I always try to find an activity that is a bit unique and off the traditional tourist trail when I travel. While doing some research on Cusco, I came across the perfect thing: A Peruvian cooking class from the chef of Marcelo Batata and Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse, two of the top-rated restaurants in Cusco! I was slightly nervous, since I have a history of setting things on fire during cooking classes, but little did I know, I would be intentionally setting my dinner alight this time!
Name: Marcelo Batata Culinary Experience
Cost: $80 per person
Time: 2pm to about 7pm
Location: Calle Palacio 135, through the courtyard
Reservations: Email Chef Erick to reserve your spot at email@example.com. Sign up well in advance.
Cooking in Cusco
Garren and I worked up an appetite for an afternoon of continuous sampling by spending the morning visiting the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman, high above Cusco. We skipped lunch and arrived famished, ready to get started. We walked into the space to find a long bar with a view to the courtyard and a wall of pisco infusions that begged to be photographed.
We were greeted by José Luis, our teacher for the afternoon, and we chatted with him for a bit while he surveyed our experience levels. Our classmates were big foodies who had taken cooking classes around the world and dined at dozens of world renowned restaurants. When José asked Garren and I why we signed up for the class, we pretty much responded with, “we just really like food.” Once José had gauged who was in it to enhance their cooking repertoire and who was in it for all the tasty samples, we went across the hall into a recreation of a Peruvian local market.
For the Marcelo Batata Chefs out there reading this, this part of the class could have been even better by going to a real market, but I understand that there won’t be a local market close enough every day of the week.
Periodically throughout the class, someone would bring in a plate of appetizers from the two affiliated restaurants, Marcelo Batata and Uchu. My favorite was the ceviche, which surprised me because I’m not a huge fish fan. We also tried octopus, guinea pig, and two types of bruschetta.
I am a huge fruit fan, and I was pretty excited to see a row of exotic fruits lined up on the bar when we returned from the market. The mango was so flavorful, soft, and juicy that I polished off the plate almost entirely on my own, to the slight dismay of my classmates.
Sorry Hawaii, but Peru has you beat with Mangos. I still love you.
Next it was finally time to get cooking! José led us into the kitchen as we donned our blue aprons. We made a stir-fried quinoa dish, or Peruvian fried rice, as José nicknamed it. We chopped up some veggies and chicken and arranged them on our prep plates like pros.
This stir fry dish was super easy to make and could easily be made at home. The only catch was that the sauce bottles weren’t labeled, and Garren mixed up the soy sauce with the red vinegar! Needless to say, his quinoa dish was a little sour, but I shared mine and it was quite tasty!
Once again, I devoured my food before I even thought to photograph it.
|Fried Quínoa Recipe|
|100 g quinoa boiled||½ yellow chilli|
|One serving chicken in dices||½ cup of zucchini|
|½ sweet pepper||½ cup of eggplant|
|Preparation: Fry the chicken in sunflower oil. Once lightly browned, add the sweet pepper and yellow chili, then add the zucchini and eggplant. To finish, add one shot of soy sauce.|
You can’t talk about Peruvian cuisine without talking about pisco. Pisco is a distilled liquor made from wine that is clear, colorless, strong, and delicious. My first sip was like soft, smooth fire.
We tried four main types of pisco (yes, there are many different varieties) and then moved on to José’s personal pisco infusions. Some were fruity and fragrant, while others were extra fiery after being infused with the hottest peppers in Peru. We used the infusions to make our pisco sours and pisco chilcanos and oohhhh were they good.
|Pisco Sour Recipe|
|3 oz. pisco||6 ice cubes|
|1 oz. sugar syrup or 1 tbsp. of white sugar||½ oz. egg white (this creates the foam on top)|
|1 oz. lime juice|
|Shake all the ingredients, then shake some more. You need to shake VERY vigorously to get the proper frothy texture. You could also probably use a blender. Pour into a short glass and decorate with 2 or 3 drops of bitters on top of the foam.|
|2 oz. pisco||2 dashes bitters|
|1/2 oz. lime juice (or 1 oz. fruit puree)||1 slice of lime|
|1/2 oz. sugar syrup||ginger ale|
|Fill a tall glass with ice cubes. Add all ingredients and top off with ginger ale. Stir.|
Flaming Alpaca Saltada
Our main course for the evening was alpaca saltada, a classic Peruvian dish that is quite popular in the Andes. We chopped up the ingredients and headed over to the stoves. Then we were each handed a dish of pisco that we would pour into our woks to set our dinners on fire! I was pretty excited to intentionally start a cooking fire.
When the time was right, José gave us the signal, and we poured in our pisco, tilting our woks to let the flames from the burner ignite the pisco in the wok. It didn’t take much, and soon we each had a giant fireball in front of us!
A few more additions, and our meals were ready for plating. José showed us how to plate our meals like a gourmet chef.
|Alpaca Saltada Recipe|
|4 oz. Alpaca tender loin, cut into bite size hunks||1 tsp ginger, finely minced|
|2 oz. vegetable oil½ red onion, julienned||2 oz. chicken stock|
|½ yellow pepper, julienned||1/2 oz. red vinegar|
|¼ red pepper, julienned||1/2 oz. of soy sauce|
|2 chives (only the green part), julienned||1 oz. of pisco (or other high proof alcohol)|
|1 small tomato, sliced in 6 or 8 wedges||Salt and Pepper|
|1 garlic clove, finely minced||Cilantro|
|Preparation: Season the alpaca with salt and pepper. Then heat the pan or wok as much as you can, add oil until it starts to smoke. Add the alpaca hunks and sear them (do not overcook). Add the red onions, red peppers and yellow peppers and cook it all together. Add garlic and ginger, cook for 10 seconds stirring or flipping all the time. Then add Pisco and flame it by tipping the wok toward the burner. Immediately add the soy sauce and vinegar to glaze it. Add cilantro and chicken stock, stir for few seconds and add tomatoes and chives. Then remove the pan from the heat and serve it with white rice and French fries.|
We took our creations into the restaurant for a candlelit dinner. It was my first time trying alpaca, and it was delicious! It was sort of like a cross between steak and lamb, but the flavor wasn’t nearly as pungent as lamb.
It was great to have spent the day hanging out with José and hearing his take on Peruvian cuisine and culture. He was clearly very passionate about his craft and enjoyed sharing it with us.
We I devoured our dessert of assorted chocolate morsels and we said goodbye to José and our classmates.
If you’re in Cusco, I would highly recommend the Marcelo Batata Cooking Class. It was a great way to learn a lot about Peru and get real Peruvian cuisine (not the touristy pizzas you’ll see all over). It seemed a bit pricey at first, but considering we were either eating gourmet food or drinking hard liquor for five hours, it was actually a pretty good deal, and a worthwhile splurge.
I have a couple other recipes from Chef Erick. Shoot me an email if you’re interested!