Most people go to Mendoza for one thing: wine. And as Mendoza is the largest wine producing region in South America, there’s plenty of it to go around. But if you are looking for an exposition on the finer points of Mendoza’s Malbecs then I can’t help you any further as I don’t drink red wine. I shall wait a moment for you to sufficiently recover from the shock of my confession (rest assured that I have not spoken of it publicly here in Argentina for fear of imprisonment, or worse). So while every other tourist in the region was happily wobbling around various vineyards on bikes rented from Mr.Hugo, I needed to find something that I would find more suitable.
Enter TripAdvisor and various glowing recommendations for a cooking class at Finca Adalgisa, a boutique hotel in the heart of the wine region. I booked up straight away.
Finca Adalgisa is located 18km from Mendoza’s city centre and is easily reached by taxi. Local buses run to the region but do not pass by the hotel. Upon entering the hotel we were warmly welcomed, ushered into a pleasant sitting room overlooking the vineyard, and given a large glass of the vineyard’s produce.
The class runs in the grounds of the hotel and is expertly taught by Cristina Brino, who delivers the class in either Spanish or English according to her students. Classes are kept small, with a maximum of 8 students, to ensure that guests receive a personal experience. For our class there were 7 students, comprising of 3 Americans, 2 Australians, a Brit and a Swede. Each student is given a copy of the recipes in order to make notes on the procedure.
After an entre of warm bread and chimichurri that Cristina had prepared in front of us, Cristina’s menu continued with Mendocinian empanadas: small pasties filled with meat and spices. Cristina showed us how to prepare the dough and cook the filling. The lesson is not hands-on: it is more like a TV cooking show with Cristina as the chef and the students as an interactive audience who are allowed to smell and taste the ingredients as they are prepared. Once the empanada dough had hardened enough we were shown how to roll and cut the dough before being allowed to shape our own empanada – the only hands-on part of the lesson – and then they were placed in a red-hot clay oven to cook. Five minutes later we were heartily tucking into our own empanadas, oil dripping through our fingers. I can honestly say that it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.
Next on the menu was steak, but this was not just any steak; it was the most enormous rib-eye steak I have ever seen. Coating it in chimchurri and throwing it into a flaming hot pan, Cristina then surrounded it with fresh tomatoes and onions. Hot potatoes were removed from the oven, filled with homemade tapenade and then dinner was finally ready. Despite the high flames rising from the grill and the clay oven that was now burning at approximately 350°c, it felt chilly outside so we went to eat inside. Unfortunately this meant that we missed the preparation of the dessert but we were too busy tucking into our succulent steaks to be bothered about this, althought the dessert was also delicious when it arrived!
Here is a selection of my photos taken from the class:
At $100 per person, Cristina’s cooking class does not come cheap, which on our backpacking budget was a splurge but one that I do not regret. For the money you pay you get unlimited red wine, a delicious 3 course meal which is prepared right in front of you with the freshest ingredients and that you can enjoy in the most relaxing surroundings of Mendoza’s beautiful vineyard region.
As this is not an activity that immediately appeals to the young, trendy backpacker crowd, and one that is limited by budget, it is a great opportunity to meet travellers who appreciate great food and fine wine, rather than those looking for the cheapest meal-deal.
The course is easy to book online and Cristina will personally respond to any queries you might have. The cooking course has been one of the highlights of my South America trip so far and I am looking forward to trying out the recipe at home. I will let you know when I host my first Empanada Party 🙂
What local dish would you most like to learn how to cook? Have you ever attended a cooking class, and if so have you made the dish at home? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed the post and would like to make others feel hungry, then please share!