We love to take cooking classes whenever we get to a new place. It’s a great way to get to know a destination as food, history and culture are all tightly bound together. Plus, cooking the food after the class brings back wonderful memories of the places that we’ve been.
After doing some research on-line we chose CoCo’s Culinary School located just a block off the beach in Playa Del Carmen Mexico. We contacted Coty, Owner and Chef, and booked the Three Course Meal. Instead of picking a menu from her website, we asked her to choose one for us and it turns out that this was exactly the right decision.
When we arrived at the Cooking School we were greeted by the staff who treated us to a hibiscus drink. Dried hibiscus flowers, which are apparently inexpensive here, were brewed like a tea and then cooked down and sweetened to make a refreshing cool drink. So immediately after walking through the door we were already introduced to new flavor #1 – complete with hibiscus ice. Nice touch!
Coty arrived with a huge smile making us feel right at home. She described her planned menu (and provided detailed written recipes for us to take home), had us don our aprons, and began with a basic knife skills review. She explained that since this was a class, we would be cooking almost all parts of the menu ourselves.
The first item on the menu was a Ceviche Tower. It consisted of a sweet potato base with a layer of mango, avocado and fish marinated in lime juice and spices. The star of the dish for me was the spicy chipotle sauce on the side. Honestly, Sean is the ceviche fan of the family but I really liked it too. We made the sauce and everything else from scratch (minus the chopping, thanks to the cooking class staff). Fun fact – chipotles are actually smoked jalapeño peppers.
Next up bass and shrimp in an achiote and tomato sauce, steamed in a banana leaf. We learned quite a bit making this dish. I’ve never used banana leaf in cooking and was really surprised that we needed to heat it over the stove in order to make it pliable so that we could fold it around the fish. We also made a pickled onion and serrano pepper garnish that brought the whole thing together. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.
This class was definitely hands-on. I’ve taken some “classes” where the chef demonstrates to a large room full of people and that was not the case here. Coty gave great step by step instructions and is clearly passionate about the foods of Mexico and her craft. We heard stories about both the evolution of food in the Mayan Peninsula as well as tales of Coty’s evolution as a Chef in her adventures around the world.
For dessert, we made sautéed bananas in a Rompope (think Mexico’s alcoholic version of egg nog) sauce that we flambeed with a touch of rum topped with ice cream. Reminded me of bananas foster.
We finished the whole experience with a Tequila/Mezcal lesson and tasting. Chef Coty has taken on a mission to educate people about the differences between tequila and mezcal: in addition to geographic region and method for preparing the two liquors, only mezcal has the famous “worm”. The worm, which is usually sitting in the bottom of the bottle, provides an additional earthy flavor. We tried the traditional mezcal accompaniment, “worm salt”, which is a combination of salt and ground worm.
The class gave us an introduction to new ingredients and also new ways of thinking about cooking with things that were familiar. I’ve had plenty of fish, salsa, pickled onion, and even picked banana leaves from my garden, but have never put them all together before. It was nice to have an intimate day laughing with Coty in her kitchen. We now have a few more culinary skills up our sleeves and more than just beach pictures to take away from our time in Playa.
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