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Casa de los Sabores Cooking School in Oaxaca expands options for food enthusiasts

June 2009
by Alvin Starkman of Casa Machaya
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Internationally acclaimed Oaxacan chef Pilar Cabrera (NY Times, Bon Appetit) has expanded the roster at her well-known downtown Oaxaca cooking school, Casa de los Sabores (House of Flavors). Effective June, 2009, indigenous Zapotec chef Reyna Mendoza joins Pilar's team, offering a new dimension to the already stellar selection of options available to intrigued foodies, those with a keen interest in Mexican cuisine, as well as chefs from around the globe seeking to add to their existing menus.

A native of Teotitlán del Valle, Reyna brings her knowledge, skill and experience to Casa de los Sabores. She specializes in the preparation of Zapotec dishes.

Reyna has worked with the likes of chefs Rick Bayless and Ricardo Muñoz. Accordingly, her pedigree is beyond reproach, combining technical aspects of the culinary sciences, with lifelong experience in the modest kitchens of her mother and her family's other matriarchs of gastronome. And today, members of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association (http://www.oaxacabedandbreakfast.org) had an opportunity to learn for themselves.

Pilar invited colleagues from the association to attend her cooking school, so that owners and managers of small hotels and bed & breakfast guest houses in Oaxaca, would be able to experience for themselves what Reyna can add to the vacation of any visitor to the city and its central valleys. And for four hours, we grilled, chopped and filled, and finally indulged in the fruits of our labor, at this hands-on demonstration.

While we prepared a complete comida, we focused on the preparation of three distinctly different types of Zapotec-style tamales. The complete menu consisted of:

  1. Tamales of mole amarillo with chicken, wrapped in large corn stalk leaf;
  2. Tamales of mole negro with chicken, in banana leaf;
  3. Tamales of mole negro with quesillo, in banana leaf;
  4. Tamales of black bean, flavored with avocado leaf, wrapped in corn husk;
  5. Salsa of tomatillo and dried Oaxacan chile
  6. Salad of organic lettuce, locally grown tomato, avocado and scallion, with cilantro and chile poblano dressing;
  7. Mango sherbet served with pecan cookie.
And of course, upon completing the preparation of the foregoing dishes, and throughout the comida, there were rounds of the requisite "salud," while imbibing … Corona beer and village mezcal.

More than providing an opportunity for us to learn about Reyna and her ability to teach, and to experience for ourselves the exquisite flavor and ingredient combinations of Zapotec cuisine, it was one of those rare opportunities for members of the Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast Association to tell stories, laugh, and enjoy a day away from the office.

Classes for both traditional Oaxacan recipes with Pilar, and Zapotec cooking with Reyna, can be booked by contacting Pilar through her website, http://www.casadelossabores.com.

Alvin Starkman has a masters in social anthropology and law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. Now a resident of Oaxaca, Alvin writes, takes tours to the sights, and owns Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ), a unique Oaxaca bed and breakfast experience, providing Oaxaca accommodations which combine the comfort and service of downtown Oaxaca hotels with the personal touch of quaint country inn style lodging.

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