A Travellerspoint blog

Mezcal Secret Society Tours Oaxaca

Weeklong touring of palenques, mezcalerias, restaurants

The reclusive US based Sociedad de Mezcaleros began and ended its insatiable exploration in the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, as should any tour focused on an in depth education of the manufacture of mezcal (aka mescal), its use as a cooking ingredient, and of course flavor nuances and tasting notes – based on varietal of agave, means of production, terra firma, altitude, water source and aging. After all, the world’s finest mezcales are distilled in and around the central valleys of the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca.

After well over a year of planning, the truly comprehensive mezcal tour of Oaxaca proceeded with flawless precision in March / April 2012; even through random heavy downpours and the occasional earth tremor. Every hour of the itinerary was scheduled with visiting palenques to expand mind and palate; sampling, eating and imbibing to often bacchanalian proportion; and visiting both off-the-beaten-track sights as well as a selection of Oaxaca’s not-to-be-missed traditional cultural attractions.

The Sociedad presidente had virtually demanded that his man-on-the-ground in Oaxaca maintain the grueling schedule for the group. “Leave it the way it is; I know these guys and they can handle it,” he exclaimed. “With each assembly of agave aficionados we bring down we have to look at their personalities and primary motivation; these particular people want to learn as much about mezcal in the shortest period of time possible, and most of them simply don’t have the luxury of touring at a leisurely pace.”

Indeed most of the charter members of the Sociedad spent only four full days in Oaxaca. But a few did stay on longer to take in what less than a week of intensive day and night activity could simply not accomplish.

In the end, most of the newly inducted members of the mezcal order:

• met with eight or more palenqueros ranging from producers using modern innovative roasting and fermenting techniques, to those employing more traditional methods, to purists distilling and storing utilizing only clay pots, known as cántaros;
• participated in the ceremonial filling of an in-ground oven with agave piñas;
• had the opportunity to ask their every question of palenqueros ranging from the most rural campesino to the most exacting and detail oriented chemical engineer;
• sampled from not only production facilities in Oaxaca’s central valleys, but also from downtown Oaxaca mezcalerias and tasting rooms, and restaurants noted for their diversities of mezcales using a cornucopia of agave types – arrequeño, cuish, tobalá, jabalí, mexicano, tobasiche, espadín, san martin, and the list goes on (pulque was also featured in selected rural and urban venues);
• ate in the most quaint comedores imaginable where they were invited into rural roadside kitchens, as well as dined in Oaxaca city’s upscale eateries oft reserved for politicians, literati and others in Oaxacan haute society;
• participated in the almost lost technique of making hot chocolate from scratch with a rural Zapotec family beginning with grinding toasted cacao beans on a stone metate over fire, and at the other end of the continuum learned from internationally acclaimed urban chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo the art of preparing modern Oaxacan cuisine incorporating mezcal into recipes – marinated skewered shrimp, fruit and veggies al mezcal flambé, and requesón cheese pie with Oaxacan chocolate and mezcal;
• were the special invited guests at the inauguration of a photo exhibit entitled Mezcaleros de Oaxaca, by renowned Mexican – American photographer Spike Mafford;
• at their option participated in private guided tours of a smattering of Oaxaca’s UNESCO recognized sights, and in demonstrations by some of the most talented craftspeople in the state, the latter with either agave or mezcal thematically connected.

Organizers kept many details of the tour under wraps and unknown to participants until the hour dictated disclosure. “When it comes to mezcal and agave in Oaxaca, there’s just so much more we can do,” beamed el presidente, leaning over a fine oak bar one earlier morning towards the tour’s end. No doubt other surprises are in store for new initiates into the Sociedad de Mezcaleros.

Alvin Starkman operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.oaxacadream.com) with wife Arlene. Alvin’s interests lie in all things mezcal, pulque & agave; helping tourists to the region to get the most out of their Oaxacan vacation; and writing to promote Oaxacan travel and tourism.

Posted by titosarah 07:03 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico in tours tour oaxaca mezcal Comments (0)

Art Galleries and Museums in Oaxaca, Mexico

When most visitors to Oaxaca think of Oaxacan art, the first thing that usually comes to mind is folk art; alebrijes (carved, fancifully painted wooden figures), barro negro (black pottery), tapetes (hand-made wool rugs), and other craft products. They don’t realize that Oaxaca has a longstanding fine art tradition which continues to thrive today. Indeed Oaxaca, the south central Mexico UNESCO World Heritage Site, has produced internationally renowned artists such as the late masters Rufino Tamayo and Rodolfo Morales, and contemporary artists Francisco Toledo and Demián Flores.

Within a ten block radius of the heart of downtown Oaxaca you can find well over 30 art museums and galleries, and spend half your vacation marveling and eventually buying. But many travelers to the city simply don’t have the time or patience to seriously tour all of Oaxaca’s galleries.

So to get you started, here’s a summary of Oaxaca’s two most well respected art museums, and two galleries with stellar reputations for a broad diversity of fine art. I highly recommend visiting these institutions in order to get some initial inspiration, before beginning to pound the pavement in search of unique and provocative images to grace your home.

Museo del Arte Contemporáneo (MACO, Alcalá 202) has recently been refurbished. It’s housed in a large colonial building on the city’s main pedestrian walkway, Alcalá. The second floor retains some of the structure’s original frescos, adding to the sense of history which is imparted as you walk the hallways and gallery rooms. Colonial tradition is smartly juxtaposed against stark minimalist design. The placement of art provides both contrast and continuity, while at the same time enhances one’s ability to appreciate the art as well as the building. Exhibits of artists from both Mexico and abroad are changed bi-monthly.

Museo de Pintores Oaxaqueños (MUPO, Independencia 607) is located across the street from the cathedral and central post office. As its name suggests, it’s dedicated to celebrating the works of Oaxacan artists. It too has rotating exhibits, featuring up and coming artists, those who have already made their mark, and the grand masters of Oaxacan art. The current exhibition of the works of Rodolfo Morales runs through June, 2012. Once or twice a year the museum hosts fine art auctions to benefit worthy charitable causes, provide financial assistance to local artists and assist in enhancing their reputation.

Arte de Oaxaca (Murguía 105), just east of Alcalá, has been promoting the work of both upcoming and established Oaxacan artists since 1987. It has a permanent room dedicated to the work of Rodolfo Morales. Its range of reasonably prices lithographs is impressive. As in the case of the two museums, it’s housed in a typical two level colonial building with courtyard in the middle, though it’s physically smaller than the museums. There are rotating exhibitions of oils, watercolors, lithos and sculptures.

Galería de Rolando Rojas (Alcalá 102) is owned by artist Rolando Rojas who is also
the proprietor of the adjoining restaurant, La Catrina de Alcalá. It usually contains a mix of larger oils, both traditional in terms of Oaxacan style, and abstract which often pushes the envelope. At times one comes across large impressive pieces painted by a group of prominent Oaxacan artists. The gallery also contains smaller pieces including lithos and grabados, as well as rotating exhibits. As with the others, this gallery is a must.

And how do you go about buying art in Oaxaca? Here are few pointers, each of which has made me aesthetically wealthier:

• If you hesitate, it may be gone tomorrow;
• When something catches your eye, or better yet if both of you are drawn to it, buy at all cost…you’ll never regret it;
• If a piece seems absolutely enchanting but is curiously inexpensive, don’t shy away for fear you won’t be purchasing quality; next year you may not be able to afford it since the reputations of many Oaxacan artists shoot up meteorically as they encounter patrons is Mexico City, New York and other major urban centers;
• Never purchase for investment first; if you’re really lucky the piece will appreciate, but remember:
(i) you have to live with it;
(ii) your children may end up selling it in a contents sale;
• Compare what you see in terms of quality, imagery and price,
to what you already have; in my case, all I have to do is
recall my two pieces by the late R.C. Gorman, influenced by Mexican
masters such as Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros; and buying becomes
easier;
• Most of today’s promising artists have been influenced by the foregoing
masters as well as the likes of Oaxacan greats including
Tamayo, Morales and Toledo, so if a piece which draws you in
appears to have a special quality, it probably does;
• Resist snobbery; lithographs and grabados are originals, of a limited number. Even posters of exhibition openings and festivals constitute an art form unto itself. As with other mediums, they often evoke interesting images. They are affordable for the most budget conscious, and framing is modest. They provide at least some of what we seek when selecting our artwork – color and coverage.

Keeping these tips in mind, and spending a day or even a few hours visiting Oaxaca’s art museums and galleries guarantees that you’ll go home with at least one piece to grace that barren wall that’s been crying out. More importantly you’ll leave Oaxaca with an enhanced appreciation of an important part of contemporary Oaxacan culture, and more generally Mexican fine art.

Alvin Starkman operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (www.casamachaya.com). He has been collecting Oaxacan art for 20 years. You can email Alvin at oaxacadream@hotmail.com for gallery recommendations based on your particular taste. Alvin takes couples and families to visit artists outside of Oaxaca, as well as to craft towns. However he specializes in more off-the-beaten-track sights.

Posted by titosarah 12:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged art museums mexico in mexican oaxaca galleries Comments (0)

Oaxaca Gives Tourists a Multi-Faceted Experience

A Oaxacan Extravaganza of Culture & Tradition in a Single Event

Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
December 22 and 23, 2011, mark the inauguration of an exciting initiative sponsored by the state and municipal governments of Oaxaca as well as private enterprise. It’s aimed at enabling both tourists to Oaxaca, as well as its residents, to participate in a broad range of cultural experiences. According to Eric Monrroy, developer of the concept, “at Noches Mágicas de Guelaguetza I want people, in one single evening, to be able to take part in and learn as much as possible about Oaxaca; its gastronomic excellence, its music and dance, its color and pageantry, its diversity of crafts, and of course its signature chocolate, coffee and mezcal.”

Many visitors to Oaxaca book to spend only two or three days in the city, without realizing the richness of the region’s offerings until they arrive and it’s too late to change their travel plans. Some are in Oaxaca within the context of a longer vacation during which they do a whirlwind tour of several Mexican cities, while others visit the city for a day or two, en route to or returning home from a beach vacation in Huatulco or Puerto Escondido.

On each of these dates, beginning at 5 p.m., those interested in participating will have an opportunity to:

• Take part in a calenda (parade), complete with live band music, dancers in colorful regional dress, and fireworks, beginning at the Santa Domingo church and concluding at the evening’s main site, a spacious colonial restaurant known as Fuego y Sazón located in the quaint Jalatlaco downtown Oaxaca neighborhood
• Sample Oaxacan chocolate, the state’s renowned coffee, and of course different types of mezcal
• Speak with well known artisans displaying their quality crafts products such as naturally dyed tapetes (wool rugs), alebrijes (whimsical brilliantly painted carved wooden animals), hand-embroidered blouses and dresses, barro negro (black pottery), cotton table cloths and draperies, and hand-painted clay figures
• Treat the palate to a traditional Oaxacan dinner with just enough gastronomic flare to titillate the senses
• Listen to a Oaxacan singer whose repertoire includes songs in both Spanish and Zapoteco (the predominant indigenous language of the region)
• Marvel at a Guelaguetza, the celebration of Oaxaca’s 16 native cultures through dance, dress, song and humor

“The preliminary indication I’ve received from state officials is the hope that this event will be held three or four times a year,” Monrroy continues. “Our government recognizes that in only a few short hours we can expose visitors to the city to an extensive array of Oaxacan traditions; even Oaxacans come out to rejoice and enjoy, largely because of our sense of pride in who we are.”

Organizers of Noches Mágicas de Guelaguetza are enticing the public by providing a further incentive. Tickets are 500 or 600 pesos depending on seat location in the restaurant; but each ticket has a 200 peso voucher attached, redeemable at the event towards the purchase of all crafts, mezcal, chocolate or coffee, making the effective ticket price only 300 or 400 pesos. Tickets are available at tourism offices and kiosks, travel and tour agencies, Aerotucan offices and other select locations. For further details and ticket information email Monrroy at ericmonrroy@hotmail.com, or call 0449511978767 or 0449511842420.

Alvin Starkman is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today, a program for Marca País – Imagen de México. He and his wife operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.casamachaya.com). Alvin has spent the past 20 years supporting tourism in Oaxaca, throughout which time he has gained an in-depth knowledge of the rich cultural traditions of Oaxaca and its central valleys.

Posted by titosarah 08:07 Archived in Mexico Tagged food culture travel in to oaxaca oaxacan guelaguetza calendas Comments (0)

The Magic of Mushrooms in Oaxaca, Mexico

Mico-lógica Alters our Perception

Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
When we think of mushrooms and the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, the first thing which traditionally comes to mind is María Sabina, Huautla de Jiménez and hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms. But slowly that’s all changing as a result of the groundbreaking work of Josefina Jiménez and Johann Mathieu in mycology, through their company, Mico-lógica.

Based in the village of Benito Juárez, located in Oaxaca’s Ixtlán district (more commonly known as the Sierra Norte, the state’s main ecotourism region), Mico-lógica’s mission is threefold: to train both Mexicans and visitors to the country in the low-cost cultivation of a variety of mushroom species; to educate about the medicinal, nutritional and environmental (sustainable) value of mushrooms; and to conduct ongoing research regarding optimum climatic regions and the diversity of substrata for mushroom culture.

The French-born Mathieu moved to Mexico, and in fact to Huautla de Jiménez, in 2005. “Yes, coming all the way to Mexico from France to pursue my interest in mushrooms seems like a long way to travel,” Mathieu explained in a recent interview in Oaxaca. “But there really wasn’t much of an opportunity to conduct studies and grow a business in Western Europe,” he continues, “since reverence for mushrooms had been all but completely eradicated by The Church over the course of centuries; and I learned that Mexico still maintains a respect and appreciation for the medicinal and nutritional value of hongos. Mexico is far from mycophobic.”

Huautla de Jiménez is more than a five hour drive from the closest metropolitan center. Accordingly, Mathieu eventually realized that staying in Huautla, while holding an historic allure and being in a geographic region conducive to working with mushrooms, would hinder his efforts to grow a business and cultivate widespread interest in learning about fungi. Mathieu became cognizant of the burgeoning reputation of Oaxaca’s ecotourism communities of the Sierra Norte, and indeed the Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (regional wild mushroom festival), held annually in Cuahimoloyas.

Mathieu met Josefina Jiménez at the summertime weekend mushroom event. Jiménez had moved to Oaxaca from hometown Mexico City in 2002. The two shared similar interests; Jiménez had studied agronomy, and for close to a decade had been working with sustainable agriculture projects in rural farming communities in the Huasteca Potosina region of San Luis Potosí, the mountains of Guerrero and the coast of Chiapas. Mathieu and Jiménez became business, and then life partners in Benito Juárez.

Mathieu and Jiménez are concentrating on three mushroom species in their hands-on seminars; oyster (seta), shitake and reishi. Their one-day workshops are for oyster mushrooms, and two-day clinics for the latter two species of fungus. “With reishi, and to a lesser extent shitake, we’re also teaching a fair bit about the medicinal uses of mushrooms, so more time is required,” says Mathieu, “and with oyster mushrooms it’s predominantly [but not exclusively] a course on cultivation.”

While training seminars are now only given in Benito Juárez, Mathieu and Jiménez plan to expand operations to include both the central valleys and coastal regions of Oaxaca. The object is to have a network of producers growing different mushrooms which are optimally suited for cultivation based on the particular microclimate. There are about 70 sub-species of oyster mushrooms, and thus as a species, the adaptability of the oyster mushroom to different climatic regions is remarkable. “The oyster can be grown in a multitude of different substrata, and that’s what we’re experimenting with right now,” he elucidates. The oyster mushroom can thrive when grown on products which would otherwise be waste, such as discard from cultivating beans, sugar cane, agave (including the fibrous waste produced in mezcal distillation), peas, the common river reed known as carriso, sawdust, and the list goes on. Agricultural waste which may otherwise be left to rot or be burned, each with adverse environmental implications, can form substrata for mushroom cultivation. It should be noted, though trite, that mushroom cultivation is a highly sustainable, green industry. Over the past several years Mexico has in fact been at the fore in many areas of sustainable industry.

Mathieu exemplifies how mushrooms can serve an arguably even greater environmental good:

“They can hold up to thirty thousand times their mass, having implications for inhibiting erosion. They’ve been used to clean up oil spills through absorption and thus are an important vehicle for habitat restoration. Research has been done with mushrooms in the battle against carpenter ant destruction; it’s been suggested that the use of fungi has the potential to completely revamp the pesticide industry in an environmentally friendly way. There are literally hundreds of other eco-friendly applications for mushroom use, and in each case the mushroom remains an edible by-product. Take a look at the Paul Stamets YouTube lecture, 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save The World.”

Mathieu and Jiménez can often be found selling their products on weekends in the organic markets in Oaxaca. They’re both more than happy to discuss the nutritional value of their products which range from naturally their fresh mushrooms, but also as preserves, marinated with either chipotle and nopal or jalapeño and cauliflower. The mushroom’s vitamin B12 cannot be found in fruits or vegetables, and accordingly a diet which includes fungi is extremely important for vegetarians who cannot get B12, most often contained in meats. Mushrooms can easily be a substitute for meats, with the advantage that they are not loaded with antibiotics and hormones often found in industrially processed meat products.

Mico-lógica also sell teas and extracts made from different mushroom species, each formulated as either a nutritional supplement, or for their medicinal properties. While neither Mathieu nor Jiménez has the pharmacological background to prescribe mycological treatment for serious ailments, Mathieu’s own research points to the medicinal use of mushrooms dating from pre-history, to the present. He notes properties of mushrooms which can help to restore the immune system, and thus the use of fungi as a complement in the treatment of cancer and AIDS, and their utility in controlling diabetes and treating high cholesterol.

“We should all be embracing the organic production of mushrooms,” Mathieu concludes. “It’s so easy, it involves a minimal capital investment, and it provides significant rewards, both for those ingesting hongos for nutritional and medicinal reasons, and for the producers, even small scale. Mico-lógica also sells dried mushrooms. Yet most of the dried mushrooms sold in Mexico are imported from China, and are not organic. It’s a real shame on numerous levels.”

Mexico and mushrooms have come a long way since the era of Oaxaca’s María Sabina. With the continued efforts of Mathieu, Jiménez and Mico-lógica, it should not be long before the world understands and embraces the magic of mushrooms within a much broader context.

Mico-lógica
http://micologica.mex.tl
micologica.oaxaca@gmail.com

Alvin Starkman traveled to Huautla de Jiménez to experience the magic of mushrooms in the 1960s. A former Toronto litigation lawyer, Alvin now lives in Oaxaca where he takes couples and families to sights in and around Oaxaca’s central valleys, works with documentary film companies, and writes about life and cultural traditions in the region. With over 230 articles about Oaxaca to his credit, Alvin is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today, a program for Marca País – Imagen de México. Alvin and his wife Arlene operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.casamachaya.com).

Posted by titosarah 17:01 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico magic mushrooms oaxaca sustainability Comments (0)

Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo at Cutting Edge of Mexican Cuisine

Casa de los Sabores Oaxaca Cooking School Review

I first attended a cooking class with Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo four years ago at her Casa de los Sabores Cooking School. I was impressed with not only her cooking and teaching skills, but her uncanny ability to instruct at all levels of learning (novices and chefs alike), in both English and Spanish. Since then Pilar’s star has risen dramatically: more international press; travel to Canada and the US to represent Oaxacan cuisine; wholesale acceptance as a peer by the most renowned chefs in Mexico and indeed further abroad.

Although Pilar and I have become friends since I first reviewed her class, for me literary and gastronomic integrity must trump personal relationships. I had to satisfy myself that she had not stepped into the trap which at times befalls chefs once they attain prominence in the culinary world; complacency regarding innovation, and too much delegation of responsibility to staff. Hence last month I attended another class.

Chichilo is the mole made least often both in restaurants and homes in Oaxaca. The main chile used to make it, chilhuacle, only grows in Oaxaca, is several times as expensive as other chiles, and is often hard to find in markets. With other moles you can get away using alternate dried peppers, but not when making chichilo. So when Pilar called me and asked if I’d be interested in learning how to make the phantom mole, I jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t know the half of the treat that was in store for me – and for the other six aficionados of Mexican food.

Our group was comprised of Anglophones as well as Mexican – Americans, including Bricia López, co-owner of acclaimed L.A. Restaurante Guelaguetza. We gathered at the casa mid - morning. Seasonal, organic and 100% Oaxacan would be the order of the day, we came to learn as Pilar explained a little about each dish we’d be making. At the same time she provided brief, anecdotal lessons in cultural history. “Maize and zucchini have been grown together since time immemorial in Oaxaca, with squash runners climbing up corn stocks; so its fitting that sopa de guias is made with all the parts of the zucchini plant plus a piece of corn,” she explained.

“Friday is a great day to go to Sánchez Pascua market because it’s a day when people from mountain villages come to the market to sell produce picked early the same morning.” She continued: “I’m hoping we can still get wild mushrooms to sauté to put on the memelitas.”

As Pilar explained each dish and the ingredients we’d be buying, her continuing passion for her job became obvious. To a number we became excited about the day ahead of us. Sopa de guias, mole chichilo with chicken, memelitas with wild mushrooms, and still more. “We’re also going to make a salsa with chile de arbol for the guias; rajas of onion, lime juice and grilled chile de agua to accompany the chichilo [rajas are strips of vegetables invariably including chiles, marinated ], pay de requesón [Oaxacan cheesecake] with Oaxacan chocolate and hibiscus flower; and I have some chicatanas from earlier this season so we can make a salsa for the memelitas.”

Chicatanas are a truly rare Oaxacan delicacy of the insect order, in a class of their own. They’re easily distinguished from gusanos (the larvae referred to as worms) and chapulines (grasshoppers). After the first rains of the season the chicatana emerges from the ground, much like an ant but with more of a beetle appearance. Some years you’re lucky to be able to find a couple of pounds. Their season is the shortest of any foodstuff I’ve known, except for perhaps the oversized crawfish-like langostinos found near the banks of some freshwater Oaxaca rivers around the same time of year. Chicatanas make an exceptional salsa when combined with garlic, salt and chile de arbol.

Immediately upon arrival at the market we found wild mushrooms, then zucchini. “I want the small ones, we’re making guias,” she requested of the vendor kneeling on the ground, produce neatly displayed in small piles. Next we hunted down the remaining sopa de guias ingredients. Then a lesson on the subtle differences between avocado leaf with an anis aroma used to make tortilla soup and tamales, and hierba de conejo for beans.

We discussed the different Oaxacan quesos at the cheese lady’s stall, learned the best time of year to eat chapulines, and why the chicken was not bright yellow like in the supermarket. In about 40 minutes not only had we bought what we needed but learned dozens of tidbits of information about seasonal and organic production, traditional Oaxacan cookery, and the impact of 21st century change on the lives of Oaxaca’s residents.

Back at the casa Pilar’s assistants Mari and Uriel arranged ingredients for each recipe in a separate basket. Pilar then explained how we would be making each recipe. We put on our aprons, gathered round the island at the center of the kitchen, and began.

Pilar showed the novices how to clean dried chiles (no, you don’t put them under the tap and wash or soak them) and the more advanced what part of zucchini runners to use and why. “This is why we cut the zucchini lengthwise,” she explained, then “you know you don’t often find sopa de guias in a good restaurant because it’s so labor intensive and should be eaten at the moment.” Then “try the chichilo now, before we put in the final ingredients, like this,” she illustrated, waiting for someone to comment on its surprising sweet tones. And so the lesson progressed.

Although we were split up into twos or threes to expedite processes, invariably one group finished first so would chip in helping out the other group. In the end each of us had a hand in every dish. Pilar was present at all times, working with each group. Uriel and Mari did mainly pre-prep, ensured that all proceeded smoothly, and were continuously cleaning up our messes – compostable here, the rest there.

“Can you use bacon grease instead of manteca [pork fat] for the memelitas?” someone asked. “Yes, and if you can’t find different mushrooms, commercial ones will do or you can use potato pieces sautéed in olive oil,” Pilar divulged. For every ingredient which could conceivably not be sourced back home, Pilar provided alternative suggestions.

After a toast with mezcal and its traditional accompaniments we sat down at an exquisitely set table. For the first time I tasted sopa de guias the way it should be, and understood what Pilar meant by eating it at the moment; absent the excessive corn starch á la hot-and-soup soup – instead, fresh seasonal squash in a light broth ready for a bit of spice from our own salsa de chile de arbol. Memelitas with hongos silvestres with a dollop of salsa de chicatana smoothly ground to perfection in a molcajete. Mole chichilo con pollo with braised vegetables, rajas added to taste. For dessert, what can top a textured cheesecake encircled with Oaxacan chocolate and crowned with hibiscus flower?

Pilar Cabrera continues to maintain her cutting edge. She is as ardent as ever about Oaxacan cuisine and teaching the tools of her trade. When asked by a journalist to give one piece of advice to apprentice chefs she was about to teach at Stratford Chefs School in Canada, Pilar answered, “if you want to excel as a chef you have to enjoy what you’re doing and be passionate about it.” The name Pilar Cabrera is synonymous with culinary passion; there’s nothing more you could ask for in a Oaxacan cooking class.

NOTES:
• Pilar offers about 15 different complete menu options, by and large without insects, including several moles, chiles rellenos, quesadillas, and other more traditional fare. For me, this selection of dishes was perfect.
• For a photo gallery of the class, visit https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150327250478921.371634.651578920
Alvin Starkman and his wife Arlene operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.casamachaya.com). Alvin has written over 230 articles about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, including restaurant and cooking school reviews. He is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today. Alvin leads families and couples into Oaxaca’s central valleys for day trips. He can be reached at oaxacadream@hotmail.com.

Posted by titosarah 07:31 Archived in Mexico Tagged food mexico in of cuisine schools cooking oaxaca lessons oaxacan pilar cabrera Comments (0)

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