Creating magic with Mexican cooking classes

By Robin Intemann

Barbara Santos-McAllister is into magic, at least that’s what she creates through Cocina Corazon, her Mexican cooking classes business.

“What happens in the kitchen is magic,” she said. “Mexican cuisine is fantastic because of the flavors, the stories and at the end of the class everyone is the best of friends.”

Originally from Mexico City, Santos-McAllister said the idea of offering classes began to “simmer” in spring 2017.

“I was missing my Mexican food and started cooking more at home because I had no choice,” she said. She was frequently asked for recipes when she hosted dinners. Or, friends would ask her to teach them how to make the dishes.

“The idea came as a ‘what if’,” she explained. “What if I started sharing my Mexican cuisine with my community here?  It was an idea that kept growing. I still have so many ideas about what I can do to introduce others to the magic of Mexican food.”

She thought of a name, built a website and developed a plan addressing the necessary steps in starting a business. There was one problem. “Of course, I had no recipes because I cook from memory, from what I learned from my grandmothers and my mother,” she said. “They were all great cooks with very different styles, but nothing was written down.”

She recalled going to the market with her grandmothers as a child and later watching what they did with the foods they bought.

“There is a saying that the gift of seasoning is given by angels,” Santos-McAllister said. “It is a gift I believe I have inherited from my grandmothers on both sides.”

Slowly she began to document the recipes to share with students.

A typical class begins with introductions, descriptions of the food to be prepared and evolves into storytelling on Santos-McAllister’s part with others eventually contributing their own. Everyone takes part in the food preparation with guidance from the instructor. Ultimately, the home cooks sit down together to enjoy the benefits of their efforts. It’s not unusual to leave with leftovers and the recipes.

“The entire experience is of passion all around,” she said. “It’s not just the food, but the aromas and the processes. If you put your heart in it, the results are amazing.”

She estimates since her first classes in September 2017 she has reached between 300 and 400 people teaching five to six classes per month. Class sizes are limited to eight and take place in her kitchen or as an in-home experience. The most popular classes are for mole poblano and chili en nogado (poblano chili with walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Numerous other options are available including tamales, soups, peppers, salsas, chili rellenos and more.

In addition to classes that focus on different dishes from different regions, she also offers courses on specific types of ingredients, such as dried chili. This combines a field trip to a Mexican market in town to learn about the available varieties. Participants then learn how to incorporate them in different sauces and applications.

“I love to be in the kitchen,” she said. “I think I cook by instinct, sometimes there’s a lot of invention involved. Some dishes are more complicated than others, but it’s magical when they come together in the classes. Cooking is an art. It’s also a celebration of life and its pleasures.”

Santos-McAllister has plans to offer classes focusing on desserts and happy hour. The latter, she said, could include different beverages such as hibiscus margaritas along with some small plates. “I have a lot of options to create new concepts,” she added.

If cooking is not of interest, but traditional Mexican foods are, Santos-McAllister can be hired as a personal chef. Classes typically last two to four hours, are open to persons of all ages and all of the necessary ingredients are provided.

“I offer a great experience,” she said. “It’s a social experience. It’s a cooking experience. And, it’s a party, it’s magical. You just need to choose the date, the time and I bring the food and the fun ready to show you the ropes.”

For more information about Cocina Corazon visit cocinacorzon.com or call Santos-McAllister at 719-661-3030.

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