Ex-pat Liana Turner, a sweet success in P.V.

Expatriate Liana Turner's cinnamon rolls are wowing Puerto Vallartans.

Expatriate Liana Turner's cinnamon rolls are wowing Puerto Vallartans.

One of the greatest things about travel is running into friends of yore and seeing them happily ensconced in the glamorous areas we visit.

Thus it was when we attended a family wedding in Puerto Vallarta May 8. We found Liana (formerly Lee Ann) Turner on VallartaBlog.com. Turner, who worked five-plus years on The Journal with me, had moved there in 1995.

The profile story was under the heading “A Slice of Life in Puerto Vallarta.” The six-page feature: “Vallarta’s Best Cinnamon Rolls.” Read the story


She is owner of “Paradise Bakery” in Puerto Vallarta serving a dozen coffee houses, restaurants, et al., with wonderful baked goods.

Since we had arrived early for the wedding, we called Turner and arranged to meet her for lunch on Tuesday (the wedding was Thursday). We ordered a big batch of cinnamon rolls for the group with whom we were staying at the delightful CasaAndrea Boutique Hotel, to go along with the regular tasty breakfast. The huge rolls cost less than $1.50 apiece!

As told in the blog, Turner comes from a long line of Seattle foragers and as a child she dug clams, fished, hunted for mushrooms and basically pulled things out of the ground or sea to eat them … from deeply ingrained culinary needs, not profit. Almost all of her life has had to do with food or wine. Her parents’ restaurant in Eastern Washington and others in the San Juan Islands were her training grounds.

Turner tells how she lived on San Juan Island for six years in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

“The islands haven’t changed much since then, but the people that inhabit them have changed considerably,” she states. “Many of today’s realtors and shop owners were yesterday’s hippies. Did they sell out? No, I think they just got tired of taking showers in the trailer park. Back then, many of us lived in the woods in dome houses, tipis, tents, beautiful makeshift wooden structures and other dwellings that would never pass code today.

“It was a society of fishermen and women, subsistence farmers and back-to-the-land hippie types, and those people were a wealth of knowledge. They were farming organically long before it became fashionable, and doing yoga before Madonna had even heard of it. We lived simply, many without electricity or running water. Potluck dinners were a big part of life there. The food, wonderful and creative, often was vegetarian but with a heavy salmon emphasis which was cheap and plentiful. Those were the people who led me to Mexico. Many to Yelapa. I just had to find out for myself.”

I was delighted to learn when we went to lunch on La Playa, a block from our hotel on the ocean, that Turner had been writing a column for the Puerto Vallarta Tribune called “The Irreverent Chef.” She gave me a couple of copies relating to her San Juan Island, Yelapa and other adventures. She told how she finished high school in Seattle while her parents ran the East Washington restaurant on weekends. She cooked for her friends and they had to stay and “help clean up the shrapnel in time for my mother’s return after being bribed with elaborate dinners on Sunday afternoons. One of my favorite dishes was squid, so the house came to be known as Liana’s “Flop House and Squid Parlor.”

She decided to try the San Juans (thinking it sounded tropical) but instead of palm trees and colored birds, she found black-and-white bald eagles and whales. “Not what I expected but an amazing place, and I stayed for six years (and more later on).”

Her first job was as dishwasher at “The Wounded Pig” (now the newly remodeled and styled “Haley’s Bait Shop & Grill”). “It was a good thing that I was paying attention because when the cook forgot to show up for work one night, I was able to jump in and save the day, thus securing my first cooking job.”

Turner worked at nearly every restaurant on the island, doing deep fry fish at “Topsider” (now “Vinny’s Ristorante”), a decent Chicken Cordon Bleu at “The Mariner” (now “Downriggers”). She learned the difference between iceberg lettuce and good salad at Roche Harbor Resort, picked up sautee and broiler at “Turnagain” (now “China Pearl). She liked the open kitchen at Turnagain … “which I truly believe in. Only restaurants with nothing to hide will adopt this concept.”

She is grateful to all of the super chefs and cooks along the way “especially that guy who didn’t come to work and got me out of the dish pit.”

After the wedding, we had a farewell lunch at the Puerto Vallarta airport with Liana and her delightful daughter Maia, who stylishly selects her own lovely clothes at the tender age of 11. Liana’s son by a previous marriage, John MacCallum, is on San Juan Island with his father, Iain. John is in 10th grade at Friday Harbor High School.

It’s hard to believe that this young woman spent several seasons working on fishing boats in Washington and Alaska, gillnetting for salmon and longlining for dogfish and halibut. That she has slimed salmon in a cannery, worked on a piledriver, sold and designed advertising for The Journal, directed PR at a winery, cooked at two airfields and a remote camp in Antarctica and was executive chef for luxury yachts in California, Alaska and Costa Rica.

“That’s the short list,” adds Turner.

And all of that before going to Yelapa in 1995 where she owned a restaurant, Cafe Un Mondo, also known as Slippery Rock Cafe, for five years before going to Puerto Vallarta, where she has just rented an area across from the airport for her new location which will include a retail outlet for her increasingly famous products.

“Basically, I just love food and cooking, and having been given the gift of the ability to make people happly through food is something that I really appreciate.”

So did we. Buenas suertes, Liana and Maia.

Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington).