Bienvenidos a Los Dos: Yucatecan Cooking School, Merida, Mexico

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Los Dos culinary consultation services
Chef David and Chef Marco in the Masterfoods test kitchen
SINCE OPENING THE DOORS OF HIS COOKING SCHOOL, Los Dos proprietor Chef David Sterling has been called upon to share his expertise with companies large and small, worldwide. In Yucatán, he has consulted with the personal chefs of hacienda owners, as well as created custom-tailored menus for local restaurants. Farther afield, he has consulted on product development for global companies such as Kahlúa during their launch of a new beverage, and with Masterfoods in the creation of a line of Mexican-themed packaged foods.

MASTERFOODS IS A MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION, with operations on every continent except Antarctica. Sterling was retained to present a three-day workshop to 25 chefs and marketers in the European headquarters in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

While the details of the project remain confidential, the general theme requested of Sterling by the corporation was virtually any meal that can be eaten with a spoon – stews, thick soups, chili.

During the three days, Chef David presented a CD Rom overview of the theme, with a historical timeline of the evolution of chili and similar bowl-type meat dishes, and a review of typical ingredients and cooking processes. In the kitchen, he assigned individual recipes to teams of staff members, and taught them many processes unfamiliar to them, such as toasting whole dried chiles and methods of using dried salted beef, in Mexico known as cecina. In all, a total of 15 recipes were prepared. At the end of each session, a tasting experience was opened to all Masterfoods employees in the building.

The challenges of importing tropical recipes to an icy northern latitude were many. First, Sterling had to ship two large boxes of local Yucatecan ingredients across the Atlantic. Such indispensable items as dried chiles,
recados and unique herbs like epazote were in the containers. The boxes never arrived, which sent head chef Marco Geboers scurrying to calm Sterling’s frazzled nerves. Miraculously, a quick call to a local Mexican restaurant produced contact information for the restaurant’s wholesaler, and within 24 hours Sterling breathed a sigh of relief to see huge blocks of recados and packages of chiles arrive in the test kitchen. Even a shopping trip to a wondrous wholesale food outlet on the outskirts of Rotterdam resulted in the purchase of cactus pads, chorizo, pumpkin seeds and other exotic ingredients. And replacements were used as necessary: feta cheese was used instead of cotija, and delicious French crème fraîche substituted for Mexican crema.

To acquire the smoky flavor so important to regional Yucatecan dishes and also to the meats in various chilis, Sterling requested that a charcoal grill be set up somewhere on the premises. While doubts hung over this stipulation, the Masterfoods team pulled rabbits out of hats and there appeared a large grill jerry-rigged to fit atop the enormous industrial stove to make use of the vent to the outdoors. Many of the chefs had never cooked over such a flame, and took to it with true cowboy grit.

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