Monday, March 17, 2008

The Cooking School In Patzcuaro

The Cooking Class at El Mesón de San Antonio

The proliferation of cooking schools in Mexico, ranging from short, one day classes to elaborate one week sojourns has been phenomenal in recent years. Oaxaca city seems to lead in offering cooking lessons, followed by Tlaxcala, Guadalajara, and Mexico City. This is an area of educational and entertaing tourism until recently neglected in Pátzcuaro.

I recently received an email from four Americans planning to visit Pátzcuaro, inquiring about Mexican cooking classes in the area. I knew of only one, on a distant Zirahúen ranch, and that was probably closed. I replied that I thought I could organize something for them, at the spacious and comfortable Hotel Mesón de San Antonio

With the cooperation of our friends, Mesón owners and hosts Sr. Alfredo del Río Mora, and his wife Sra. Guadalupe del Río, we put together a one day class of 5 to 6 hours. Guadalupe ("Lupe") is an excellent and dexterous cook, and would teach the class. I was the organizer and translator as necessary.

I corresponded at length by email with the guests to customize the class to their needs. The event was our "pilot program" and thus we were able to offer them a choice of menus with some variations. The theme was "Comida Michoacana", and the final menu was this:

• Ensalada de Nopalitos con queso fresco
• Churipo con Corundas
• Tortillas de Maíz Criollo hechas a mano
• Salsa de Chile de Árbol con Xoconostle;
• Postre: Copita de Gaspacho Moreliano
• Agua Fresca de Jamaica
• Pulque

We enlisted the help of Sra. Amparo Cervantes and her daughter, Mireya,
from the Restaurante Comida Regional in Tzurumútaro; specialists in the traditional making of corundas and handmade tortillas. They brought their vaporera, or steamer; and a metate y mano to demonstrate and teach the techniques to the guests.

Our day began when I led the guests, three of us toting shopping bags, on a shopping tour of Pátzcuaro's Mercado, to buy most of the ingredients for the meal. This was our shopping list:

• Carne de Res (Lupe purchased the beef earlier in order to get it cooking.)
• Cebollas
• Col
• Zanahorias
• Chayotes
• Calabacitas
• Xoconostles
• Cilantro
• Epazote
• Piña
• Jícama
• Mango
• Queso cotija
• Chile molido
• Limones
• Nopalitos
• Chile verde

Of course, we looked at many other things in the Mercado unrelated to our menu of the day. One could visit the Mercado every week and still find new and fascinating ingredients as well as prepared foods. The Pátzcuaro Mercado in photos.

When we arrived back at the hotel, Sras. Amparo and Mireya were there, setting up. You can see their demonstration of tortilla making in the video embedded below.

The guests were able to participate to whatever degree they wished; slicing, dicing, cutting, and most of all, trying their hands at tortilla making and, more challenging, filling and wrapping the 5-pointed corundas. I devoted my time to taking photos and videos, but was soon enlisted by Lupe to help in the preparations.

At a few minutes to 2:00 p.m., we sat down in the large "Refectorio" hall (once the set of a a telenovela filming) of the Mesón de San Antonio to our comida.

The churipo was rich with meat and vegetables; much better than any I'd ever had in restaurants; the Ensalada de Nopalitos, tart; slightly picante with chiles verdes serranos, and refreshing. The corundas were abundant, steaming hot, light and spongy, perfect for soaking up the broth of the churipo. The tamales, thick and earthy, were somewhat of an excess, but nevertheless welcome.

The agua fresca de jamaica was tart-sweet and refreshing.

Postre (dessert), was a light melange of diced fresh pineapple, jícama, and mango
bathed in freshly squeezed orange juice, sprinkled with Queso Cotija and a dusting of chile molido al gusto.

Excerpted Comments from Participants...

"We'd like to once again thank you for putting together a phenomenal cooking experience.. We found Lupe to be a gracious host, a beautiful kitchen to work around in and we appreciate all the work and efforts you all went to..."

"Market Shopping = A+ An exceptional experience especially for someone who's not attended a large city market. Knowing how to select and find the ingredients is of importance to most cooks."

"Menu = A+ With all the foods in Mexico to prepare it's hard to decide what would be the "perfect" menu for a cooking class. What you suggested and planned for fit us all perfectly. No complaints. This was a true and authentic menu..."

"An exceptional value for the experience..."
Leisa Bailey

"It was great fun and a nice and intimate setting to visit with very nice and interesting people. The Purhepecha menus for classes will be very appealing to people visiting, both foreigners and Mexican, I would think."

Carole Kocian

For further information, contact Mesón de San Antonio


GreggR said...

Your class must have had a blast!
The kitchen is beautiful, does it function as well as it looks?

Don Cuevas said...

Hi, Gregg;
thanks for your comment.

The kitchen functioned quite well, although a few adjustments might be made to make it even better.

There is a lot of workspace, plus a bar/counter from which people can observe. The main work counnter is L-shaped but the range island has a lot of room for food prep.

The stove is actually a modern, 6-burner Mabe™ gas range with oven; plus there are two, extra heavy duty burners set into the tiled range island.

The tiled sink is a two compartment. The refrigerator is adequate, considering that most ingredients are bought fresh the day of the class.