Every place that Patty and I have traveled, we’ve tried to take a cooking class. Before we left on our trip to Argentina, we looked for ideas and cross checked everything with TripAdvisor. Time after time, we kept landing on the same suggestion – Argentine Cooking Class with Norma.
Even though I travel quite a bit, it still takes a lot of trust to put down a deposit for something like this in advance. What if it’s a scam? What if my plans change? What if something else conflicts with the class time? So, with a little bit of faith and some recently dated reviews on TripAdvisor, I put down my deposit. Once we got to Buenos Aires and attended our Saturday class, I am extremely happy to report that Norma’s class may very well have been the highlight of our trip.
We took a cab from our hotel to Norma’s upscale apartment located in the ritzy Belgrano area of northern Buenos Aires, near Palermo and Recoleta, arriving right at the designated time of 11:00AM. We took the elevator up to the 11th floor, knocked on the door and hoped for the best. Norma opened the door with a big smile and welcomed us into her home. She spoke very good English so we never had a language problem. Several people had already arrived and were sitting at her glass dining room table filling out information sheets. We introduced ourselves and sat down to fill out our sheets too. Two more ladies arrived and our class of 7 was complete.
Norma sat down and we quickly learned why Norma gets such highly rated reviews. She’s very relaxed, organized and quickly makes you feel right at home. She collected our information sheets and one by one, went around the table asking each person about an interesting item they’d written about themselves. We had 3 people from Sweden with us, 2 from New Zealand plus Patty and myself along with Norma. In our group, we had an electrician, a symphony composer, a dietitian, a teacher, Patty and me, and Norma, who is also a counselor/therapist. Right off the bat, we had a very interesting group.
Then Norma laid out the cooking class agenda for the day and one very important rule: No Chit Chat. We all got a good laugh out of that. Norma says that in order to cook all that we were going to cook, she has to be heard and her instructions followed. If we’re all consumed in visiting with each other, she has to compete for our attention. And once or twice during our class when we lost ourselves in good conversation, Norma did gently remind us, “No chit chat.”
We started by preparing the stew first. With several people requesting vegetarian diets, Norma easily modified part of our menu so that those who chose no meat in their stew worked together to make that dish. It was a lentil stew with onions, bell peppers,
carrots, squash, bacon and chorizo. As soon as that was under way, we prepped the next item, which was traditional empanadas. Again, the ingredients were modified for a vegetarian diet and the rest of us meat eaters prepared the stuffing, consisting of ground beef, onions, bell pepper, garlic, paprika, cumin, raisins and olives.
Once that was complete, we began the desert cookies. We made Caramel filled Alfojores ( it sure lacks any luster to write that in English. It’s a mouthful, but it’s so much more fun to say ‘Alfojers de Dulce de Leche’, as it should be!)
Norma showed us the technique of holding the round empanada discs, filling them with the mixture we’d made, then twisting the edges to make a plump little pie. These were placed in the oven and were magically timed by Norma to be ready all at the same time that the table was set for us to sit down to lunch.
We all sat down, ready to eat with the ‘no chit chat’ rule no longer in effect. We talked up a storm and really enjoyed discovering more about each other. We had a fresh salad with her herbed dressing along with a choice of white or red (Malbec, of course) Argentinian wine. Next came the empanadas, served with a chimichuri sauce. I’m used to a green sauce, but twice on this trip now we were presented with a sauce that contained paprika and boy oh boy does that ‘up’ the flavor of the chimichuri. I loved it!
Norma served us all a heaping bowl of stew ( or guiso de lentejas ). My mouth still waters whenever I try to describe how delicious that hearty stew tasted. It probably didn’t take more than 30 minutes of total prep time, maybe another 30 minutes to simmer and let the flavors develop, but it tasted so good I wanted another serving. And I was already full!
Finally, we passed around the Alfajores to go with our coffee as we wrapped up our dinner. In the meantime, Norma had prepared our parting gifts: a complete list of our recipes, a packaged gift of the chimichuri seasonings and our graduation certificates. It was such a thoughtful touch and brought big smiles to all our faces.
Norma invited us to say our good-bye’s to each other, feel free to use the restroom if we needed and then kindly show ourselves down to the street level because she needed to prepare for her next class which started in an hour. I glanced at the time on my phone and to my amazement, it was exactly 2:00PM, just as described in the website description. Norma has this class organized like clockwork, but never, not even once, did we feel a sense of urgency or felt rushed during out class. We had plenty of time to cook, eat and visit, and then casually head out to sight see again. Norma is one amazing woman! We hugged good-bye and promised Norma that we’d cook this same meal for our friends when we got home. That’s part of her class too: You have to share.
The details of the class aren’t as exciting as the experience but after taking several of these types of classes, I think it was very fairly priced at $85 US per person (about the same as a local cooking class at Sur le Table). We received excellent instruction, time in the home of a fine Argentinean lady, ate some fabulous food and shared quality time meeting new people. Plus, the view from the windows of Norma’s apartment were spectacular. You could see all over the city on the clear, crisp Autumn day in the middle of March ( it’s Spring for us, Fall for them).
A thousand thank-you’s to Norma. We loved it. We definitely give this 5 stars on the TripAdvisor scale of 1 to 5.