Five cooking classes to try in Oaxaca

Mole prepared during one of Reyna Mendoza's cooking classes in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. Photo by Lesley Téllez.

Mole prepared during one of Reyna Mendoza’s cooking classes in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. Photo by Lesley Téllez.

 

From Lesley: Today I’m running a guest post from Dolores Wiarco Dweck, whom I met in Oaxaca last year. She really impressed me with her passion for Oaxaca’s cuisine and culture, and the research project she’d created to specifically learn about local cooking classes. Here’s more from her.

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My love affair with Mexico’s culture and cuisine began in early childhood when I visited Acámbaro, Guanajuato, a small town known for its bread, with my family every summer.

There was a bakery on almost every corner. My favorite was the pan de Acámbaro, an oval-shaped loaf of bread that is similar in characteristics to Jewish challah — slightly sweet and a little dense, with raisins. We ate it with fresh butter and a little bit of sugar sprinkled on top, or nata.

My passion for Mexican food eventually led me to do my master’s thesis research on culinary tourism in Oaxaca. Last summer, I traveled to Oaxaca and worked with five cooking school instructors to learn about their individual enterprising skills in promoting Oaxaca as a culinary destination. I took more than 15 classes, learned new dishes and returned home with a love for indigenous Mexican cuisine.

Here are five Oaxacan cooking schools I particularly enjoyed visiting. Each one provides a hands-on experience for travelers interested in exploring a new culture through food.

1. Alma de Mi Tierra, with Nora Valencia

Nora Valencia. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Nora Valencia. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Alma de Mi Tierra’s cooking classes are $75 and promote authentic dishes of Oaxaca, and recipes passed down from Nora’s grandmother as well as some of her own creations. They begin at 9:30 a.m. and end by 3:00 p.m. Classes are hands-on, taught in English or Spanish in her quaint home kitchen, and include printed recipes, a local market tour, a mezcal tasting, and a four-course sit-down meal. Menus typically consist of a salsa, an appetizer, a soup, a main entrée, an agua fresca, and a dessert.

Highlights:

  • Nora’s friendly nature, bubbly personality, and historical insights allow students to learn about Mexican food, mercados, and the origins of various ingredients in a fun and interesting way.
  • The cozy Mexican-style home kitchen offers an intimate experience for small groups.
  • Family recipes (green mole) and Nora’s own creations (Khalua gelatin dessert) are an absolute treat.

2. Casa Crespo, with Oscar Carrizosa

Casa Crespo's cooking class set-up in Oaxaca.

The scene at Casa Crespo’s cooking classes in Oaxaca.

Classes at Casa Crespo are $65 and take place Tuesday through Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and on Sundays at 11:00 a.m., and last approximately four hours. Oscar focuses on ingredients and techniques from Oaxaca’s eight regions, with an emphasis on easy replication of dishes at home. Students receive morning coffee, a tour of the Sanchez Pascuas organic market, recipes (emailed after class), unlimited beer or mezcal, and a group meal.

Chilaquiles at Casa Crespo. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Chilaquiles at Casa Crespo. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Highlights:

  • Oscar provides great explanations of different ingredients during the market tour, providing insight into the ceremonial uses of herbs and other products.
  • Classes are relatively short, which leaves time for other afternoon activities.
  • While the classes are quick, the variety of salsas and other menu items made is expansive. The menu typically includes several appetizers, at least four salsas, a main entrée, homemade ice cream, and agua fresca.

3. Casa de los Sabores, with Pilar Cabrera

Pilar Cabrera's nopal salad. Photo by Lesley Téllez.

Pilar Cabrera’s nopal salad. Photo by Lesley Téllez.

Casa de los Sabores group classes are $75 and take place from approximately 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. They are led by chef and La Olla restaurant owner, Pilar Cabrera, and offer the opportunity to learn secret family recipes and traditional Oaxacan dishes. The price includes all materials, a tour of Mercado de la Merced, hands-on instruction, a mezcal tasting, and a five-course meal – an appetizer, salsa or guacamole, soup or rice, mole, dessert, and agua fresca.

Sweet bread in Oaxaca's La Merced market. Photo by Lesley Téllez.

Sweet bread in Oaxaca’s La Merced market. Photo by Lesley Téllez.

Highlights:

  • Pilar offers a different perspective given her background as a food scientist-turned chef – plus she’s a master when it comes to squash blossom soup and desserts.
  • While the menus are set and based on different moles, Pilar emphasizes the importance of improvisation depending on fresh and seasonal ingredients found during the market tour.
  • The class includes an intimate and educational mezcal tasting and explanation led by Pilar before the meal.

4. El Sabor Zapoteco, with Reyna Mendoza

Reyna Mendoza at the market in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Reyna Mendoza (in the checkered apron) at the market in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

El Sabor Zapoteco focuses on traditional Zapotec dishes and culture. The six-hour cooking classes are $75, and are available on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. or on other days when requested with advance notice. Classes include roundtrip transportation to and from Teotitlán del Valle (students are picked up at their hotels), a local market tour, homemade hot chocolate and sweet bread, a hands-on cooking class in Reyna’s outdoor home kitchen, recipes, and a sit-down group meal that includes appetizers, entrees, dessert, drinks and mezcal.

A chaya leaf tamal at Reyna Mendoza's Sabor Zapoteco cooking class. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Fruit at the Teotitlán Market, during Reyna Mendoza’s Sabor Zapoteco cooking class. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Highlights:

  • Reyna’s calm demeanor can put anyone at ease in the kitchen, and it’s wonderful to learn from someone in the Zapotec community.
  • The market tour in Teotitlán del Valle offers insights into Zapotec village life.
  • The outdoor kitchen is great – students use traditional tools such as a clay comal (flat griddle used to roast ingredients), a metate (large stone tool used to grind maize, chocolate, or dried chiles and spices for mole), and a molcajete (stone pestle and mortar) to make salsa.

5. Seasons of My Heart, Susana Trilling

The kitchen at Seasons of My Heart in Oaxaca. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

The kitchen at Seasons of My Heart in Oaxaca. Photo by Dolores Wiarco Dweck.

Seasons of My Heart’s regular classes are $85 and take place on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to approximately 6:00 p.m. They include roundtrip transportation from a designated pick-up location in downtown Oaxaca, a tasting tour and light lunch at the Wednesday Etla market, a lecture on Oaxacan cuisine by Chef Susana Trilling, and hands-on preparation and consumption of a five-course meal.

Highlights:

  • Susana’s approachable personality and larger group classes offer opportunities to socialize and meet new people interested in cooking.
  • This beautiful and spacious cooking school is located in the open countryside and has a good mix of modern and traditional cooking tools and appliances.
  • The Etla market tour is incredible – students taste a ton of regional foods such as nicuatole (pre-Hispanic corn and sugar dessert), egg bread, hot chocolate, various tamales, ice creams and desserts that they might not otherwise taste while in Oaxaca.

About Lola
Dolores Wiarco Dweck, known by her nearest and dearest as Lola, has a great appreciation for Mexican cuisine and culture. Lola’s culinary mentors include her relatives and friends as well as some of Mexico’s great chefs and home cooks. She preserves and shares her favorite recipes through Lola’s Cocina.

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10 Responses to “Five cooking classes to try in Oaxaca”
  1. Bob

    I visited Oaxaca for 9 days a few weeks ago and my wife and I intended to take a class at Casa Crespo but we somehow ran out of time and missed out. A lot of great things to do there. The food in Oaxaca is wonderful. I have never heard of El Sabor Zapoteco, will check that out next time.

    • Lola

      Awe, Bob! You definitely have to take a cooking class the next time you visit Oaxaca. It will make you appreciate Mexico’s cuisine and culture in a whole new way. I try to take a cooking class everywhere I travel now!

      - Lola

  2. Chris Stowens

    ¡Felicidades! Really nice article. I know all of these cooks and each is fabulous and each recipe/preparation is quite different from the next. The story behind Pilar and Nora’s moles is a fantastic one. It comes from Pilar’s grandmother, who was kidnapped by banditos when she was young, so the recipe is really from one of the bandito’s mother.

    Like the rest of Oaxacan culture, comida is very varied. No one’s mole is the same as her neighbor’s. I am currently eating my way through Oaxaca and it is a never-ending fiesta. You should come back and do one on street food, which is every bit as good as these prepared dishes. Best tacos in the world (OK, hyperbole) are at the entrance to the market in Tlacolula on Sundays. Best restaurant in Oaxaca (and I hang out with lots of foodies) is the Comedor Colon in Etla. I have spent a lot of time exploring Oaxaca, and feel like I have barely scratched the surface. If you scroll through my blog you can see lots of shots of food… and much much more.

  3. Olga Acevedo

    Re: a good melting cheese for filling enchiladas & it’s topping, to bake.

    Another question for the salad: Pilar Cabrera’s nopal salad.
    Is there a recipe for the “Nopal salad” on any website ?
    Am interested in Mexican cooking and would like to use the correct cheeses.

  4. Lola

    Hi Olga, I reached out to Pilar about her nopal salad recipe, and she wanted to know which one you tasted because she has several versions. If you can describe it (ingredients you can remember, whether you tasted it in a cooking class, or in her restaurant) I will follow up with her regarding the recipe.

    Lola

    • Olga Acevedo

      Thank you for your reply. Sorry for the misunderstanding, I was neither in her class or restaurant.
      I am so impressed by her picture of “Pilar Cabrera’s nopal salad”. Photo by Lesley Téllez.
      Casa de los Sabores, with Pilar Cabrera. As seen on the internet.
      Under her “5″ Classes”.
      Would enjoy having the recipe to prepare this salad.

      Olga

  5. Jodi

    Thanks so much for this! My mother is coming to visit me in Oaxaca and doing a cooking class is on our list of must-do’s. You have taken a lot of effort out of my research!

    • Lola

      Jodi,

      Glad to hear that you found the information helpful. Continue to enjoy Oaxaca and have fun with your mom! If you have any specific questions regarding a particular cooking class, feel free to email me directly at lola@lolascocina.com.

      - Lola

  6. Ericka @nibblesnfeasts

    Oaxaca is the best place in the world. I was lucky enough to attend a class at Casa de los Sabores with Pilar Cabrera and stay at her bed & breakfast. It was an amazing experience and a turning point in my life. Thanks for the memories :)

    • Lesley Tellez

      You’re welcome Ericka! I’m a big Pilar fan, too.

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