There is a saying about teaching a man to fish that I’ll re-interpret as follows:
Give a woman a fish, and you’ll feed her for day. Teach her to cook a fish using the flavors of Peru, and she’ll be a fan of Peruvian cuisine for a lifetime.
Now, that could’ve been our saying at 18 Reasons last week where a group of 12 students came eager to learn about the Flavors of Peru, and left true fans of seafood and dessert dishes that were spicy, citrusy, colorful, and sweet — all of which they prepared in the span of 2 hours before sitting down and enjoying a well deserved dinner.
Though I’ve been cooking Peruvian pop-up dinners at 18 Reasons since 2011, this was the first time that I was asked to teach a group how to cook, and I was very excited about the opportunity to empower others to prepare some of my favorite dishes. After meeting with the Program Director to plan the class, we decided on a three-course menu:
Choros a la Chalaca
Peruvian Steamed Mussels
Escabeche de Pescado
Peruvian Pan-fried Pickled Fish, Sweet Potatoes, Hard-Boiled Eggs, Salad, Bread
Peruvian Purple Corn Pudding
How should I plan the class? Break up the students into groups and have one group cook the appetizer, another group the main, and another the dessert? That would certainly work in the span of two hours, but I wanted all the students to have a hand in preparing all the dishes, and to learn about different cooking techniques such as sautéing, pan-frying, steaming, or thickening. The challenge was to intertwine the recipes in the right order.
For example, the purple corn for the dessert had to boil for an hour, so that was the first things we did. The fish had to rest in the pickling sauce for an hour, so that was next. While the mussels steamed quickly, so that was last. Since I am a planner, I spent an evening rewriting the recipes while visualizing the students in the space. I also wrote a timeline with all the tasks, and a list of all the gear and utensils we would need throughout the evening. The rest was up to the students.
And wow did they deliver. For two hours, together with the volunteers we provided tools, ingredients, and answered questions on cooking while they prepared the dishes at three workstations around the room. How hot should the pan be? When is the fish done? How can you tell when the mussels are cooked? How thick should the dessert be? And my favorite — can we have some wine now?
When the students finally sat down for dinner, I asked them how they liked what they cooked, and all I could hear was sounds of delight as they mopped up the spicy seafood sauce with bread, or asked for dessert seconds. I was also very happy to answer questions about Peruvian cuisine and give travel tips to a group of students that was leaving for Peru soon.
At the end of the night, everyone left with a smile, I was proud and honored to have taught my first cooking class at 18 Reasons, and truly grateful for all the support from the Program Director, volunteers, and of course Bi-Rite Market. Let’s do it again soon!