In pursuit of the holy grail of Yucatecan Mexican cuisine we selected the renowned “Los Dos” cooking school, created by the famous chef David Sterling, which is located in Merida, the capital of the Yucatan Peninsula… we were not disappointed.
In the course of booking the class we developed a rapport with David and he proved to be a remarkable source of information about his beloved Merida.
He answered our multiple email questions with points of interest, places to stay and provided a list of his favorite restaurants and surprisingly there are many in this small but bustling city.
We chose one of the oldest hotels in the city, Casa Del Balam (The House of the Jaguar) for its charm, authenticity and central location which is in the heart of the “old town” area and it turned out to be a very good choice.
The Los Dos Cooking School
David Sterling founded the “Slow Food Chapter of Yucatan” in 2009 and in 2014 he authored “Yucatan: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition” which won the James Beard Foundation Best Cookbook of the Year Award in 2015…a huge accolade, indeed.
His school was the first to specialize in the cuisine of Yucatan and has been featured in several magazines such as Condé Nast Traveler, Gourmet, and Travel & Leisure, as well as television exposure with celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Rick Bayless, and Martha Stewart.
We asked ourselves, “What are we getting involved in? Is it over our skill set? This is some serious stuff… can we hold a spatula to it?”
The Experience Begins
After a light breakfast we hailed a taxi to Calle 68 No. 517, Colonia Centro and arrived in front of a non-descript doorway on a street of colorful but similar facades.
We hesitantly knocked on the door which opened onto an oasis garden courtyard within the walls of a magnificent colonial mansion dating back to the mid-1800s.
There, we were welcomed by our gracious host, David, and our cooking journey begins with a smile and a handshake.
Entrance to the courtyard
Poolside garden area
Now THIS is a kitchen
Welcome to Los Dos Cooking School
David greeting his guests and serving a light breakfast
We were escorted into the home and introduced to 8 other students who were mingling around a breakfast buffet of homemade pastries and fruit.
David began the session with a very knowledgeable as well as entertaining history of Yucatan and Yucatecan cooking.
A Brief History
The Yucatan Peninsula is located on the cusp of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and as such the land mass became a magnet for early traders seeking access to Mexico.
The cultural tapestry of the Yucatan is based on the foundation of the ancient Maya tribes and a blending of the Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Lebanese and Caribbean merchants that visited over the centuries.
We learned about the unique cooking techniques, a wide range of spices, marinades, adobos, pastes diluted with sour orange juice, sauces from nuts, and of course, the infamous Habanero chile, one of the hottest in the world.
The knowledge transfer was reinforced by actually smelling and tasting some of these new ingredients as they were passed around the room in assorted containers during David’s discussion.
Class Field Trip to the Marketplace
The first stop was a sampling of traditional street food.
We enjoyed tacos al pastor which is slices of meat (usually pork) from a spit-grilled rack known as a shawarma (introduced by Lebanese immigrants) onto a corn tortilla topped with a slice of pineapple.
Tacos with pineapple slices
Getting Provisions for the Class
Chef David led us on a market tour in search of today’s ingredients.
The blocks-long Central Mercado is in the heart of the city, filled with everything from fresh produce, spices, raw and cooked meats, bread, pastries, and even household items, clothing and toys… a rural form of Costco.
A person could spend hours exploring and relishing the colors, the sounds, the aromas, and vibrancy. But we had a mission…
Ingredients for the Pollo Pibil
Tomatoes, banana leaves, habanero chile peppers, and Sour Oranges (Naranja Agria)
Special corn kernels… ground to masa… pressed and sold by weight
Back to the Casa and the Actual Cooking Class Begins
Armed with our new aprons and cookbooks, we begin our lesson
Making tortillas starting with a ball of masa and a great instructor
Panuchos Y Salbutes
Bean filled tortillas with lettuce, tomato, shredded chicken and pickled onions
Out of the Garden and Into the Kitchen
Charing chile peppers
More Hands–On Fun and No Gloves Allowed
Preparing marinated chicken breasts for the Pibil
Hands-On with achiote paste and naranja agria marinade
The assembly process; watch closely as you are doing this next
Wrapped and ready to go
The Grand Finale… ¡Buen Provecho!
Crema De Cilantro (Leek and Potato Soup with cilantro)
Pit-Smoked Pollo Pibil wrapped in banana leaves
Chicken in Achiote Sauce with traditional pickled onions on the side
Flan De Chocolate Con Kahlua (David made this in advance)
Our class picture
By coincidence, our class participated in the filming of a promotional marketing video which was captured by a professional crew.
Our class prepared an amazing, totally hands-on meal from “scratch” under the ever present and encouraging David.
The outcome was a testament to his teaching skills and talents.
We walked back to our hotel with the knowledge that we done good… hold that spatula high.
And as a shock to us, recently from the Los Dos website:
It is with tremendous sadness that we report that the founder of Los Dos Cooking School, David Sterling, passed away in November. His Yucatecan cuisine cooking classes were adored by everyone who participated in them over the years, not only for the wealth of culinary knowledge he shared, but for the hands-on cooking experience accompanied by David’s dry wit and original personality.
But Los Dos Cooking School lives on!
After all, what is the hurry… be inspired… get out there and enjoy life
© 2017 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar
© 2017 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar