If you're ready to up your culinary game, you could stock up on plenty of cookbooks or watch a ton of Food Network. Or you could go another route and be taught by a talented toque while sipping a libation in a five-star setting.
The Mandarin Oriental is hosting a series of interactive cooking classes featuring chefs Benjamin Murray of Azul and Diego Oka of La Mar by Gastón Acurio. Don't think these classes are all work and no play. While learning, you sip either a fine wine or a pisco sour, depending upon the chef hosting the class.
At a sample class, La Mar's Diego Oka shares his tips and tricks to make Peru's best-known and beloved dish. First, Oka makes the base of nearly all Peruvian ceviches: leche de tigre. This bright, briny liquid does double duty as a hangover cure, the chef explains while he passes around shots of leche de tigre. Then the chef deftly cubes his fish and tosses it in the piquant sauce. Contrary to many other ways ceviche is prepared, Oka prefers to serve the ceviche immediately rather than allow it to marinate in a refrigerator a few hours. The chef says this is a testament to the ultra-fresh seafood he uses in the dish.
Oka's pro tips include the proper way to cut limes so the juice is sweet, not bitter (hint: slice the lime into threes and hand-squeeze the fruit instead of using a juicer), and salt your fish to taste even though you put salt in your leche de tigre. Finally, serve your ceviche in a chilled dish or bowl. "You want everything to be bright and fresh," he says.
At Azul, chef Benjamin Murray puts everyone in the class to work. Each person is assigned a task: picking fresh mint or chopping vegetables. Chef Murray demonstrates how to prepare caramelized pork belly. Though the dish is more difficult than the ceviche, Murray wanted to choose a dish served in the restaurant. He cooks the pork in duck fat while gently stirring the caramel. "You don't want this to splatter. A caramel burn is worse than almost all others."
Shirking all low-calorie thoughts, the chef adds a few healthy slices of butter to the caramel before pouring it on the meat. The scent is heavenly and decadent. "Go on, take a seat. I'll finish up," the chef says as he completes plating the succulent meat by topping each piece with kimchee. Wine is poured as the dish is served, and everyone digs into the fruits of their labor.
Culinary classes at Azul cost $175 per person and include a three-course tasting menu, matched with flights of premium wines. Students also receive recipe cards and cooking notes, as well as a certificate of participation and a signature apron. All Azul classes are held Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Classes at La Mar cost $100 per person and include a traditional pisco sour cocktail-making lesson at La Mar's waterfront bar, and ceviche or causa. Students also receive recipe cards, a certificate of completion, and an apron. Classes at La Mar are held Fridays from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Reservations for any class are required and can be made by calling 305-913-8358. The 2016 cooking class schedule is as follows:
- Saturday, April 23: Springtime flavors with Benjamin Murray of Azul
- Friday, May 6: Causa tasting with Diego Oka of La Mar
- Saturday, June 11: Japanese techniques with Benjamin Murray of Azul
- Saturday, September 24: Couples cooking with Benjamin Murray of Azul
- Saturday, November 12: Festive ways to prepare for the holidays with Benjamin Murray of Azul
- Friday, December 9: The secrets of leche de tigre with Diego Oka of La Mar
Here's chef Oka's recipe for classic ceviche to whet your appetite:
For Leche de Tigre
- 16 oz. fresh lime juice
- 8 oz. fish stock
- 2.5 oz. ice
- 2 oz. celery
- 5 oz. of white meat fish
- 2 oz. onion (heart) sliced
- 0.10 oz. ají limo
- 1 oz. cilantro
- 1 clove garlic
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Combine lime and fish stock in a blender. Add in ice and celery and pulse together two times. Add fish and blend until smooth. Add onions, ají limo, cilantro, salt, garlic, and blend for ten seconds. Strain and blend again for an additional ten seconds.
- 2 oz. fresh milk
- 7 oz. fluke, cut into small cubes
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 fresh limes, juiced
- 4 oz. leche de tigre
- 1 red habanero pepper, chopped (optional, or can sub out a different pepper)
- 3 oz. red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 slices sweet potato, steamed until tender
- micro- or regular cilantro
Combine the fluke, salt, fresh lime juice, leche de tigre, habanero, and red onions in a large bowl. Refrigerate for several hours. Garnish with sliced boiled sweet potato, steamed choclo, and cilantro.