Zarela’s cooking students know her as a teacher acquainted with the regional flavors of Mexico in all their brilliant diversity. Ranging throughout topics from salsas and moles to the favorite Mexican cooking fats, her thoughtful and well-organized classes are a unique blend of culinary technique, cooking lesson, and cultural essay.
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This is from food writer/critic Regina Schrambling, who is not given to lavish praise
Food writers who passed up Zarela’s invitation missed out on a lesson on Mexican corn that was as seriously entertaining as it was wildly illuminating. She has been telling me for years that the world has gone to hell in a metate now that true masa is so hard to find, but tasting the real kernels soaked, whole, ground and in a baker’s dozen other forms made her case beyond persuasively. And she is one smart pimpo: As we watched her grind corn and mix masa with plantains and griddle-bake just-shaped tortillas, we were sitting down gorging on little picadas with avocado salsa verde and tamales with mole (plus margaritas). Two things she served were particularly transporting, the esquites, corn kernels with mayonnaise and chile powder, and the enchilada de chorro, which was the closest thing to Arizona I’ve tasted in eons. Unfortunately, the whole intellectually sensual experience only made me think how narrow Mexican has become in Manhattan — we’ve gone from abysmal Tex-Mex to mostly pedestrian Puebla-esque menus, and there is so much more to the cuisine.
The real deal could have no better ambassador: She had us sniffing epazote and tasting fresh lard and struggling to keep up with all the historical and sociological nuggets she tossed off (who knew the Lebanese had influenced Mexican cooking?) Contrast that with the countless “seminars” that turn out to be nothing but shilling, with the “experts” only reciting from a poorly memorized script (can you say ron?) Zarela has the cojones to always charge a pittance, but given that so much of the media still can’t tell huitlacoche from chipotle (and will not learn that tamal does not take an E), the Mexican government should set up a neediest cases fund.
Regina Schambling@ www.gastropoda.com