Culture and Cooking – the Everyday Lessons

Alzar School | 01.03.16

This past Saturday our students attended a cooking lesson in Neltume.

As a little backstory, we’ve never taken cooking classes in Neltume before. We’ve always taken them at this sweet, little restaurant in Choshuenco with this wonderful woman named Erica. But, this semester, we wanted to branch out. As I’m sure everyone can guess, the first time we try something new here, we have no idea how it will go. There are so many moving parts. Has this woman ever taught a cooking lesson before? Does she like children? Does she want money for it? Will the kids be respectful? Will the kids genuinely attempt to connect with these women who are so different from them yet so similar? Will the kids learn? Because, we don’t just take a cooking class to learn how to make a traditional, Chilean dish. We take cooking classes to practice open-mindedness, to experience the minutia that culminate in a foreign culture, to improve our Spanish, to learn humility, to gain comfort in uncomfortable moments.

I feel comfortable saying that, last week, we succeeded on all fronts.

cooking 1Ana María and Isabel, the two Chefs at the restaurant where we eat dinner every night, were gems. Ana made sure to verbally and visually walk students through all the steps they’d be in charge of. They were dicing onions. They were shredding carrots, skinning tomatoes, and hand-sawing (yes, I said hand-sawing) pumpkins. The kids learned how to cook sausage “the Chilean way”, and they ultimately learned how to make a traditional dish simply called “Porotos”, which means “beans”, that we then ate for dinner. In case you were wondering, it was delicious.

More importantly, however, they learned how long the women had been professional cooks. What they did in their down-time. How they liked to play and tease. I told them our students were practicing big numbers, and Ana María listened as one student struggled to say “4,233 shreds of carrot”. Isabel slowly explained why we prepare the vegetables in a specific way. The students learned that she is also a guitarist and singer in a folkloric band that has traveled all the way to Argentina on tour. We got to listen to her music on CD as Isabel sang and swayed along. They taught us the Mapuche dance “Cueca”, and we all tried our hand. They ate dinner with us. They asked to take photos together at the end.

We laughed a lot together, and we laughed maybe more at ourselves. I left that night feeling fed in many ways. I’m so proud that our students are challenging themselves, embracing new opportunities, and having fun along the way. We have three weeks left in Chile. I can’t wait to see how else they’ll grow.