We love to take cooking classes whenever we travel 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. So when we decided to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, finding a cooking class was high on our agenda.
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. So much so that since our first time, we’ve been back and were able to meet up with Coty and her team for another cooking class at her new location. We loved the menu so much that we made it both times – it was that good!
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 menu included making several sauces, constructing a ceviche tour, steaming fish in a banana leaf, and making a flambeed banana dessert. All followed by a mezcal and tequila tasting. Coty calls this her signature menu and it is nothing short of spectacular.
The first item on the menu was a Ceviche Tower (timbal of ceviche). 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 some of the chopping, thanks to the cooking class staff). Fun fact – chipotles are actually smoked jalapeño peppers. Coty of course makes it look easy!
And while my ceviche tour wasn’t quite as impressive as Coty’s, I still have to say it came out pretty well.
While my ceviche tower wasn’t quite as impressive as Coty’s, I still have to say it came out pretty well. Then there’s Sean’s leaning tower of ceviche.
Next up was bass and shrimp in an achiote and tomato sauce, steamed in a banana leaf. We learned quite a bit while making this dish. For example, Coty recommended seasoning the dish with dried Mexican Oregano that had not previously been crushed, resulting in a more intensive flavor. I also had never previously used banana leaf in cooking and was really surprised that we needed to heat it over the stove in order to make it pliable. Otherwise the leaf would crack and split rather than forming an envelope around the fish. The pickled onion and pepper habanero sauce (salsa xnipec) brought the whole thing together. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.
Prior to using the banana leaf as a wrapper, it needs to be softened. Otherwise it will split and will be rendered useless as a vehicle for steaming the fish. So the process for making sure that we aren’t left with a dry piece of fish in the end involves some work. The first step is finding existing holes and tears in leaf, then forming a patch using another leaf.
Next the leaf must be tenderized by heating it. It looks like it is almost melting under the open flame.
Wrap it all together and steam.
Bake for about 1/2 and hour, top with salsa xnipec and you end up with this beautiful delicious dish!
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. It reminded me of bananas foster. We were pretty full at this point, but I have to confess we ate every bit of the dessert anyway.
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. Best of all, it was nice to have an intimate day laughing with Coty in her kitchen (again!). 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. Next time we’re here, we’ll be looking up Coty once again and trying something new.
Click here to see our review of cooking classes and food tours we’ve taken around the world. If you love to cook, visit our recipes section to see our collection of recipes inspired by our ongoing travels around the world.
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