Undoubetedly our favorite evening on our recent family trip to Mexico was the night we took a cooking class at Robert & Dolores Brittingham’s house.
Formerly from Seattle, Robert & Dolores have called Puerto Vallarta home since 2002, starting Essence of Cuisine, Dolores’ cooking school, in 2006. We girls in the family had taken several cooking classes in the past and knew it was something we wanted to take advantage of on this trip to Mexico. After months of searching online, I was growing frustrated. Of the many different types of classes offered around town, none of them seemed to suit our group. A couple were perfect for me, 6-7 hours of total immersion, beginning with shopping for ingredients at the market, but deemed much too intense for mom and Wendy. A few well-known classes had great reviews, but were extremely expensive and mostly featured simply watching the chef cook.
I found one interesting class at a more reasonable price, but then realized it was an hour north of Vallarta in Bucerias. Then, I thought I had a winner when I found Spanish Experience, only to discover after multiple emails (in English) they shared that the class would be in Spanish. Opps, another idea bites the dust.
On the verge of calling it a failed attempt, I found Dolores’ website essenceofcuisine.com and knew I had found our class. Her condo was near our hotel, 3 hours in duration, participation was welcomed, and the price was right. We had a winner.
Originally we three girls were going to head to cooking class, leaving the boys to their own devices for the evening, but when Jim heard the menu he decided that he needed to get involved, after all. The evening of class we all put on our fanciest vacation clothes and stepped into the balmy evening air with the scent of the ocean in the air. We took our time, strolling the side streets off Olas Altas, checking out shops and restaurants as we moved further into the residential neighborhood. We climbed slowly, admiring metalwork gates, colorful doors, and multi-hued bougainvillea.
An excellent hostess, Dolores greeted us with a glass of wine before taking us on a tour of their gorgeous home. She and Robert have a beautiful home, lovingly decorated with artwork and treasures from around Mexico. In fact, it’s exactly the type of place Jim & I would love to someday own, an open kitchen-dining-living room floor plan with an office/guest room, master suite, and two full bathrooms, all with two balconies overlooking the pool.
The other three friendly ladies in our class, as well as mom and dad, chose the non-participatory strategy and sat at the bar drinking wine and snacking on the delicious, pre-prepared appetizers; Chile and lime flecked jicama sticks, pickled carrots, watermelon cubes tossed with smokey chipotle sea salt, a two olive-fig tapenade and a very unique guacamole featuring blue cheese and all served with those amazing, thick tortilla chips, found only in Mexico.
Wendy got involved in the first course, a delicious and easy tortilla soup. While her soup was simmering away, Jim & I jumped in to mix up and wrap the enchiladas for our main course, chicken and cheese enchiladas with tomatillo sauce.
In past cooking classes I’ve experienced two distinct styles of teaching. In the first it was intensely hands-on with everything made form scratch. The second, classes where the only job was to drink wine and take notes as the chef/ teacher did all the cooking. Being the type of cook who likes to continually expand my repertoire of recipes, I most enjoy the hands-on style. Dolores does a combination of the two, having prepped the ingredients before hand, she nonetheless encouraged assisting in putting the dinner together. While I had gone in anxious to learn how to make a traditional tomatillo enchilada sauce, the rest in attendance more appreciated that she shared what brand had the best canned sauce and, lets be honest, that is what most people are looking for!
After Jim & I got the enchiladas in, Wendy got back in action, assisting Dolores with the Mexican style street corn salad and spicy black beans, bringing dinner together. We all sat at Dolores & Roberts’ delightful table and shared a wonderful, and unique, vacation experience. Sharing stories with our new acquintances, talking food and travel, and enjoying fantastic food.Our hosts prepared desert while we finished dinner and, although already stuffed to the gills, it was a fitting finale to such a wonderful dinner; coconut ice cream with a fig-carmel sauce.
Luckily, we didn’t have far to go and even better, it was all downhill! Later that evening, relaxing on our ocean view balcony with cocktail in hand, we fondly recalled the lovely experience. If only all days ended on such a high note.
If you’re planning on being in Puerto Vallarta, do yourself a favor and sign up for one of Dolores’ weekly cooking classes, featuring either Mexican or Thai menu options. Check out more details at essenceofcuisine.com. You won’t be sorry!