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Published: March 24th 2014
Now, here is an insight of how my travel mind works. I bought the plane tickets for this vacation on November 2. On November 8, I wrote to the Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class for information on how to book a class with them. From its website and reviews on Trip Advisor placing it as the number one activity, this seemed like the best, most reputable Chilean cooking class out there. At this point I had no hotels lined up, didn’t know exactly what countries or cities I was going to visit, but I had my priorities. For food, wine and cooking I would go to where the class was. I knew it was going to be a great day, and it did not disappoint.
The arranged meeting place was easy to find, down by a war memorial that we had visited on the walking tour. I was super early, so stopped at the ice cream shop (no, not for ice cream this time) for a huge café Americano. Soon there were six students: a family from Ottowa with 2 girls and Laura, a young woman from London. Our instructor, Ines had lived in the SF Bay Area for many years,
so was easy to understand and very friendly. She shepherded us onto a city bus to head to the fish market to pick up razor clams for one of our dishes. The razor clams I am used to from Oregon are a different variety and are much larger. These were smaller, but were still live and in the shell waiting for us to clean them. While Ines bought the clams, we looked around and snapped pictures of the fresh seafood. It was beautiful and even though it may sound odd, the fish market had a nice, fresh ocean smell to it rather than the expected old fish smell. From there we walked to a nearby produce market. Although the produce in Chile is not the most exotic, it is extremely large and vibrant. Along with produce they sold olives, pickled vegetables and spices. We spent a good amount of time looking at the various fruits and vegetables while Ines chose just the right fruit for dessert and vegetables for our dishes. The man selling the produce where she purchased the majority of the items obviously knew her and made sure to find the ripest ears of corn, freshest melon and
so on. Once we had our arms full of fresh produce, we walked down to buy some ground beef and then we were split into two taxis and sent on our way up to where the cooking classes are held.
The classroom was bright and sunny with huge windows overlooking the bay. We all put on our Chilean inspired aprons, but some of us, including this one, chose to not wear the hat. I can pull off a baseball hat in a pinch, but a fluffy chef hat is not something I can rock. Our first assignment was to taste several varietals of Chilean wine. The sauvignon blanc was perfectly balanced with grapefruit and green apples in the nose. The next was a varietal I had never heard of. Apparently it is available in the US at Costco, so I will have to mosey over and look into that. It is called Carmenere and was really tasty. Since this was a tasting, we had to spit, but the bottles we liked were going to make a return visit during our meal at the end of class. The promise of a perfectly balanced Pisco Sour was made, and later fulfilled.
What a tight fit
Ines wrote the menu on a chalkboard painted onto the wall. We were going to make razor clams baked with white wine, cream and Parmesan which Laura and I volunteered to do. The others were going to work on dicing the vegetables for Pebre, the salsa I wolfed down at the Mercado Central in Santiago. As a group we were going to work on empanadas and Pastel de Choclo, a dish of seasoned ground beef with egg, chicken, olives, raisins and a delicious corn custard baked on top. To go with these items, Ines would be making a salad and fruit for dessert. Before we had gone to the markets to do the shopping we sat in a coffee shop and decided what items we would be working on in the class. I was very happy with the dynamic of our group. It is always a crapshoot how personalities are going to mesh in a small group, so after meeting the other five people I knew we were going to be a fun, interesting group. Our menu selections were unanimous and intriguing.
Ines showed Laura and me how to clean the razor clams, called machas. I have not
worked with live mollusks other than clams and mussels, and they don’t really count because all that is required for them is to scrub them and then cook them. The machas on the other hand had to be opened with a paring knife, scraped out of the shell and then cleaned very very well under running water to remove all the sand and such. Probably the most interesting part of the job was removing the spinal cord. I had not expected this, but since the clam had just been living, the thin little cord would actually wiggle and move after being removed. When I thought about it, I can see that it makes sense and would be akin to a chicken running around with its head cut off. It wasn’t creepy or gross, at least to Laura or me. We cleaned almost fifty of the clams while talking about our travels, food and just about anything. I will say that while I enjoyed doing this for the class, I would probably be less excited to do it for a full dinner service at work. Still, it was precisely why I wanted to do the class, to see and do things
that I don’t do in my daily work in the kitchen.
While we were cleaning and cleaning the clams and yet more clams, the others were chopping fresh vegetables for the salsa as the girls shucked corn and helped make the corn puree to be baked on top of the Choclo. Ines was a whirlwind helping them with that mixture, checking our clams, cooking a seasoned ground beef mixture for both the Choclo and empanadas, boiling eggs for the same and generally keeping an eye on us. Once we were finished with the clams, we placed them on a baking sheet, topped them with a spoonful of white wine, some thick cream and topped them with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, which I cut a small chunk from and munched on while doing the final touches to the clams. Hey, a boy has to eat, doesn’t he?
As a group, we stood at the counter to create and customize our Pastel de Choclo. Into these beautiful earthenware bowls we placed sliced, cooked chicken breast, topped that with the delicious seasoned ground beef, added olives, raisins, topped it all with the corn custard puree and put basil leaves on as
garnish to indicate which bowl was ours. These were popped into the oven while we took some time to eat fresh bread and Pebre salsa. Life was good, food was good, the company was great. Ines showed us how to make the empanada dough while we were eating our bread and salsa. When the dough was ready, we were given rolling pins and rolled our empanada dough into some very oddly shaped round discs. Onto these we spooned the remaining beef mixture, added boiled egg, olives and folded them into surprisingly nice looking empanadas. These went into the oven with the Pastel de Choclo as we moved onto our final, terribly difficult project of the day- Pisco Sours! Just as in cooking, mixology is a personal thing and each person has his or her way of doing things. These were balanced with the sweet/sour in balance but not overwhelmed with the alcohol. I really enjoyed them. Drinks that have that strong, hot alcohol forward taste are nice in the right place, but for something like a Pisco Sour, the alcohol should be a little more subtle, kind of like my personality. Oh heck man, I could barely type that without
laughing. My personality is more like a shot of neat Vodka than a balanced Pisco Sour, but I thought I would see if anyone would buy it. Anyhow, as I was saying, we stood there eating our bread and salas, drinking frothy Pisco sours, smelling the absolutely intoxicating aromas coming from the oven.
Soon, it was time to sit and enjoy the feast that we worked together to prepare. First up were the Machas a la Parmesan and hoo boy were they good. To add an extra kick, some of us spooned some of the Pebre on top and sprinkled it with a touch of a spicy dried herb mixture that Ines had purchased at the market. These clams were paired with the fruity Sauvignon Blanc. It was hard to see the last of the clams disappear, but they went quickly and were absolutely amazing. Following the clams were the empanadas. Just as I had envisioned, they were light, flavorful and superb. We drank the Carmenere with them. It is always a great sign when conversation slows down at the table during a meal; it means the food is just so darn good that no one wants to stop
savoring each mouthful to talk. This was one of those times. We sat, ate, enjoyed the wine, the beautiful view of the Bay and relished the camaraderie of the day. Once the empanadas were devoured, we settled into piping hot bowls of the Pastel de Choclo paired with salad. I can see topping a warm, summer ratatouille with the corn mixture and serving it as a vegetarian dish in the summer. Dessert was the most intensely ripe, sweet melon and some cactus fruit. Conversation resumed as we finished our feast. As I wrote in the first paragraph, I knew this was going to be a great day and it was. I have found that people who are so into food and wine that they will take a cooking class while on vacation are usually very interesting people with great stories. Today’s group was no exception. Ines, our teacher added the perfect balance to the day with informative stories, humor and guidance. I learned some things, had an absolute blast and met some great people.
As the class finished for the day, Laura and I made a beeline to the Navel and Maritime Museum just up the hill from the
classroom. I knew that Fenix 1, the twin of the capsule used to rescue the trapped Chilean miners in 2010 was on display. Fenix 1 was used to test the technology before Fenix 2 was sent into the shaft drilled a half mile into the earth. Standing in the capsule, I can honestly say that I don’t know if I would have been able to spend the 10 to 15 minutes necessary to reach the surface. The capsule is only 13 feet tall and 21-inches in diameter. It was very sobering to stand there and realize how much depended on this technology. After we had both stepped inside, we walked back towards town, parted and slowly I headed back to the hotel to prepare for the end of my vacation 2014. Today was the perfect ramp down from frantic days of hiking, touring, bouncing about in a crowded Land Cruiser for hours on end. Ending the trip with food, wine, and a look at Chilean history in the museum was just what I needed. I really hope you have enjoyed being on this trip. I know I have enjoyed your comments. Until next time, ciao!
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