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Today, my friend, we are going to talk about the oft-forgotten art of cooking; crafting a gastronomic delight to then enjoy with friends. And the person on hand to ensure it turns out to be a veritable delight is Elsa Manelphe, who, via her ‘secret cooking school’ will teach you all you need to know, and more.
Elsa, a native of Reunion Island, grew up in a way that food was more than just something to shovel down your throat in between meetings or before rushing out of the door; an idea that has perhaps been lost in the rapid world we currently live in.
Her philosophy, it would appear, is that preparing food is something to be done at leisure and with lots of love, and the cooking itself should be as enjoyable as the meal. Students also learn to experiment, not just following recipes to the letter. She will explain how certain ingredients are inter-changeable, thus encouraging the novices to not be scared to experiment, which is all part of the fun.
Elsa is quick to point out that there are certain rules to the kitchen, but believes that once those are learned, the fun can begin.
One thing that has been a challenge for the French-trained chef is the Argentine palate. In a country where salt and pepper are often as far as seasoning of a dish goes, bringing the flavours, tastes and spices she grew up around into the everyday realm of her students is not easy. But they all come round to it eventually, and often leave with a new list of must-haves for their pantry.
She tells me in lilting Spanish of a group of male friends who had never picked up a saucepan in their lives, and at the start of their first class all sat and stared at her blankly. But nothing being too big a challenge, as soon as the first bottle of wine was cracked open, they relaxed and were happily cooking in pairs by the end of the class.
The bonus of the smallness of the groups and the personal attention Elsa is able to give is that everyone will learn and have a hands-on experience during the class. And working in pairs means there is less pressure to perfect something, and much more fun. And all this washed down by wine and a good shared creation to digest at the end of the class. Which is a fundamental part for Elsa – and she explains it is a real meal – not just a ‘tasting’, which they share together, a celebration of their success in the kitchen.
One group of students, who were all strangers to begin with, have been going to her classes for over two years, and are all now friends. This also seems to be part of Elsa’s ideology – the thought of food bringing strangers together seems to please her immensely.
Special classes can be prepared for those who want to learn about a certain area of cuisine, and the classes – all currently in Spanish – can be arranged in English or French if there is enough demand to create a group. Elsa also offers classes for children, and for birthdays – which can either be done in the home of the student or at Elsa’s place, where most of the classes take place.
And the backdrop of Elsa’s ‘school’ is an exquisite one – the music, decoration and general ambience of the old house – which doubles as her home – beats any night school I’ve ever been to. Such is the opulence of her classroom, it was used as the set for a Playboy photo shoot just a couple of months ago – and is a true haven in the busy barrio of Constitución.
So if you, like Elsa, believe that good living happens between tables and glasses, pop along to a class at her secret cooking school and prepare to spice up your life.
Individual classes, including the meal and wine, are $95; although it is more common to join a mini-course of four classes, which are open to be taken at your own leisure, for $320. Vouchers are also available if you wish to give someone the gift of culinary wisdom.
For more information on Elsa’s classes and how you can book them visit www.entremesas.net. Via the website you can also sign up to the newsletter and get weekly cooking tips and recipes, as well as the timetable for that week’s classes.