Back before all the craziness in all of our lives began, I attended one of Cooked’s monthly cooking classes. Led by Cooked’s founder and executive Chef Jona Silva, 12 other amature chefs and I gathered around the tables to start learning from the best. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, let me give you a bit of his background! Jona was born in San Marcos, Mexico and lived there for the first 16 years of his life. He has spent his whole life in the restaurant and food industry, living everywhere from Canada, Morocco, New York and Illinois along the way. His cooking style is still heavily influenced by his time in Mexico and he tells us that the flavors from today remind him of his childhood. Working alongside Jona, I knew how fun the class would be, and honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with a cooking class with “cocktails” in the name! Lucky for me, the first thing to do on our agenda was to make a Hibiscus Rosemary Mezcal cocktail. Mezcal is a Mexican distilled spirit similar to tequila that comes from agave plants and takes 10-15 years to mature before it can be made into Mezcal.
We start by boiling our own simple syrup then steeping Hibiscus flowers into it. Allowing it to sit longer will give you much stronger aromas of flowers and candy. There isn’t enough time to let ours cool, steep and sit so we bottle it for the next class and we use the jars that the previous class made. It smelled delicious! So fragrant and sweet. Now it is time to mix our sweet syrup with fresh lime and Mezcal. Jona’s piece of advice when making cocktails, “shake it like you mean it!” Once we sufficiently shook it like we meant it, it was ready! The drink was smokey, refreshing and delicious, a definite winner with me and the rest of the class. It transported me to warm summer evenings spent lounging on outdoor restaurant patios, which was a nice respite from the cold January we were experiencing at the time. A few sips of this and we are ready to start the antojitos. Antojitos are traditional Mexican snack foods. On Chef Jona’s menu for us tonight, sopes with tinga poblana and salsa salsa cruda with tomatillo. We start with sopas, mixing together potatoes and fresh tortilla masa. We’re instructed to take balls of this dough and make it into a bite sized cup, the perfect size to hold all of our ingredients. Jona’s tip when making these, “what looks the same cooks the same.” That is, making the sides and bottom of the dough proportional will ensure they are cooked evenly. Jona pops these into the oven for us and we’re onto the next step. We cut a variety of ingredients, all fresh and extremely aromatic. Tomatillos, onion, garlic clove, cilantro, jalapeno, and avocado are added to a blender along with salt and a bit of water, and viola, our salsa cruda is complete. I promise I’m not exaggerating when I say this was easily the best salsa I’ve ever had. In fact, I was so busy dipping fresh tortilla chips into it that all I managed to write down about it was “SO GOOD!”
After me and the rest of the class had time to make multiple trips to Jona’s station to refill our chip and dip bowls, it was time to start the last step of our class, tinga poblana. Tinga is a Mexican dish made with shredded beef or chicken in a red chili sauce. To make this sauce, we added tomatoes, garlic, tomatillos, and onions in a pan. We gave these ingredients time to roast, then put them in a blender along with some chicken stock. Once this was smooth, we added it back to our pan of chicken and cooked it until it had time to reduce. Perfect timing for the base of our sopes to come out of the oven! We piled them high with the recently finished tinga, along with our salsa, sliced green cabbage, cilantro, and queso fresco. These were bite sized delicacies!
So easy to make and a really fun dish that you can show off to your friends. With our class winding to an end, we mingled for a bit longer and ate more of our creations before packing the extras in to-go containers to take home. When talking to Jona after the class was over, I told him that I was both surprised and impressed how easy it was to make everything. This, he tells me, is his goal. He wants to help demystify the concept of cooking and educate people on how easy and quick it can be to prepare fresh, tasty and healthy meals. Along with this, he believes that the best thing you can do as a chef is make people feel comfortable around food. I think I can speak for the class when I say this is something he definitely succeeded in. Jona has an ease in the kitchen that only comes with years of experience. Along with this, his interesting tidbits, facts, and stories that accompany the class make it feel like you’re being taught by an old friend.
Due to COVID-19 our cooking classes are postponed but we hope to see you at one when they resume! We post them on our site at https://eatcooked.us/pages/classes