Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marcelo Batata Cooking Class - Cusco, Peru

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Marcelo Batata Cooking Class in Cusco, Peru.  As a wannabe-foodie who enjoys cooking, I'm always interested in attending cooking classes in the various locations I visit to get a real sense of the history and details of the local ingredients and cuisine.  And in that regard, I couldn't have picked a better chef to learn from.

Erick Paz is the executive chef of Cusco Dining, which includes three restaurants (Blue Puppy, Marcelo Batata, and Uchu) as well as the cooking class. A professional rally car racer, Erick took some time off after an injury and backpacked through North, Central, and South America for five years, rediscovering a passion for cooking and working in various restaurants along the way.  He returned to Cusco where he has opened three restaurants, runs his cooking class for fun - to share his passion for Peruvian ingredients and meet interesting people - and still races rally cars.

My class included four Canadians on a GAdventures tour and myself.  We started off by exploring the "market" (right inside the restaurant) as Erick explained the incredible variety of native and available ingredients in Peru, from the thousands of varieties of potato, to chilis, quinoa, corn, beans, etc.  We finished our market tour by sampling a selection of local fruits, including lucuma, passionfruit, and chirimoya (custard apple).  Throughout the course we were also served a variety of "amuse-bouche" from Uchu, ranging from ceviche to alpaca skewers to ice cream - all incredibly delicious, contemporary interpretations of classic Peruvian cuisine.

We started off the cooking portion by assembling a Chicken Causa - a beautiful layered combination of potato flavored with yellow pepper cream, avocado, black olives, chicken, chili mayo, egg, and a final layer of potato - constructed in a colorful tower using a ring mold.  We also chatted about all the other ways we could construct a Causa with different ingredients, or just use a ring mold (or using a casserole dish to create layers) in creating beautiful presentations.

My finished appetizer!

After enjoying our appetizers, we moved on to a Pisco tasting (Pisco is a local spirit made similarly to brandy).  Erick explained how to properly view, swirl, smell, and taste the Pisco... starting with un-aromatic (which tasted like fire) to aromatic (quite smooth).

Erick pouring out Pisco for us to sample.

We then sampled a classic Pisco Sour and Chilcano.  Erick then allowed us to select from his collection of infused Piscos to make our own drinks - I chose a purple corn Pisco to construct a Chilcano - incredibly delicious!

Purple corn infused Pisco and the resulting Chilcano.

After the Pisco sampling, we moved on to our entrees - Alpaca Saltada.  Using a small wok, we flipped around our ingredients, flambéed Pisco, flipped some more, and finally served our stir-fried Alpaca / vegetable concoction with rice.  We sat down with our entrees and what remained of our Pisco cocktails, already quite stuffed, to cap off an amazing experience and chat with Erick.

Erick flambes the Pisco while demonstrating the Alpaca Saltada.

While it was a bit costly for someone on a tight RTW budget, I would absolutely recommend taking the Marcelo Batata Cooking Class if you have a few hours to spare in Cusco.  And if you aren't on a tight budget, or you just want to splurge on an incredible meal, definitely check out one of his restaurants.  I would highly recommend Uchu based on my experience, but I'm sure the others are delicious as well.  If you happen to catch Erick, be sure to take the opportunity to chat with one of the more interesting, passionate, and worldly people in Peru.  Enjoy!

*I was not compensated in any way for the class I attended.  The views above are entirely, and honestly, my own, as they always will be, whether I am compensated or not.  :)
*You can also check out reviews of the cooking class on TripAdvisor.

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