On the corner of Virrey Loreto and Charlone sits an inconspicuous building, no signs or decorations to indicate that behind the simple façade lies the immaculate kitchen of Espacio Azaí, a gourmet cooking facility. I went to Azaí one morning for my first Argentine cooking class.
As I walked through the front door I came upon a state-of-the-art kitchen, with a large stovetop and spices spread along the cabinets and counters: paprika, basil, cinnamon, anis. And there to greet me was Alicia Bersi, 33, a former English teacher and current cooking instructor at Espacio Azaí, along with her assistant Luigi Baez, 21. Azaí’s kitchen contains a seating area with a table and a large bookshelf filled with recipe books. There is also a hanger to pick up your apron and a bar to sit at. All the ingredients and utensils for the day are laid out and organized on the counter for you.
Azaí offers one of the only English-speaking cooking classes in Buenos Aires. Designed for tourists and expats, their ‘Argentine Cooking Class for Tourists’ can be conducted in English, Spanish or Portuguese. On the docket: chipas (tapioca starch cheese bread), empanadas de carne y humitas (sweet corn and meat hand pies), carbonada (typical Argentine stew), and panqueques de dulce de leche (crêpes rolled with caramel).
The class began with Alicia showing us the basic ingredients of Argentine food: onion, red pepper, salt, paprika, and ground pepper. The class then progressed with perfect flow as she demonstrated cooking tricks, such how to slice an onion and pour crepe batter, shared snippets of Argentine history, and encouraged us to partake in the cooking experience. After watching Alicia demonstrate, each of us had the opportunity to give it a go ourselves, flipping our own panqueques and folding empanadas. We learned the perfect consistency for chipas batter and that traditional empanadas de carne include olives, hardboiled eggs, and raisins. The afternoon was filled with eating, chopping, laughter and conversation.
At 1pm we settled at the table with a bottle of wine to enjoy the fruits of our labour. The chipas turned out perfectly, being best described as the ultimate cheesy bread. With a small crust on the outside, the inside oozed melted cheese. The empanadas were nothing short of fantastic, with a great mixture of textures and flavours. My favourite food of the day was the carbonada, a hearty, delicious stew, with the slightest hint of sweetness added by one dried peach. And of course, to finish it off, the panqueque de dulce de leche simply melted in my mouth.
Near the end of the meal, Marcelo Kulish, the owner, sat down and joined us. He discussed the elements of Argentine cooking with us further, sharing specialty jams he had in the kitchen (one of which was made from wood!), and welcomed us to his kitchen. A former engineer turned chef and then masseuse, Espacio Azaí is the revelation of Kulish’s recently developed dream: a business that offers classes in massage, dance, and cooking. Kulish studied professional cooking at Colegio de Cocineros Gato Dumas. He now teaches the weekly themed cooking classes at Azaí, ranging from Thai cooking and sushi lessons to Mexican and Peruvian cuisines. He also leads cooking events for businesses. “The objective of Azaí has always been that people enjoy themselves, that they enjoy what they’re doing and feel comfortable. We also want them to learn something, work with their hands, and improve their way of eating,” said Kulish. And after meeting him and participating in the course, those sentiments were made clear.
I enjoyed my time at Espacio Azaí so thoroughly that I cannot wait to recreate the dishes for my family and friends, and I hope to return soon for an evening class. Maybe Peruvian cuisine next time?
The schedule of courses changes but frequently includes classes in Thai ($500 for four classes), Peruvian, and Multiethnic cooking. The price for the tourist course depends on the number of participants: 1 person is $350, 2 people $250, 3 people $200, and over three $170, everything included. Espacio Azaí also offers classes in massage and rhythmic dance. For more information, please visit www.espacioazai.com.ar.