MexicaChica packages imaginative high-end tours for small groups of women here in Yucatan. The educational but fun trips have a multi-disciplinary approach.
“For instance,” explains the owner, Claudette Elizondo, “our fantastic collage workshop takes us on a day trip to the Uxmal ruins, where a professional actress helps us reenact Maya legends. We photograph the reenactments and then later use the pictures in a studio, to make our own collages. These are well-rounded learning vacations.”
Read more about Claudette and her exciting new luxury tour company on her website.
One of the tour themes is Culture Through Cuisine. For this tour, MexicaChica will be partnering with a new culinary venture in Merida called remixto. Both professionally run companies are just getting off the ground and the other day I was lucky enough to join MexicaChica’s first cooking workshop, given in cooperation with remixto owner, Chef Brent Marsh, a New Zealander who has lived in many countries. Learn more about remixto on their website.
We had a class in classic Mexican cuisine featuring food from all regions of Mexico. Within four hours we prepared a dazzling array of complex dishes and I think all of us were amazed at how relatively simple it was to make them. The class was held in Yury DiPasquale’s professional kitchen in her lovely home. Each of us received handsome MexicaChica aprons. We worked hard, but had a wonderful time. All the ingredients were ready, the tools laid out, and we each received recipes for everything we’d done.
Chef Brent made everything look easy of course, with his clever banter and lightning quick hands, but I came out of the class confident that I could actually cook this stuff. Chef Brent discussed Yucatecan food and pointed out that since Yucatan was cut off from the rest of Mexico until relatively recently, cooking evolved differently here. And because of the climate and the nature of the soil, we have a limited scope of ingredients. Therefore, over the years, Yucatecans developed the use of the these limited ingredients to perfection. They used them in various combinations and cooked and seasoned in different ways, making the absolute most of what they had.
My favorite thing we made was white beans (ibes) with toasted pumpkin seeds. As Brent said, these particular beans are”creamy” and satisfying. The beans were presoaked prior to the class and all we did was boil them and add simple garnishes like onion, toasted pumpkin seeds, scallions, cilantro, salt and epazote. Not difficult, but so surprising that the particular combination of herbs and flavorings enhanced the beans so beautifully, converting them from Just Beans, to something marvelous.
Masa, or ground corn is a Mexican cooking staple. We used it to make tortillas and tamales.
We prepared several kinds of salsas, using different chiles and vegetables. I never realized that before using chiles, tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables, you roast them on top of the stove on a heavy metal round plate called a comal. You also use the comal to cook tortillas and many other things. (Because of course, it’s so hot, standard ovens never took off in Yucatan.) Brent said that a large cast iron skillet would do, but comals are ubiquitous in the central market.
We also made carnitas, chicken in pipian, tamales with chicken mole, yellow rice with achiote, and – hold me back – flan with caramel. Yes, we learned to make it from scratch and it was not difficult or complex. It’s time consuming because it has to bake, set, and refrigerate. Brent had a cool way of separating egg yolks, pictured below.
You will notice that there are no pictures of the finished dishes, because tragically, I had to leave just as everything was getting done. I also missed lunch. Poor me.
Congratulations to Claudette and MexicaChica for putting these unique cultural experiences together and to Chef Brent and his company, remixto. Their companies bring a new group of experts to Merida, and if this class was any indication, they will do quite well.