Culinary tourism is becoming an increasingly important part of travel, with the World Food Travel Association estimating that 15-35 percent of all tourism spending goes on food and drink. Considering eating is awesome, it really comes as no surprise, and Argentina is no exception to this: in 2016, the Argentine government launched Cocin.Ar to promote Gastronomic Tourism, and cooking classes are a big part of this.
In 2014, having lived in London, traveled around the world, and eaten and photographed a good portion of great food, Julia Grosman founded ‘Cook Abroad‘, a company dedicated to offer cooking classes to visitors that want to learn about the wonders of Argentine cooking (asado, anyone?). Joining forces with her sister Mariana, Julia Grosman turned her attention to Argentine cuisine. Nearly four years later, the sisters are still welcoming people into their kitchen and sharing what Mariana refers to as ‘everyday Argentine food’.
Attending one of the Grosman’s classes feels a lot like being invited into a friend’s home. The sisters welcome me into their kitchen with homemade cookies and chitchat. The conversation is relaxed and my British uptightness is eased by a nice conversation about the weather, and before I know it, we move on to talking politics, food, cooking, and more. The relaxed conversation then translates into a relaxed cooking class. Mariana teaches us the first recipe: empanadas. She begins with cooking basics, such as vegetable cutting, before moving on to making dough.
Despite the relaxed, family atmosphere that the sisters have created, it’s clear that preparation is meticulous: the pair experimented with a lot of different combinations before reaching the perfect lard-free empanada dough. They’ve learned a couple of other things along the way, too. “We used to give out recipes during the class,” Julia tells us, “but that meant that everybody would just look at the recipes instead of enjoying the process of cooking.” Nowadays they email recipes out at the end of the class.
Their meticulous preparation shows up again as Mariana finishes cooking the two empanada fillings, while Julia teaches us how to make chipás. The sisters encourage us to become familiar with our ingredients, allowing each of us to touch the dough as well as introducing us to the textures of ingredients which might be unfamiliar, such as the yuca (cassava) flour used for these delicious cheese buns.
When the chipás are nicely rolled and ready for the oven, the red wine is poured and conversation starts flowing. We talk mostly about food and cooking. Whilst the Grosman sisters encourage experimentation – teaching us to add garlic and herbs to suit the traditional flavors in our chipás – they teach us a little about the provenance and history of the food we are learning to make. The sisters are sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation surrounding food: we are cooking “the food [they] grew up with” Mariana tells us.
When conversation subsides, we move onto dessert: time to make alfajores! Light, because of the corn-starch inside them, and not so light, because dulce de leche, the alfajores are a sweet (and delicious) note to end on.
With heads full of culinary ideas, and with tummies and doggy-bags nicely filled with empanadas, chipás and alfajores, we step back out into the rainy day. With culinary tourism on the rise, and a new restaurant opening in Palermo every five minutes, stepping into this kitchen has been a wonderful way to connect with Argentine home cooking. Now I just need to see if I can get the recipes right at home… Fingers crossed!