I tagged along with my grandson, Austin, and his girl friend to a Cuban cooking class at Kitchen Conservatory this week. The evening brought back memories of my trip to Cuba in 2003, when I went with my son, daughter, and family friend to the island on an educational tour with Cross Country Cultures.
At the time, the food in the government operated restaurants was bland and monotonous. Far better meals were to be found in the paladares, the home-run businesses allowed to seat no more than 12 people. Every cab driver in Havana had a cousin, who was cooking at home to pick up a few extra pesos. As it turned out, some of our best meals and visits came from those homes located in back alleys or along unlit streets.
The paladares were tightly restricted and could only serve chicken and pork, most often with rice and beans, the basic items in the Cuban diet. All was prepared tastefully with the limited ingredients available to Cubans at the time. Rum, the national drink, was inexpensive and readily available and cerveza, too, was in good supply. Such were my food memories of Cuba twelve years ago.
Cooking Cuban in St. Louis
Our instructor for the Cuban cooking class this week was Dawn Meyer, who had the ability to juggle 15 people making a half dozen recipes during our 3 hours at Kitchen Conservatory. I’m convinced Dawn could have plotted the D-Day invasion of Normandy while cooking a seven course meal. It was remarkable seeing her calm and commonsense approach in the kitchen.
Also adding to the evening was the lively banter among participants as they pursed the many tasks involved in preparing an elaborate meal that included drinks, appetizer, salad, entree, side dish, and dessert. Below is a photo collage of what we cooked and ate.
Kitchen Conservatory has other ethnic, hands-on classes, too, including Thai, Israeli, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, French, and Japanese. Whether you’re learning bread baking or meat smoking, these classes provide a first-class culinary experience, as well as a fun, summer evening with foodies.
Kitchen Conservatory, 8021 Clayton, 314-862-2665. See class offerings at kitchenconservatory.com