I’ve always loved cooking, followed closely by eating…. or maybe it’s the other way around?
Letting me loose with a spice rack and access to some healthy ingredients gives me the chance to channel my inner Gordon Ramsey. Over time, Ben has also embraced my passion for cooking and it turns out that he’s also pretty capable around a stove.
So when combining my two loves, kitchen time with travel, I am seriously in my element.
We’d enjoyed our cooking experience in Chile so much that we decided to contact Chef Ale, Founder of the traditional cooking school, México Lindo. She was kind enough to confirm our enrolment at one of her classes and it’s safe to say that we were more than excited.
About an hour outside of Cancuns famous hotel zone, the property is a beautifully decorated, authentic Mexican casa, painted in bright pinks and striking yellows. Surrounding the grounds are thick forests and organic gardens containing exotic produce such as vanilla, coriander, passion fruits and a variety of chilli peppers. “I’ve cooked all my life and wanted to try my hand at growing my own ingredients“ explained Chef, “but the garden took us four years to get right! I have no patience! It was very frustrating!”
Chefs love for all things Mexican was clear to see as she gave us a brief insight into the history of the Mayans and Aztecs and their love of cooking. These ancient civilisations had a spiritual connection with the most humble of ingredients, particularly corn, and passed this through the generations. Chef Ale was keen to uphold this connection and explained that love and care must go into every dish. “If you don’t love your food how are other people going to?”
Whilst the team were making the final preparations for the day, we were treated to a steaming hot cup of cafe de la orja, a traditional Mayan coffee made with cloves, pepper and orange peel. As unique as it sounds, it was probably the best coffee that we’d had during our travels, although I’m not sure it quite beats a flat white from our favourite coffee shop in Hackney!
Chef explained that Mexicans rarely ate in the morning as lunch was always a feast and the biggest meal of the day for them. However, the country had suffered 400 years of Spanish occupation which had impacted the way food was presented, so we were served a selection of homemade marmalade’s alongside sweet, European pastries for breakfast; Conchas in the shape of shells, Badelias which represented the flags used by Matadors and Orejecas which were weirdly folded into the shape of massive ears (Ben felt right at home!)
Already feeling full, Chef Ale handed out the first task for the day – preparing Tamales. Tamales are pretty unheard of in the UK, but are a staple diet in Mexico and southern parts of the USA. Corn husks are stuffed with pulled chicken, roasted vegetables and peppers, seasoned with hot sauce, tied together and then steamed inside of a large cooking pot. Not our favourites, but everyone else seemed to enjoy them!
We were then tasked with creating our own pozole rojo, a spicy, pork based red soup that was loved by all Mexicans. However, unlike soup as we know it here in the UK, the pozole is served alongside a selection of salad ingredients such as radishes, onions and lettuce, all of which are added into the soup at the point of eating! As with all things in Latin America, this soup was also flavoured at the last minute with some fresh chillis, giving off a real kick!
Our favourite dish of the day was the salpicon de res, a cold, shredded beef salad, which was served alongside the other courses. We seasoned our brisket and left it to simmer for hours, before shredding it over lettuce, onion, tomatoes, avocado, limes and my favourite, cilantro aka coriander. Side note, coriander is definitely not my favourite and tastes like soap, something I really struggled with as EVERYTHING out here is covered in it! This dish was incredible and I’m sure we could’ve eaten the entirety on our own.
Chef Ale understands the importance of giving back to the local indigenous communities and employs a number of them to assist in the kitchen during classes. Our assistant for the day, Maria, was standing over the oven, preparing sopes de pollo; a small corn based chicken taco. We give it our all but despite our best efforts, didn’t quite clear Maria’s strict quality control! Maybe next time!
The day finished up with an enormous helping of a traditional favourite, arroz con leche. This creamy dessert is a Mexican take on rice pudding, complete with fresh raisins and plenty of vanilla. Naughty but very very tasty!
Our day was incredible. The food was full of flavour and spice and we truly felt like locals for the day. As we said our goodbyes we couldn’t thank Chef Ale enough. “Con gusto (you’re welcome)” she replied with a smile “when a Mexican invites you into their home, you really are part of the family. We live by our
motto- Mi casa es su casa! (My house is your house!)
If you would like to follow our recommendation and book onto one of the many classes that Chef Ale teaches, you can do so on the following link: