Latin America

New World Adventures in Food

written by | Posted on July 1st, 2011

The port city of Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known for its Victorian architecture and fine fish restaurants. “Valpo,” as the town is nicknamed, welcomes clients who love to cook and want to spend a few days mastering some Chilean specialties. Martin Cooking Classes—from one to three days—accommodates a maximum of four participants per group who help select the day’s menu, shop for ingredients at the market, and prepare a meal with an expert chef. The company can package a day trip from Santiago or arrange an overnight for longer stays. Additionally, the website offers a good look a Chile’s special foods and wines. The cost of the classes per day is $70.

Several lovely boutique hotels are available in Valpo. Consider Casa Higueras on Cerro Alegre (Happiness Hill). With grand views, this design-hotel charmer has 20 rooms occupying a refitted 1920s mansion; room prices start at $203.

brazil Fans of all things Brazilian say that the country’s cuisine is the most exuberant and varied on the continent. It is a cuisine that developed since the arrival of the Portuguese, who in 1539 founded Salvador in the state of Bahia, planted sugarcane, and brought in African slaves to work the fields. The combination of foods and cooking methods of local Indians, Africans and Portuguese developed into Brazil’s most distinguished cookery: cozinha baiana. Primary ingredients are dende (palm) oil, coconut, coriander, fresh and dried shrimp, nuts and hot peppers. Cuisine in Rio de Janeiro and south to Sao Paulo is more subdued and European, except for the regional feijoada completa. Now recognized as the national dish, it’s a colorful meal of meats and black beans cooked together and served with sliced oranges, rice, cooked kale or collard greens, farofa (manioc), and a hot pepper and lime juice sauce. Travelers in Brazil also find the popular churrascarias where all manner of grilled meats—up to 18 different choices—are served on an all-you-can-eat basis.

Culinary traditions from all corners of Brazil are on the “teaching menu” at the Academy of Cooking & Other Pleasures in Paraty, the charming fishing village—a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site—located on the coast between Rio and Sao Paulo. The Academy’s founder and lead chef is Brazilian-born Yara Castro Robert, a graduate of leading culinary schools in Boston and Paris, as well as host of a PBS-WGBH cooking series that was twice-nominated for Emmy awards. Travelers staying in Paraty can join the Academy’s dinner demonstrations focused on different Brazilian regional foods, or book a 5-day tour that mixes half-day concentrations (preparing and eating) on the cooking of Bahia, Minas Gerais and Amazonas, as well as cachaca (Brazilian rum) tastings, with activities such as kayaking, birding, horseback riding, or art gallery hopping.

Clients have many choices of small, charming pousadas in the historic district when staying in Paraty. For example, Pousada da Marquesa with 21 air-conditioned rooms in the original building and new annex overlooking the pool, is priced from $200 dbl.

panama Sitting on the land bridge between the Americas, Panama has good reason to be a culinary melting pot of the indigenous, European, Asian and Latin American influences that make up its “crossroads” cuisine. Clients heading for the Chiriqui Highlands do well to be booked into the landmark 25-room Panamonte Inn & Spa, located outside the town of Boquete. Not only is the town’s best restaurant here, but so is the Panamonte Culinary School, run by chef-owner Charlie Collins, who offers guests an authentic culinary experience that combines local foods and culture with sophisticated tastings. Chef Collins teaches small, hands-on classes that focus on traditional dishes, and introduces participants to unusual roots and vegetables used in local cuisine. With a 2-person minimum and no more than eight, the 4-day package includes accommodations, fireside tasting dinner, cooking class, Panamanian breakfasts, coffee plantation tour, visits to local markets, and a brunch with mimosas prior to airport transfer on departure. The cost is $1,520 pp dbl in garden terrace rooms, $1,625 in jr. suites. Travel agents who might want to design a customized culinary tour might consider Panama-based Panama Gourmet, whose specialty is providing A Taste of Panama—Culinary Tours. Itineraries are fashioned for food-lovers, including cooking classes with international chef Melissa DeLeon and other professional chefs, tastings, visits to markets, unique visits to artisan producers such as bakers, cheese makers, coffee plantations, organic fruit and vegetable gardens, edible insect and flower farms.

Find a Panama Specialist in your area.