of My Heart Oaxaca Cooking School
hands on with the youthful as well
Trilling and her staff offer a marathon culinary experience,
with location of instruction shared between the Wednesday
Etla marketplace, and Susanas traditionally styled,
large kitchen complex near San Lorenzo Cacaotepec, a village
located between Oaxaca city and the town of Etla.
At 9 am sharp a van pulls up to a downtown Oaxaca hotel, the
pre-arranged meeting place, and picks us up, an assorted group
of 12 ranging in age from 9 to 60ish. All I knew was that
we were off to a local market for some tasting, a light meal
and purchasing ingredients for the cooking lesson, followed
by the comida we were to prepare.
We arrived at the bustling and colorful Etla marketplace after
about 40 minutes, and were greeted by Yolanda, a member of
Susanas staff. It quickly became apparent that Susana
would not be with us in the market. Someone asked if Susana
would be giving the class, and Yolandas response was
somewhat affirmative: Yes, I think well all be
there for the class.
Yolandas English was excellent, but just as important,
her knowledge was extensive. She took us for an extensive,
magical market tour, explaining about the town and surrounding
villages, who comes from where to attend the market, and what
the region is best known for. She stopped at several outdoor
stalls to provide explanations of what we were seeing, ranging
from produce to cooking utensils. Tidbits of information seeming
to supplement a fixed format easily rolled off her tongue,
both in response to questions asked, and of her own accord:
Do you want to know where your chewing gum comes from,
well heres the fruit, the chico zapote. Everybody taste
it. What do you think?
Chico zapote was the first of twenty or more samplings
in the market, each providing a burst of a uniquely different
flavor, and accompanied by an explanation as to differences
between seemingly like foodstuffs, and when and how they are
customarily eaten: a half dozen different tamales from a local
vendor who attends the market with steaming offerings; distinctly
different breads and rolls for dipping chocolate, making sandwiches
and other traditional usages; the three varieties of Oaxacan
cheeses most commonly encountered; ice creams known as
nieves, flavored with pecan, another with lime zest, with
a third being an egg yolk - cinnamon concoction known as sorbete.
Remember I explained to you about the different types
of molcajetes or hand grinders for milling all kinds
of things, well heres one of the uses, to produce the
zest use to make this wonderful lime ice. Taste the freshness,
and distinct difference between what youre probably
used to having made with lemon or lime juice, and what these
small key limes can produce?
And heres a little tip for you, if you want your
hot chocolate to be frothy, dont boil your water and
chocolate at the same time, otherwise youll never get
that foam on top.
Yolanda spends extra time identifying chiles and explaining
their uses, not at all unexpected given the importance of
chiles in Oaxacan cookery. She explains the uses of
the nopal cactus, and then when we walk by some fava
beans she comes back to how nopal and fava can be used
together. She once again refers back to the nopal when
we see mounds of prickly pear, or tuna as theyre
locally knows. She stresses which are used for eating, and
which for making a fresh sweet juice or a sherbet, and from
what type of cactus each is derived.
Our medical lesson begins with a stop by the lady with bundled
fresh herbs on the ground, and continues at the booth of the
vendor selling dried and boxed local remedies. One in the
group simply cant resist the opportunity to buy a local
product for whatever was ailing him. I didnt ask. Another
picks up a 15 peso amulet from Chiapas known as ojo de
venado (literally deers eye), to give to a friend
back home with a different infirmity.
Now before we sit down for a light lunch over here,
lets sample what these women over there are pouring.
Of course its tejate and chilacayota,
the two most popular drinks traditionally prepared in local
markets, which to the untrained tourist would normally be
a no-no. Dont worry, everything you eat here in
this market with me is safe.
We sit down alongside some locals, at a long white ceramic
tile lunch counter with women at the grill behind. Our choices
are enchiladas, entomatadas and enfrijolandas,
each drenched with a different salsa or mole
over softened tortilla, garnished with cheese and sliced
white onion. I request an extra small serving (only
one enchilada please) but a full meal, albeit
one item . . . oversized, arrives. I eat it all anyway.
Now why dont you all wander around on your own
for a half hour, perhaps buy some things that caught your
eye earlier, and well meet back at the van where we
started out, lets say at 12:30.
Its now after 1 pm. We traverse the countryside over
dirt roads en route to the Trilling kitchen, with a strong
feeling of anticipation.
Clad in white blouse and skirt, an angelic looking Susana
warmly greets each of us individually, and welcomes us into
a most impressive and spacious dome-topped kitchen and dining
area with adjoining gift shop. Please, make yourself
at home, we have two washrooms, there are a couple of types
of fresh fruit juice, and coffee. Pick up your recipe outines.
Well be starting shortly.
There is now a staff of five milling about, consisting of
Yolanda, Peg who appears to be Susanas administrative
assistant, two kitchen staff, and Jesús, a young helper-for-all
Its now approaching 2 pm. Susana begins her lecture
regarding Oaxacan cookery, in detail explaining every recipe
which is before us in a series of printed pages. She notes
that her book is for sale, about her PBS television series,
and regarding the mezcal being offered as a courtesy
of the house, also for sale: The owner of the mezcal
factory is a friend of mine. She continues: Id
like to introduce you to Don Alejandro Lopez Juarez, a gentleman
who lives one village over, and carves and paints wooden figures
together with his wife. You know his arthritis is pretty serious
now, so theres not much work he can do. Don Alejandro
gingerly removes from his bag and carefully unwraps about
ten simple, rustic carved painted pieces, generic cattle they
would appear to be, and places them on the table, for sale.
Were comfortably seated while Susana lectures for just
over an hour, detailing each of the five principal recipes
well be creating, peppering her oratory with interesting
and informative anecdotes and gems: No, estofado
which well be making today isnt one of the seven
moles, but rather a stew; however just so youll
know, the moles are
.and the difference between
them and stews are
Susana provides information about substituting one ingredient
for another, helpful to both vegetarians and those who live
in parts of the US or further abroad where encountering select
ingredients can be challenging. She plugs a couple of books
which appear to be dear to her heart, In Defense of Food and
The Omnivorous Dilemma. She urges us to buy books at our local
bookstores rather than via the internet with a view to supporting
neighborhood economies. Susanas motivation appears to
be a sincere attempt to foster patronage for worthy causes,
local business, and people for whom she cares.
Yolanda hadnt bought any ingredients for the class during
the market tour. All was displayed for us in Susanas
kitchen, for our arrival, the ingredients for each recipe
laid out in a wicker basket with instruction sheet atop. As
Susana begins to explain each recipe, Jesús brings
over the appropriate canasta. She details how well be
creating each of the following:
1) A fairly complex appetizer dish from the Yucatan known
2) Green salad with jícama, guava and
3) Chilled chayote bisque;
4) Spanish chicken stew with capers and olives (Oaxacan, though
imported from Spain during colonial times);
5) Layered mango pudding or charlottle.
Now tell me who wants to make which dish, but first
let me recap what well be making, because I know it
was a lot to take in.
Let me tell you where the stations are. Heres
the soup station, over there is the pastry department, and
just so you know, well be using the outside kitchen
for toasting seeds since it can get pretty smoky.
Please, couples split up. That way youll get a
more diverse learning experience.
Its now 3 pm, and each group of two or three begins
to gather at its designated area. Everyone mills about, initially
a bit confused, but quickly realizing that the staff, in particular
the two women assistants, are there, at our disposal. Yolanda
leaves at some point during the afternoon. Susana is present
in the kitchen assisting roughly half of the time, more so
after about the first hour. Jesús ensures that beer
With Susanas fine orchestration, all miraculously comes
together. Who wants to help set the tables? The
meal is served, Susana joining us and paying tribute to her
staff, to our toasting and applause. Presentation is exquisite,
with flavor and texture of each dish unparalleled.
But alas, all good things must come to an end, with Susana
signing a couple of books, and bidding farewell to each, as
we board the van. We arrive at downtown Oaxaca around 7:30
p.m., after a very full day.
Susana appeared to be present with us for about three and
a half hours of this all encompassing gastronomic experience.
Her staff was knowledgeable and appeared quite helpful.
As an aside, I was subsequently advised by Peg, the administrative
assistant, amongst other things, that Yolanda Giron is the
main leader of the market tour these days; that Susana is
in fact on site from when a class arrives at the school, until
it departs; and that at times the group is large, 20 people
used as an example. For a smaller group and more intimate
cooking school experience, read my reviews of the classes
given by Nora Valencia (Cocina con Nora) and Pilar Cabrera
(BB Sabores Cooking School).
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
) is a founding member of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association,
its members providing an attractive alternative to lodging
in a Oaxaca hotel. Our member Oaxaca bed and breakfasts are
committed to providing value-added service in a quaint, personal
touch environment, a contrast to traditional Oaxaca hotels.
Casa Machaya co-owner Alvin, the Oaxaca destinations expert
for a major international travel website, provides Oaxaca
tours to his house guests as well as those staying in other
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