Food for Thought in Cancun
As someone who finds herself in Cancun more so than anywhere else in the world, more so than even my home city, I have the bar set snobbily high when it comes to activities off the resort. I guarantee you I’ve snorkeled the majority of cenotes and zipped the majority of zip lines in and around the Cancun area. So when I had the opportunity to take a cooking class at Mexico Lindo Cooking, my interest (and appetite) was, admittedly, piqued.
Chef Alejandra’s cooking school/kitchen explodes out of the jungle like a comet of color. The bright yellow casa, framed in pink trim, is far from a subtle refuge, surrounded by otherwise green, leafy forest. But then, Alejandra is far from subtle. The professionally trained chef, with a sharp sense of humor and a passion for all things Mexican, never wanted to work in a restaurant. She became a chef to tell the story of Mexico through food by helping people learn to make age-old recipes.
Now, raise your hand if you’ve been to a cooking class in Mexico. Chances are, if you have, it’s gone one of two ways. The prep work is either done for you, so all you have to do is stir, toss, or fold, or you’re sitting facing the chef as they cook for you and you sip a cocktail. Both are very enjoyable experiences. But Mexico Lindo takes it to the next level.
The immersive experience is a full half-day excursion. Arriving to the gorgeous pink-and-yellow kitchen, you are met with an outdoor wood-burning stove and long communal table. Alejandra has laid out freshly cut cucumber, carrots, and jicama, doused in lime juice and served with sprinkled Tajin and a side of pumpkin seed salsa. But that’s where the pre-made enjoyment stops. Then it’s time for her clients to don the aprons and embark on a five-and-a-half-hour endeavor to cook everything from carnitas tacos to chile rellenos to pink dessert tamales, colored with beet root and filled with raisins and pineapple.
Alejandra and her team of sous chefs are on hand to direct the process, but the meal is left in the hands of the participants. Of course, the minute details surrounding cooking carnitas to the perfect temperature, and slicing the massive green peppers to perfection for chile rellenos are left to the professionals, but for the majority of the experience, the client is doing the cooking, and learning so much in the process. Alejandra’s passion (read: patience) makes the experience feel as if you’ve been cooking these recipes for years.
After everything is left to simmer, and the expert team of sous chefs scurry to plate dishes on perfectly painted terracotta dishware, Alejandra ushered us out to the communal table for a salud with tequila, and some kind words about the bonding experience we just shared. When the food finally arrived, it felt as if it was something we truly earned. Five-plus hours on your feet actually cooking is not easy, but in the process what you ingest (mentally and physically) about Mexico’s culture is well worth the wait.
Like I said, as someone who is somewhat of a veteran of ‘cooking classes’ in Mexico, this experience added another stripe to my sleeve. I would wholeheartedly (and whole-stomachly) recommend it to anyone looking to see and experience a whole new side of Cancun.
A version of this story appeared in Travel Weekly.