How to Taste a City of Gastronomy
Flying Aprons Tucson, the City of Gastronomy in my kitchen
Soon after Tucson, Arizona received its designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, I started receiving several emails and calls with one simple question: How can I taste a City of Gastronomy? This sounds easy to answer, but believe me, it is not. To taste a City of Gastronomy you have to be able to connect local foods, chefs, and consumers. Several restaurants are sourcing locally giving the consumer an opportunity to taste the heritage of local cuisine. In addition to local restaurants, a few entrepreneurs are virtually connecting local foods, chefs, and consumers. An example of this is Flying Aprons Tucson.
Michele Shulze, a "starter" in Tucson's Culinary Scene
Like the rest of the world, the local food-chef-consumer relationship was impacted by the pandemic. Restaurants changed operations to reduced capacity or to-go/delivery only service. Local producers had to find new distribution models for their products, and consumers facing financial troubles started to look for inexpensive, and unfortunately many times, not healthy food options.
One day, Norma Gentry, a PR guru in the food and restaurant industry told me about Michele Schulze, founder of Flying Aprons Tucson. Michele had started her new company just a few months before the pandemic but was able to shift to a virtual cooking class model. Michele contacted me and invited me to join one of her classes. I gave it some thought (about 1.3 seconds) and said YES.....and I am glad I did!!!! Michele was able to find a way in this crazy time, to allow us, consumers, to keep tasting what the UNESCO City of Gastronomy is about. So here is my experience with Flying Aprons Tucson.
What's for Dinner?
Native American corn sopes with Father Kino’s black-eyed peas, pork belly, and nopalito salsa. Sopes are corn masa patties fried and then topped with different items. The Father Kino Blacked-Eyed peas are in reference to Father Francisco Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit Missionary who explored and founded different missions in northwest Mexico and Southern Arizona. In the late 1600's Father Kino brought several food items to the region such as wheat and black-eyed peas.
Days before our cooking class, Michele sent me a shopping list (for those not purchasing the ingredients box), an equipment list, a pre-class mise en place and notes. Since I had the full package, on the day of my class, I picked up my ingredients at the Gallery of Food, a local shop/catering/cook demo shop. When I opened my box of ingredients, it was magic. I noticed that all necessary ingredients were in my box (including oil and spices) and everything was fresh and of good quality. And yes, I felt like a little kid with my "unboxing".
When it was time to start the class, I was set and ready!
I was ready and eager to start (but mostly very hungry). I had followed all the pre-class instructions and connected to the online cooking class. Chef Kristine Jensen & Chef Christopher Baldwin from the Gallery of Food were my instructors for the evening. We started by preparing some masa (a maize dough that comes from ground nixtamalized corn) and then incorporating some leafy greens. The masa was separated into small balls and then pressed with the hand to form a "sope". Lightly fried in oil, our beautiful vessels were ready for their topping.
We cooked the black-eye peas with some pork belly and then we were ready for the salsa. Chopped prickly pears pads (don't be scared, you can eat these cacti....of course without thorns....unless you have some superpowers), cilantro, yellow onion and preserved lemon.
Hungry and ready to eat, I placed three sopes on a plate, topped them with the black-eye peas, some salsa, sliced radishes, Mexican sour cream, and sliced avocado. It was delicious.
But let's go back to the experience. I have a subscription to the Food Network online where I can see hundreds of cooking classes. Also, Mastercard sends me invitations to tons of cooking demos. But this was different. Not only we used several local ingredients, but also Chefs Jensen and Baldwin were engaging with us, their audience. Even amongst us, the class students, we were able to interact. And Michele Schulze was present at the studio facilitating and moderating the conversation. The class was totally worth it. I learned a new recipe, interacted with chefs and guests, and then enjoyed a delicious dinner.
Build Your Hygge Moment
If you are in Tucson, Arizona, I suggest you take one of the Flying Aprons classes. If you are not, you can still join a class and purchase the list of ingredients provided before the actual class. I find it really helpful to learn more about the ingredients, their history (like the blacked-eye peas introduced by a Jesuit Missionary hundreds of years ago to this part of the world). Food could be delicious, but if you learn more about it, and engage with chefs, then it becomes a hygge experience.
Photos from Flyng Arpons Tucson
Chef Kristen Jensen Chef Christopher Baldwin
Cooking Classes: Flying Aprons Tucson
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