterically, eating a lot of great food, and knowing a ripe papaya when I saw one. It wasn't until she was pulling out of the driveway that I thought to ask how to say “guest, arrive, and depart” in Spanish. Luckily, I grew up playing charades, I have a knack for languages, and the staff was extremely patient. My six week inn-sitting job very quickly became a full time position and Mexico became my new home.


I realize now that the seeds of My Mexico Tours were being sown way back then, as I began to see Mexico through Joan's eyes. The B&B was filled with folk art from every corner of the country, and her passion for the art and the artisans who created it was contagious. Whenever possible we'd take a road trip together to some village or another in search of folk art.

I will never forget the day we searched for a potter she'd met years before, pulling into a dusty village of look-alike cinder block houses that anyone in their right mind would have driven straight through as quickly as possible. Not Joan. After knocking on many doors and traipsing through numerous homes and backyards filled with sleeping pigs and tethered goats we came upon an open-air workshop where the entire family was working on a colorful collection of ceramic chickens in various stages of completion. There, in the midst of the menagerie, was the son of the potter she knew. The father had passed away, but his son remembered Joan and clearly was moved by the respect she held for his father's work. They hugged, I teared up, and we ordered a gazillion of whatever they were making. My life as a Mexican folk art addict—I mean, collector—had begun.

That night back at the B&B I wrote in my journal "You could come to Mexico for twenty years and never see what I saw today, thanks to Joan." My mission with MY MEXICO TOURS has always been clear: To open the doors for my travelers as Joan did for me.

Working with Joan was a joy and La Casa de Espíritus Alegres was flying high. We were featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles and were named one of three "Best Inns of Mexico" in Fodor's and chosen by Frommer's as their "Most Unique Inn of Mexico."

Luckily, Joan lived to see that happen before she succumbed to cancer in 1998 at the age of 64. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of her and the great work we did together. I stayed on at the B&B for another five years and in the fall of 2002, after eight exciting, challenging, and eminently educational years, I moved on.

That fall I went to work on a project with Bon Appétit for their annual travel issue; in 2003 the chosen country was Mexico. I traveled across Mexico for several weeks working on a feature article (18 photo shoots in 23 days in 20 different locations!) based on Marilyn Tausend's cookbook, Savoring Mexico.


In the same issue of Bon Appétit, my recipes were featured in an Entertaining With Style article, Lunch at the Hacienda, shot at the home of my neighbors in Guanajuato, Rosendo & Carlene. A photo of their fabulous house and my delicious Pork Tenderloin with Orange Chipotle Sauce graced the cover of Bon Appétit's Soul of Mexico issue in May 2003. (Unfortunately they forgot to mention it was my recipe, but oh well, I knew…and now you do too.)

In 2003 I moved back to Santa Cruz and I began working with photographer Melba Levick on a book about Mexican kitchens, the fourth of Chronicle Books' Mexico design series. In the fall of 2006 Mexicocina: The Spirit and Style of the Mexican Kitchen was released.


While working with Bon Appétit and on Mexicocina, l traveled all across Mexico meeting cooks, artists, hotel owners, and warm, friendly people everywhere I went. After a particularly profound meeting with Diana Kennedy, then reading her book “My Mexico” from cover to cover, it became very clear that my next project would be a tour business in which I could share—as Joan had with me—the people, places, art, and flavors of Mexico I had come to love. Not all of Mexico, but my Mexico.

MY MEXICO TOURS began in the fall of 2003. Since then I've introduced hundreds and hundreds of intrepid travelers to the folk and fine art of Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Chiapas; the elegant colonial cities of Puebla, Guanajuato, and Morelia; the fabulous cuisines of Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Yucatán. We’ve enjoyed regional culinary experiences in humble huts, palatial homes, and cooking schools throughout the country; walked amongst the crumbling ruins yet seen the thriving preHispanic cultures in Michoacán, Oaxaca, Chiapas and the Yucatán.

We've hiked in jungles, boated through the floating gardens of Xochimilco, painted in the courtyards of convents and private estates, spent the night in three-hundred-year old haciendas and cemeteries glowing with candlelight, tasted the most ethereal quesadillas in the world by the side of the road and cooked in Diana Kennedy’s kitchen, attended crazy festivals, beautiful rituals, and deeply moving ceremonies.

Perhaps most important of all, we’ve spent time with the people who fill my Mexico: the artisans, archeologists, bakers, butchers, cooks, musicians, experts and everyday people who have given so much of themselves to us over the years. Artisans and characters. Drag queens and shamans. Monkey men and grandmas.

It's a great job. And the thing I like the most about it is that after all these years of extensive travel all over this country, I still feel just as delighted as I did when I first arrived, because on every visit I still discover new people, places, tastes, and sights, all of which I am able to share with my clients and friends.

In 2017, after fifteen years back in Santa Cruz, I returned to Mexico to live. In (yet another) amazing twist of fate, I first moved to Guanajuato, to a fabulous house about 100 steps up the hill from the Casa de Espiritus Alegres, where it all began for me in Mexico back in ’94.

In January 2021 I moved to Pátzcuaro, Michoacán and I hope to stay right here in my lovely old adobe home for the rest of my life.

The pandemic years were challenging—for all of us, I know—but I’m happy to report that I’m back to work again. I plan to only do one or two full-service tours a year and fill the rest of my working hours doing concierge tour planning for folks who wish to travel on their own, but with me in their pocket, so to speak.

Other wishes for the coming months and years are…

  • I have a deep desire to write again…and I want to be in better touch with all of you…so my plan is to do that here on my website on the News page.
  • I really miss doing the radio show at KZSC I was a part of since 1994, so I’m working on how I can connect with you in that manner as well.
  • I’m looking forward to returning to the kitchen in earnest now that I can entertain again.

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