Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cooking Class, Peruvian Style. (The Peruvian Cooking Experience).

Since we have had great success in selecting restaurants to eat at and have tried many of the traditional Peruvian dishes, we felt it was time to take a class in cooking some of the dishes we like. We chose “The Peruvian Cooking Experience” purely because they were the first to respond to our request and were very obliging with our needs. They offer three different menu selections and we wanted the Traditional because we wanted to learn how to cook a particular favorite of mine “Lomo Saltado”. The other menu selections are an all fish menu and an Andean menu. The fish came a close second as it included ceviche and then a main course but the lomo saltado won. There are three parts to the class. The first is a walk to the local market and learning about the foods unique to Peru. Then there is the cooking class itself and the final part is a class in pisco, the history, the production of it and of course the art of “pisco sour” making. Because of timing, we opted not to take the market tour but only the cooking and pisco classes. After several emails back and forth with Gitta (Birgitta), we were all set for the 11 am Saturday class. The class is held at the Casa De Avila Hotel and since it is close to where we are staying and it is a beautiful sunny day we decide to walk instead of taking a cab to the class. We arrive about 15 minutes early and check in. There was one other lady with her daughter signing up at the same time. It turns out that they are from Sacramento and the lady also is a doctor at Kaiser Permanente and knows of Tom’s sister, another example of “what a small world it is”. While we are waiting, we wander around the courtyard of the hotel and admire the gorgeous plants and flowers. Although there was supposed to be a maximum of 9 people, there had been a computer glitch and there were 14 of us. A large group but manageable, we were told. Armando is our chef and teacher and he quickly got us organized and after ensuring everyone washed their hands, we were attired in apron and chef’s hat emblazoned with the “Peruvian Cooking Experience” logo. The dishes were explained to us and pretty soon, the whole group had knives and cutting boards and we were chopping, slicing and dicing our first course. Oh, and this is taking place in an area of the vast grounds which has been turned into a huge outdoor kitchen and patio which thankfully are covered to protect from the sun. As we prepared the first course of “Causa Relleno”, Armando kept us entertained with Peruvian history, Peruvian folklore and of course Peruvian cuisine. Causa is a potato dish made from Papas Amarillo (Yellow Potatoes) whereby the potatoes are mashed to form a dough consistency and then pressed into a mold with layers of either a meat or tuna mixture and then a layer of vegetables. They are then pressed out onto a plate and the effect we are looking for is one of layered colors. Causa’s (meaning “cause”) origins trace back to the Peruvian Civil War. When you were invited to someone’s house for Causa, you accepted if you agreed with their ideas (for the cause) and if you didn’t, you declined. Seems civilized. Two of Armando’s helpers set a table for us to eat at and assisted in clearing away the debris from our preparations. When we were finished it was time to eat our causa along with an interesting but tasty soft drink made from black corn. It was then time to prepare the Lomo Saltado. We were split into pairs, so naturally Tom and I were together for the preparing and cooking. Lomo Saltado is very similar to a beef stir fry. The beef is cut into thin strips and tossed with soy sauce and it is quickly cooked in a very hot pan with onions and peppers and peculiarly, French fries. It is served with rice and is delicious. Everyone seemed pleased with their efforts and as we ate, Armando talked more. Do you know potatoes come from Peru and there are over 3,000 varieties in all? I asked about a seed bank and there is indeed one maintained in the event of a global disaster. After the cooking segment only five of us had signed up for the pisco session. Tom, myself and three young ladies from New Zealand. Natalia ran this portion and she was fun, knowledgeable and accommodating. We learned about pisco and then we learned how to make pisco sours. We poured, we prepared, we shook the cocktail shakers, oh…..and we drank. There is only one thing I can say about the Peruvian Cooking Experience – it was a blast. We had so much fun and all for about $25.00 per person. We are even thinking of doing the fish menu. Causa anyone?

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