We took a great cooking class at El Arrayan while we were in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico where we learned to make traditional Mexican dishes. Destination cooking classes are extremely popular as they provide an opportunity to learn about local flavors, techniques, and culture while on vacation, and to recreate the recipes when you return home as an extension of your trip. We cannot wait to create the recipes at home to share the experience with our family and friends.
As dedicated foodies, we enjoy taking cooking classes to expand our knowledge, broaden our exposure to different culinary styles, and learn new techniques. We have attended many culinary schools as well as taken cooking classes at restaurants in various parts of the United States, throughout Italy, as well as in different parts of Mexico.
Carmen E. Porras and Edward F. Nesta
While we were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in late April 2014, we took an excellent cooking class at El Arrayan, a pretty little restaurant located in the Centro, or downtown section of Puerto Vallarta, owned by Carmen E. Porras, where Chef Alonso V. Corona is the talent in the kitchen.
El Arrayan Restaurant
The restaurant opened in November 2003, is open for dinner, and teaches cooking classes in the mornings. There are two options for cooking classes (clases de cocina), which are taught in English; Option 1 begins at 9:30 am with breakfast, an area tour, class, and lunch, Option 2, begins at 11:00 am and consists of a cooking class followed by lunch; we opted for Option 2.
Entering through the large wood door, the restaurant's ambience was casual and inviting with its colorful chairs, open courtyard with an arrayan tree and plants, and sacred Huichol artwork gracing the walls.
The kitchen was light and airy and large enough to easily accommodate the nine students in our class, along with Carmen, the chef, and the sous chef. White aprons embroidered with the El Arrayan logo donned, and with our recipe books in hand, we were eager to begin our class.
El Arrayan Kitchen
As a bit of background information, the owner Carmen, is passionate about all things culinary, quite fitting for a restaurateur, and although she has never worked as a chef, she studied and worked in the restaurant business long before opening her restaurant. Her interest goes well beyond the "front of the house;" she is someone who loves learning about and sharing traditional ways of cooking, reads antique cookbooks for inspiration and knowledge, and watches food shows on the television. With this as her culinary DNA, over the course of the class, she gave advice, and also imparted cultural and historical recipe knowledge as well, which made for a very interesting and memorable experience.
Carmen E. Porras and Students
Our assignments were to make homemade tortillas, Sopitas Villa de Alvarez (small corn shaped thick patties topped with refried black beans, queso fresco, and white onions, Cochinita Pibil (a traditional dish from the Yucatan section of Mexico) which is slow-cooked pulled pork cooked with a banana leaf for flavor, Fire Roasted Salsa Verde made with tomatillos, green Serrano peppers, cilantro, garlic cloves, sea salt, and white onion, and Flan de Cajeta for dessert.
Flan ready for Cooking
We began by making the flan, which used both whole eggs and egg yolks and cajeta, a delicious caramel spread made from goat's milk, which was cooked on the stove, and then refrigerated until ready to serve.
Debra Mixing Pork
Debra: Our next assignment was preparing the pork recipe, and while the chef made the marinade, I chopped the pork, added the marinade to it, and then placed it in a large pot. Another student had the task of stirring the simmering pork, while another student grilled the banana leaf to soften it, which would be added to the pot along with the pork to add flavor.
Carmen E. Porras and Gustavo Rivas-Solis
Edward: Everyone had a job to do in the class, I was in charge of the grill, where my task was to lightly spray the tomatillos, green Serrano peppers, garlic cloves, and chopped white onions with vegetable oil, and then cook them on the grill over the flame until they developed a black char on them, and the vegetables were tender. The grilled vegetables would then be used to create the Fire Roasted Salsa.
Edward Grilling Vegetables
Once the vegetables were cooked, I passed them to another student who had the task of chopping them along with the cilantro, who then passed them to another student who used a molcajete (rough stone mortar and pestle) to grind the vegetables to create the salsa, incorporating the minced cilantro, and adding salt to taste. Remember to not remove the black char from the vegetables as this imparts some great flavor to the final Fire Roasted Salsa.
Andy grinding Vegetables
Debra: While the pork was cooking, and several of the students were involved in the making of the salsa, I worked with other students making "sopes," small thick round patties. This task required the involvement of many; one student rolled corn massa into medium-size balls and then used using a tortilla press to flatten them. The flattened sopes were then passed to another student whose job was to partially cook them on the grill, remove them, and pass them along to four students, who in assembly line style, it was their job to pinch the edges of the sopes to create a smooth ridge, which would later hold the filling.
Richard making Sopes
As one of the "sope shapers," I learned that this task requires that you work quickly while the sope is still pliable as once it starts to cool, you can no longer shape it. For this task, it helps if your thumbs and index fingers are not sensitive to heat. Now that we had shaped the sopes, the next step was to pan fry them on both sides in some lard, then top them with refried beans, chopped onion, queso fresco, and minced cilantro, which would be the appetizer for our lunch.
Almost to the home stretch, we took turns making homemade tortillas. This is another task that looks so easy when you see the restaurant professionals make them, yet they actually require a bit of skill to create a great looking end result.
Sopes Assembly Line
To make a tortilla, you roll massa into a ball, place the ball between sheets of plastic wrap on the tortilla the press, gently press down to flatten the ball, remove the tortilla from the press, remove the plastic wrap from it, and lay the tortilla on the palm of your hand.
Next, you are to gently glide the tortilla in a smooth sweeping motion from your palm onto the grill to cook. What should have been easy became something resembling a comedy sketch as I repeatedly, yet unsuccessfully tried, to smoothly glide the tortilla onto the grill. No matter how many times I tried, my poor tortillas ended up ruffled instead of smooth.
Determined that I should succeed, Carmen worked with me until I was finally able to get the glide and rhythm of the transfer of the tortilla from my palm to the grill, and to create if not perfect, then at least somewhat more respectable looking tortillas.
Cooking tasks finished, it was now time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Gathered around a long table in the attractive dining room, we toasted Carmen, the chef, sous chef, and our classmates with the restaurant's delicious signature cocktail, the Margarita Arrayan, made with the fruit of the arrayan tree.
Eating the delicious lunch we had made of the Sopitas Villa de Alvarez, warm tortillas, Cochinita Pibil, Fire Roasted Salsa Verde, and Flan de Cajeta, we savored the tastes as well as the memory of a great cooking experience. Buen Provecho!
El Arrayan is open for dinner Wednesday through Monday from 5:30 pm until 11:00 pm. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.
There are two options for cooking classes which are taught in English, (clases de cocina), Option 1 begins at 9:30 am with breakfast, area tour, class, and lunch, or Option 2 which begins at 11:00 am with a cooking class and lunch.
Carmen and Claudia
Read Chefs' Recipes for a delicious taste of El Arrayan where owner Carmen E. Porras and Chef Alfonso V. Corona graciously share a few recipes from the cooking class to tempt your palate into taking a class or having dinner at the restaurant on your next visit to Puerto Vallarta.
El Arrayan - la mera mera cocina mexicana
48351 Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
Please read other articles on Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in the Destinations, Hotels and Resorts, Restaurants, Spas, Chefs' Recipes, and Adventures sections.
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