Chef David Sterling’s cooking school is on the “must-do” list of many discerning travelers, who actually plan their trips around his available class dates. His authoritative and comprehensive cookbook on Yucatecan gastronomy has been awarded with the prestigious “The Art of Eating” prize. He has been praised in The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Travel & Leisure, ELLE, and more, and has hosted Diana Kennedy, Martha Stewart, and PBS’ Rick Bayless in his beautiful Mérida kitchen. It is the first cooking school in Mexico which is completely devoted to the cuisine of Yucatán.
Chef Sterling’s most popular class is the one we recently took: “Taste of Yucatán”. This 8-hour class begins with breakfast on the terrace at Los Dos, followed by a 90-minute overview of Maya gastronomic history, cooking techniques, and ingredients. Then comes the market tour and shopping trip, followed by the culinary instruction in the Los Dos kitchen and a full afternoon meal with wine or beer. Other class options range from 5-hour tasting classes to one-week regional gastronomy tours.
Our day began with coffee, fruit, juice, and pastries on the poolside terrace of David’s beautifully restored colonial mansion in Mérida’s Centro, his private home. Tall, graceful rooms with beamed ceilings, tile floors, and luscious gardens set the scene for our delicious day of learning, cooking, and pampering.
After breakfast, Chef David invited us to the dining room, and we sat mesmerized while he took us back in time to explain the history of Yucatecan cuisine and the impact the Maya have had on the gastronomy of Mexico. David learned many of his techniques from a Maya woman in the pueblo of Peto, and did much research in other pueblos from old Maya ladies and families. He also spent time with local contemporary chefs. Somewhat of an amateur historian, he also found vintage regional cookbooks going back as far as the mid 1700s.
Yucatán’s unique recipes and ingredients have caught the attention of many devoted gourmands, along with the special gastronomy of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. Its exotic fruits and tantalizing spices, its chiles and herbs, the ever-present use of chocolate, and its underground pit cooking techniques set Yucatán apart in the world of culinary destinations.
Next on the agenda was a tour and shopping trip to the mercado. We were each given a shopping list and a shopping bag, and we followed David through the bustling Centro streets to the Mercado Lucas de Gálvez. We visited the main aisle for cilantro, green onions, sour oranges, beans, chaya, habanero chiles, and limes. We also passed through the vegetable hall and the spice hall for banana leaves, chiles de país, masa, and tortillas.
After taking a waiting taxi back to the house, we had a chance to watch Doña Socorro make panuchos, and we each got a turn making tortillas and filling them with the ingredients for this dish. And of course we ate the results! After a moment to dangle our feet in the pool, we went to the kitchen and started to cook. Every ingredient was described, every step was explained, every salsa was tasted, and every student got a turn doing everything, with personal attention by Chef David. Once the meal was prepared, we took our seats at the dining room table and reaped the benefits of our afternoon’s labors, with a sumptuous meal hosted by our personable chef, and accompanied by our choice of wine or beer. There were many toasts, much laughter, and the sighs of delight could be heard for miles around.
Maize, Lima Bean, and Squash-Seed Fritters
Sopa de Lima
Chicken Soup with Sweet Lime Essence
Venado en Pipián Rojo
Venison in Red Squash-Seed Sauce
Sautéed Chaya with Smoked Bacon
Zesty Fresh Tomato Table Sauce
Salsa Chile Tamulado
Fiery Habanero Table Sauce
Salsa K’uut Bi Ik
Smoky and Hot Chile Table Sauce
Helado de Chocolate Maya
Frozen Custard with Achiote, Vanilla, Allspice, and Chile
Each guest receives a Los Dos apron and cookbook containing additional information and a collection of all the recipes prepared during the class.
Special thanks to Eduardo Cervantes for his beautiful photos of the Los Dos.
NOTE: It is with tremendous sadness that we report that the founder of Los Dos Cooking School, David Sterling, passed away in November 2016. But Los Dos Cooking School will live on! For more information, and to read our tribute to David, click here.
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