Our class at the Mexican Home Cooking School February 9, 2013
Flying to Mexico for a cooking class in the middle of a Minnesota winter seemed a perfect way to restore the circulation in our frostbitten fingers and toes.
As the van that picked us up from the airport rounded a final bend in the road and the generous gardens and patio of Jon and Estella’s bougainvillea laced hacienda came into view on the hill, it appeared that we were off to a fine start. Indeed, we were.
I’ll put it simply: Our 5 days and nights at the school far surpassed even the best of our fanciful expectations.
Our accommodations were beautiful and serene, filled with light and classical Mexican architectural detail and design. The corner fireplace was a delight as we sat up in our enormous bed, watching the flames, sipping our morning coffee.
After a leisurely breakfast, served on the patio by Maria, our housekeeper – assistant cook – and excellent maker of margaritas, our classes began at 10:00.
The intimate size of the classes (6 maximum; there were 5 in our party) insures that everyone has ample time to make fools of themselves, and to celebrate as a particular technique is mastered, all in the good humored and comfortable atmosphere of the big, cheerful kitchen.
Jon is the Sous Chef, quietly instructing us in the hands-on capture and dissection of the many varieties of chili peppers, and the shaving of cactus leaves, the preparation of herbs and spices, and in the art of mixing the masa and stuffing the tamales.
He is also an occasional interpreter for his wife, Estella. Her English is limited, though she possesses an articulate array of dramatic gestures and facial expressions, leaving no one in doubt of the meaning of what she is saying, even if her verbs are occasionally askew, or a noun here and there startlingly redefined.
There are techniques and tricks for cooking certain of the recipe’s ingredients that are critical to the success of the dish, and we are each given a turn at the stove to practice them. This would be difficult to learn from a book, But Estella’s watchful eye and friendly hand guides us through the steps.
We watch, we do, we laugh, we learn.
Estella is the reincarnation of a long line of Pueblan grandmothers, at whose knee she learned her art and craft. She has made it her mission to keep alive the knowledge and techniques that she fears may someday be lost.
At the end of each days’ class, we will have made 6 or 7 dishes: appetizers, soup, salad, side dishes, entrees, and dessert, which Estella and Maria set out on the dining room table, beautifully plated and garnished, looking like the shiny cover of everyone’s favorite cooking magazine.
It is irresistible; everyone takes out their camera. Some of these dishes will be served at lunch; others are for our evening meal. A proud day’s work.
After lunch, we are free to nap, play Scrabble or Bananagram, read, wander the local village, or socialize. (We met a delightful and interesting couple who’d signed up for the week’s classes, as we had, making us a party of 5 apprentices of varying experiences.) There is no t.v. at the school, thank goodness, though there is internet access.
Several afternoons, we took the easy, reliable taxi service to some of the neighboring towns and archeological sites. One day, we spent the entire afternoon in the city of Tlaxcala, mingling with the local people, crowded in the sidewalk cafes awaiting the Mardi Gras Carnival parade. There were troupes of dancers and musicians, many in costumes and masks, and clowns on stilts, children and adults, dogs, donkeys; all making their way to the town square for the crowning of the King and Queen.
It was a wonderful crowd, invariably polite, as we were among the few Norte Americanos, and it was especially fun watching the little children around us, excited, trying to catch the candy and treats tossed out from the passing floats, while the waiters threaded their way through the crowd bringing us the good Mexican beer.
Given the news that we often hear, I have to say that for our entire stay at the school and the several visits to towns large and small, there was not a moment when any of us experienced even a hint of uneasiness or danger. We felt entirely safe the whole time.
On the morning of our departure from the Mexican Home Cooking School, each of us received a diploma, and a notebook with freshly bound copies of the recipes we used through the week. It felt to us that we were leaving people who were not only our teachers, but who had become our friends. Hugs were exchanged all around. We’d love to return for a second course!
-Christian and Sarah
- Bon Appetit Magazine, May 2003
- San Francisco Chronicle
- Friends Magazine (Dallas, Texas)
- New Yorker Magazine
- Canadian Student Magazine 2008
- Better Homes and gardens 2009
- Afar Magazine 2009
- Toronto Star: 2010
- New York Magazine 2011
- Business Mexico (American Chamber of Commerce Magazine, Mexico City)
- Fairlady Magazine (Capetown)
- Philippines Star (Newspaper, Manila)
- Holland Herald (KLM in-flight magazine)
“Cooking in Paradise” Joel & Lee Naftali
Lonely Planet Travel Guide
“Live with Regis and Kelly” 2008
In the two years I have been in Mexico, one of the most enjoyable and certainly one of my most memorable trips was my stay at the Mexican Home Cooking School outside the city of Tlaxcala. In my job, it is important to learn about the culture and try to find ways to better understand what makes a country and its people tick. The hands-on cooking experience, shopping in the local produce market, visits to the local attractions, and the insights into Mexican cuisine and history that we got from our hosts Jon and Estela were invaluable and gave me a better appreciation for the unique aspects of Mexican culture.
Mary Jo Long
Vice Consul – U.S. Embassy Mexico City
New York City, New York
Dear Estela & Jon,
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
This week has far exceeded my expectation. The house is beautiul, and rich with textrure and colors made more magical by the view of the mountain in the moonlight.
Every day I’ve discovered something I hadn’t seen before. The food, the colors and aromas and visual presentation has been exquisite. I can’t wait to share your food with my friends and family. I would love to return someday, either with my husband to enjoy the romance of this place, or with my daughter, who is an eager and accomplished cook. You have created a little heaven on earth here.
I also appreciate the way you looked after us, making sure we got here from the airport even when we missed our plane and amazing transportation here and there.
April 6, 2012
New York City, New York
“I had high hopes for this trip and they were far surpassed.”
Reviewed August 2, 2011
1. The Classes. So well organized that any of the drudgery of cooking seemed not to exist. Because Estela, Jon, and Maria had prepared so well, we were able to cook many more dishes than should have been possible in the allotted hours, without feeling rushed. Classes were tailored to my skill level as a cook and as a Spanish-speaker. All the classic dishes and techniques of Poblano cooking were covered and some surprises, too. It was fun. Oh, and the food was delicious.
2. The Accommodations. The house and my room were lovely and full of plants and fresh flowers, the landscape was beautiful, the pre-breakfast coffee was well-appreciated, and Jon set a fire in the fireplace in the evenings.
3. The Area. Although I’ve traveled a good bit in Mexico, this was my first trip to the Puebla/Tlaxcala area. I found both towns charming–friendly and sophisticated–and my trips to nearby ruins and to a church shaped like a ship were well worth the trouble. Jon was always ready with suggestions, information, and taxi arrangements.
Jon, Estela, and Maria did everything they could to make sure I had a good time and I certainly did. I count them as friends now and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Dear Estela, Jon and Maria,
What a wonderful family reunion we had at your beautiful home!
It was everything I hoped it would be. I developed a whole new appreciation for Mexican cooking. The classes were so enjoyable and I loved having the week to cook with my family and then enjoy the fruits of our labor.
I loved photographing your beautiful setting. I will be painting your gorgeous lake and surroundings all winter long.
Thanks for all you did to make our stay so special.
New York City
Dear Estela, Jon & Maria,
What a wonderful week it has been. Thank you all so much for de-mystifying Mexican cooking for me. It has confirmed what I suspected – Mexico has a superb cuisine.
It has been a pleasure knowing you and sharing your beautiful house, hospitality and fun. Hope to see you next year. No, I Will see you next year.
Dear Estela and Jon,
Some moments in our lives are unique. My visit with you was one of them. When I decided to come I did not know for sure what I would find. But as soon as I got there I felt that I was in a real family.
You both are great people! Very nice and professionalism at the same time.
I don’t know how to say thank you for all the time and attention that I received.
Your Brazilian friend, Leo