Puerto Vallarta is magical and so is the restaurant El Arrayán. Owned by Carmen Porras since 2003, she named her restaurant after a species of tree that bears the small, sweet and tart fruit. Inside the central courtyard a young Arrayán tree grows and this is a constant reminder to Porras of the one that grows in her great-grandmother’s yard.
Carmen Porras and her partner Claudia Victoria have a mission to prepare traditional Mexican food using old Mexican cooking techniques. Lucky for us, Carmen Porras was willing to share these recipes and techniques through her cooking classes to a group of excited travel writers during the NATJA conference. The classes offer up cultural facts and history of the Mexican ingredients and allow the participants a chance to try cooking and tasting hands on.
Without a doubt, Carmen Porras has the patience of Job. Allowing our large group into her small kitchen took some pre-planning and a lot of assistance and as well as a badge of courage. My friend Linda Spanberger, an international flight attendant, who loves adventure as much as I do, traveled with me for this wonderful trip and together we all crowded into El Arrayan’s kitchen to try to capture a bit of the magic of the wonderful aromas coming out of the small space.
Carmen divided us into teams with kitchen and we learned (loosely worded) how to prepare a zucchini mix that is a little like one my mom taught me that we dish up every summer. We also had an adventure in tamale preparation. Chef Diego Sánchez, who was recently promoted from sous chef when we had our class this past May, introduced us to Masa which Carmen Porras explained is basically dough for corn.
“I am obsessed with tamales,” she said. “It uses Mexican staples like corn maize, which is 10,000 years old. The plant evolved with humans from grasses.”
The complicated mole sauce we used in the tamales had already been created although they were kind enough to share the recipe. We made tamales using banana leaves to wrap the chicken, mole and masa mix. The tamales were wrapped and tied which sounds much easier than it was. The tasty, time consuming, tamales were then stacked upright and steamed. For dessert we created a delectable pineapple glaze that was served over ice cream. Lovely Linda turned out to be a whiz at cutting pineapple and her efforts even turned up in the film covering our trip.
It didn’t take long to see that working in the kitchen is a hot job and it was easy to feel a great appreciation for the chefs that prepare such wonderful food in the midst of the steam and fire. After the food was complete, we sat around and enjoyed the fruits of our labor in the cool and lovely atmosphere that El Arrayán had to offer.
I have always enjoyed cooking classes and have a deep interest in different types of food and the ingredients used to put them together. As a farmer’s wife I know that fork to table often requires a lot of steps to get to from the field to the plate.
Sitting down to the “after” meal gave us all a sense of accomplishment and made us feel like a member of Top Chef. I recommend doing this if you happen to find yourself in Puerto Vallarta. Log onto: http://elarrayan.com.mx/en/kitchen.php for details.