The list of reasons to visit the Riviera Maya just keeps getting longer and longer! Co.Cos Cocina Cosmopolita Cooking School has made a huge splash in Playa del Carmen, getting rave reviews from local residents and visitors alike! After hearing from friends and fellow foodies that a new cooking school was opening up in Playa, I knew I would have to try it out.
Co.Cos' owner/founder Coty Villarreal is an accomplished Chef and student of the world. After traveling extensively though Europe and Asia, including an extended stay in Thailand, she brought her collected knowledge back to her home country, Mexico, armed with a passion to share her experiences with like-minded home cooks. It is this passion and Coty's effervescent personality that is the heart and soul of Co.Co's Cocina Cosmopolita and what makes the learning experience unique.
This is actually my third visit to Coty's cooking school. My first class was in July, a birthday present to myself, and a wonderful evening spent with good friends learning about new cuisines! In August, Women with Wine brought me back to Co.Cos for cocktails and a dizzying array of tapas. Coty was a delightful and gracious host, eager to meet new friends and show off her fantastic facilities and the scope of her catering menu. It was the perfect setting for this monthly gathering and one I hope the event organizers will choose again! (Hint, hint.) When the invitation came up to join some friends for another evening at Co.Cos, of course I jumped at the chance.
The menu we were to prepare this evening was inspired by Asian/Thai cuisine, a favorite of Coty who spent years traveling through Thailand and south east Asia, falling in love with the culture as well as the cuisine.
Starting from back to front, in groups of four, we prepared the mix for the orange-ginger sorbet, a simple process of bringing water, orange juice, sugar and grated fresh ginger to a boil and allowing it to reduce just a bit. This syrup was then strained and put aside to cool to room temp. before going into the ice cream maker.
For the remaining courses, we would work in pairs. My partner (the only boy in the group thank-you-very-much) was Stefan, an experienced cook from Frankfurt Germany here in Playa to study Spanish at one of our many local Spanish Language Schools. He was more than happy to take the lead while I snapped pictures and documented our evening.
Our next dish, a salad of warm asparagus and tempura tofu over spinach with a sweet and sour Thai dressing, raised a few eyebrows around the table. It seems tofu is not exactly at the top of everyone's weekly menu!
I myself quite like tofu. I am alone in that regard in our household as Rob won't touch the stuff and the kids give it the stink eye unless it's swimming in a bowl of miso soup. While tofu is a staple in many Asian cuisines, it seems to have a limited audience in Mexico. You would be hard pressed to find tofu tacos or empanadas offered at your neighborhood food carts. We were all looking forward to seeing what application might make this nutritious yet intimidating ingredient a viable part of our diets. Divided up into pairs, we carefully measured our ingredients for the dressing and cubed our tofu.
To expedite the process a bit, our tempura batter was prepared for us by the handsome and able-bodied Chef Nacho. We all took turns coming in for a close look.....at the batter. ;-)
Despite the escalating wine consumption, everyone managed to coat and deep fry their tofu without incident.
Finally we were able to assemble our creations and enjoy the fruits of our labors at a long dinner table set up on the open air patio. The salad was bright and bold, a combination of ingredients and flavors I would have never thought to put together on my own! I can't guarantee that I will reach for tofu the next time I make this but battered and deep fried and covered with our Thai chile dressing it certainly was delicious. I can see this salad as the platform for grilled prawns or pan seared sea scallops coming out of my kitchen very soon!
For our main course, we were to prepare chicken and shrimp stir-fried with chili, basil and garlic and served with delicate jasmine rice. Using Coty's personal collection of exotic mortar and pestles, gathered during her trips far and wide, we ground the ingredients for the "marinade". With a little elbow grease, garlic, cilantro, chile serrano and ginger all melded together for a spicy fragrant base for our dish.
After mixing up a traditional Asian sauce, each pair stir-fried the chicken hot and fast, followed by the tender shrimp. The sauce, a combination of imported fish and oyster sauces, sugar and black pepper, was thickened with a bit of corn starch, added to the hot wok and allowed to reduce and intensify in flavor. I must confess, my rice cooking skills are below par, a fact only more strongly reinforced when I tasted the light, fluffy, toothsome rice that Coty effortlessly prepared to support our stir fry creations.
The result was sublime. As I looked around at all the smiling faces and the table stacked with plates nearly licked clean, I could see that dinner had been a success! Our orange-ginger syrup had been loaded into the ice cream maker while we ate and was now beginning to solidify into a soft sorbet. The aroma of fresh ginger cleared our senses knocking us out of our wine-induced haze as we savored the last course of the evening.
While Coty and her Chefs do add support to the class, taking a few of components into their own hands, the participants are definitely getting a hand-on experience. As with any class or workshop, each participant will come away with something different. Experienced home cooks will enjoy this class just as much as those who can't tell a cuisinarte from a cutting board. No skills are required to join one of the groups, just an interest in new cultures, new cuisines and new flavors!
Co.Cos Cocina Cosmopolita offers a variety of courses in a variety of cuisines. Coty herself leads classes in Asian, Thai and Mediterranean cuisines. Chef Nacho takes the helm, introducing students to the ingredients and techniques used in traditional and contemporary Mexican dishes. Chef Hector, rounds out the Co.Cos' offerings with his expertise in French/European cooking and its particular preparations and techniques.
The classes can be conducted in English and Spanish to accommodate both locals and visitors to the area. The class size is limited to 10 students assuring that the Chef/Instructor can give the personalized attention required for a successful learning experience. Daily and monthly courses are available as well an intensive course for cooks who want to take their skills and knowledge to a higher level. Cooking classes for children have recently been added to the schedule and there is a cocktail and tapas class on Fridays for those of us who like to keep our drinking skills sharp! Discounts apply when you bring a friend!
Co.Cos Cooking School is located in the Aldea Thai complex on Calle
Cozumel. For more information about cooking classes, Private Chef or in
house catering services, contact Coty at info@cookInplaya.com or call (52) 984-803-0743. You can also get updates and find special offers on Co.Cos Facebook page. No matter what class you try you are sure to come away will new skills and new friends.
Don't forget to let Coty know you saw Co.Cos Cocina Cosmopolita on "Life's a Beach"!!