When I lived in Brazil and wanted to cook, people looked at me as if I was from a different planet. Regardless, I started to take my hobby more seriously as a young teenager and looked for cooking classes in my hometown of Rio de Janeiro. There was very little available, the exception being Gracia Wenna, the owner of Ma Cuisine, who was my first serious cooking teacher. I have such nice memories from that time and still keep old recipes from her cooking classes. Actually, I keep telling myself that I should try to track her down one of these days. Either way, we are talking here about 25 years ago, a time when cooking classes was a joke.
Boy, times have changed! On my last trip to Rio, I had the chance to visit a new cooking school called Espaço Carioca de Gastronomia. Suffice to say that my jaw dropped when I saw of a kitchen theater designed for large demonstrations classes, fully equipped with the latest cooking gadgets and appliances.
Located in Botafogo, a traditional neighborhood in Rio, the building was completely remodeled for the special needs of a cooking school, which by the way, was founded by Harold Lethiais, a Frech chef from the Normandie region.
He arrived in Brazil in 1987, as the chef for a cruise ship, and like many Frenchmen who come to Brazil, he fell in love with the country. Fast forward a few years, and he started his cooking school with the help of five other food enthusiasts as partners.
Each kitchen displays granite counters, mixers and blenders stacked on the shelves, and lots of bowls under each station— not that different from the facilities we see in some of the best cooking schools in the US.
The program is varied and interesting, offering classes to virtually everyone who loves to cook, weather an aspiring chef, a serious foodie, or a culinary tourist.
Unquestionably, Rio has always been a global tourist destination. Besides enjoying the beaches, music, and the famous Carnival, visitors to Rio now can also enjoy cooking classes, and learn to cook traditional local dishes at Espaço Carioca.
Tastings make for a fun evening. On the day I visited, Harold was presenting a beer tasting, with about 30 people learning the nuances of different beers. Kids also have a chance, with cooking classes designed specifically for the next generation of chefs.
As I was leaving the Espaço Carioca, I kept thinking about how different my life would have been had a school like that been available to me back when. And then, as fast as I ran to grab a cab, I realized that if that was the case, I wouldn’t be writing about it here.
Espaço Carioca de Gastronomia
Rua Teresa Guimaraes, 26
Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
Tel: (55 21) 3598-1216
e-mail: [email protected]
Below, is a recipe for Pudim de Banana from Espaço Carioca de Gastronomia.
Banana Pudding from Espaço Carioca
For the Caramel:
¾ cup (135g) sugar
3 tablespoons (45ml) water
For the Flan:
1 14oz can (396g) sweetened condensed milk
2½ cups (600ml) whole milk
3 large eggs
3 bananas, mashed (1 ¼ cup or 315g)
½ cup (62g) bread crumbs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
Equipment: one tube pan with capacity for 5 cups
- Place the sugar and water in a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook the sugar over high heat without stirring, until it turns into an amber-colored caramel, about 5 minutes.
- Pour the caramel into the cake mold and swirl it around making sure the caramel evenly covers the whole bottom of the pan. You don’t want to have any concentrated lumps of caramel in any part of the pan. Be advised that the caramel will continue to cook once it’s off the heat, so work fast. Set the pan aside.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F.
- Mix all the ingredients for the flan in a blender or a food processor, until smooth. Slowly pour it into the prepared caramel pan. Transfer the caramel pan to a large roasting pan and fill it with warm water so that it comes half ways up the sides of the pan. Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the center of the oven and bake until the custard is set, about 45 to 55 minutes.
- Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Transfer the custard pan to a wire rack. Let it cool at room temperature then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. It’s important to invert the flan only when it is chilled completely, otherwise it might break.
- When ready to serve, run a smooth knife around the inside of the cake pan. Place a large rimmed serving platter on top of the cake pan, and holding the pans together with both hands, quickly invert the flan onto the platter. Hold the pans so for at least 1 minute to make sure all the juices of the caramel fall onto the platter.