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Great Times in the Form of a Cooking Class at Dos Caminos

The thing I like the most about food is that it is so much more than the flavor enveloping your taste buds.  It’s the social setting it creates as you share plates among friends and loved ones.  It’s a snapshot of the culture of an entire region of people, often times from distant places. It’s an artful expression of a chef treating fresh ingredients as if they were colors on a palette.  Food is fun, enjoyable, satisfying and so many times a labor of love.  All of these aspects of what makes eating so loved by so many were refined and adeptly demonstrated at a spectacular cooking class put on recently at Dos Caminos in the Palazzo resort.

Cooking Class at Dos Caminos

Cooking Class at Dos Caminos

Put on by people that know food and know how to talk about food, the Dos Caminos cooking class was as entertaining as it was informative.  The cooking class featured a triumvirate of food knowledge; Dos Caminos Executive Chef, Scott Linquist, Dos Caminos Las Vegas Resident Chef Roberto Hernandez and who (should that be whom?) I have officially deemed The Booze Encyclopedia, B.R. Guest Restaurants (parent company of Dos Caminos) Master Mixologist, Eben Klemm.

Table at Dos Caminos Cooking Class

Table at Dos Caminos Cooking Class

Set up in a slightly separated dining area from the main dining space of Dos Caminos, each table was appointed with chips, guacamole, a trio of salsas, shot glasses and a bottle of Cazadores Blanco Tequila.  You knew from the moment you were seated that you were in for a good time.  And just as any man looking to score big on the first date would, they got us drunk first!

This means first up was the Booze Encyclopedia, Eben Klemm.  Eben dubbed his portion of the class “Tequila 101,” which I could have sworn I already took back in my freshman year of college, but I was happy to repeat the course.  Now, as many dedicated readers know, my stomach flips at the first sniff of tequila (a regrettable side-effect of  “studying” too hard the first time I took Tequila 101), but in the spirit of good journalism, I powered through and participated. Hey, if Anderson Cooper can stand in the middle of a hurricane for his craft, I can do a shot of tequila…right?

Eben talked about the history and culture surrounding the blue agave-based spirit.  Did you know that Bing Crosby played a major role in the popularization of tequila in America? While tequila was unknown in the U.S. before the Prohibition era, Bing Crosby tasted it in Mexico, liked it, invested in it and distributed it in America.  Now it’s the most popular liquor in America by a landslide with Margarita sales crushing all other booze sales.  Eben knew that, and now, so do we!

While alcohols based on other ingredients such as whiskeys or vodkas only take a season to grow, blue agave plants take 8 to 12 years to fully mature, thus capturing more robust earthly qualities in its flavor.  We first tasted some agave nectar, to see where it all comes from.  Very sweet with a honey-like quality to it, it remains a crisp flavor while retaining some pollen-esque qualities to it.

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor

From there, Eben described how all tequilas can be broken down into three categories; Blanco, Reposado and Añejo.  Blanco (Spanish for “white”) is tequila taken right off the still and quickly bottled.  Blanco is the preferred tequila for use in mixed drinks such as the infamous Margarita.  Reposado (Spanish for “rested”) is aged in oak barrels for 2 – 12 months and Añejo (Spanish for “aged”) has been sitting in the oak barrel for 1 – 3 years.  With the mellowing of the bite found in Blanco tequilas through the aging process and the addition of the characteristics of the oak barrel now becoming a part of the tequila now known as Reposado and eventually Añejo (Extra Añejo is aged more than 3 years), the Reposado and Añejo tequilas are typically treated more like their scotch and brandy brethren.

With shots of the three different tequilas laid out before us, we had a tasting to see the differences for ourselves.  This is where it is very apparent that my well-known wine stupidity bleeds over into liquor stupidity.  When I taste tequila, all I taste is booze and faded memories of regrettable decisions.  Eben picked out everything from limes to red peppers in the flavor.  For all I know, he also saw Santa Claus riding a unicorn in the corner of the room, but my unrefined beer-only palate tasted tequila for the Blanco, tasted tequila mixed with a little bit of whiskey for the Reposado, and tequila mixed with more whiskey for the Añejo.

Self Made Blueberry Pomegranate Margarita

Self Made Blueberry Pomegranate Margarita

As if this master’s level dissertation on tequila wasn’t enough, we then had a lesson on how to make tasty margaritas!  It was at this point where I figured the still-to-come chefs could fry up some hot dogs and pour some Pace Picante over it and we’d proudly proclaim it as the most significant Mexican experience in America since Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna knocked on the door of the Alamo.

With sour mix made from fresh lime and lemon juices, rocks glasses filled with Blueberry Pomegranate juice, Prickly Pear puree and Passion Fruit puree to add a little extra fruity kick and a full bottle of Cazadores Blanco fitted nicely with a pouring spout, we then learned how to mix and shake our way to happiness.  The key is to use fresh ingredients.  There is no drink that sees more of an improvement from pre-fab mixers to fresh squeezed juices like a margarita.

As you can see, the imbibing portion of the afternoon was comprehensive.  I now know that there is more to tequila than the burn as it comes back up the esophagus and Pee-Wee Herman dancing on a bar top.  As we poured our self-shaken margaritas into our salt-rimmed glasses, Chefs Scott Linquist and Roberto Hernandez took over the floor for food time.

Chefs Roberto Hernandez and Scott Lindquist

Chefs Roberto Hernandez and Scott Linquist

With a chemistry worthy of a television show, Chef Linquist covered the bulk of the information with Chef Hernandez offering color commentary, additional tidbits and hilarious jabs at his boss.  And if this were to be a television show, this program was brought to you by Lard, because hoo boy do these guys like to use lard, and we thank them kindly for it.

Continuing the party theme so aptly commenced by Eben Klemm, Chefs Linquist and Hernandez demonstrated four bocaditos (small bites) that are perfect party foods; Wild Mushroom and Huitlacoche Sopes with Tomatillo Avocado Salsa, Mole Coloradito Braised Beef Brisket Taquitos, Pork Tamales in Salsa Verde and Churros.  I know…right now you’re saying to yourself, “Why in the hell didn’t I go to this?!?” I know…..I know.

Wild Mushroom and Huitlacoche Sopes

Wild Mushroom and Huitlacoche Sopes

Cup of Huitlacoche

Cup of Huitlacoche

The Mushroom and Huitlacoche (pronounced weet-la-KOH-chay) Sopes introduced me to a new to me ingredient, (no, not mushrooms) the huitlacoche, also known as Corn Smut, Corn Fungus and Corn Truffles.  As pointed out by Chef Linquist, calling them Corn Truffles is the most marketable of the choices. Basically the Huitlacoche is corn infected with a fungus, and while deemed rotten by many U.S. corn growers, it is revered in Mexico as a delicacy.  A far cry from truffles and mutated far enough from the land of corn, I don’t think your party is going to be ruined if your local grocer doesn’t keep a fresh stock of huitlacoche.

Ball of Masa

Ball of Masa

It was also during this time that we learned how to make masa, (no, not heinously over-priced sushi at Aria), the corn-meal based dough used to make tortillas, sopes and tamales.  While labor intensive, it certainly kicks the food up a notch and can be a fun interactive experience if you have guests, friends or family that comes to your house too early.

Mole Coloradito Braised Beef Brisket Taquitos

Mole Coloradito Braised Beef Brisket Taquitos

Speaking of labor intensive, the Mole Coloradito Braised Beef Brisket Taquitos. Mole (pronounced mow-lay, not like the rodent) is Spanish for “pain in the ass.” (ok, maybe not, but it should be) Moles are ingredient-intensive sauces that are some of the most delicious in the world if done right.  Often chocolatey in taste, Chef Linquist stressed that moles are not chocolate sauces.  On my count, the Dos Caminos Mole Coloradito has 19 spices and ingredients combined!  The laborious part comes in that just about each ingredient needs to be separately pan-fried in lard (yes!), blended together to make the sauce, and then refried in batches, again in lard (double yes!) It’s eyes-roll-in-the-back-of-your-head delicious, but it is indeed a pain in the ass.  If you’re a lazy bum like me, do yourself a favor, go to a restaurant that makes it right and save yourself the hassle.

Pork Tamale with Salsa Verde

Pork Tamale with Salsa Verde

The star among many stars of the afternoon were the Pork Tamales in Salsa Verde.  I’m going to go on record as these were of the best tamales I’ve ever had.  Stuffed with flavorful pork, Chef Linquist and Hernandez treat the masa as more of a wrap to the meat filling rather than the main attraction, so instead of the doughy starchy mess that is often associated with tamales, you get a little pocket of love wrapped up in a corn husk.

Assortment of Spices and Chiles Used

Assortment of Spices and Chiles Used

Along the way of making the three savory dishes, there were a wealth of chef’s tips shared along the way.  From using spices like epazote and seasoning sauces like Maggi Sauce (described as a mix between Worcestershire and soy sauces) for some flavorful twists, to cooking techniques like standing your tamales on end in about an inch of water in a covered saucepot in case you don’t have a steamer, to making sure you see that the stems are still on the ends of your avocados when you buy them at the grocery store, as they’ll oxidize through the little hole created with the ripped off stem, Chefs Linquist and Hernandez made it a valuable learning experience for people that just learned how to boil water through the more accomplished spatula slingers in the kitchen.

If the wealth of information wasn’t enough, getting to taste each of the creations (made in the restaurant’s kitchen) as each of the individual demonstrations came to a close was the perfect punctuation mark.  And it wasn’t like a little nibble either, they were full plates of food.  It was a very satisfying graze to have over the three hour class.

Churros

Churros

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican Hot Chocolate

The afternoon came to a close with a quick demo (as time was running out) of Churros, and then a tasting of churros with a super thick, amazingly delicious Mexican Hot Chocolate.  As we munched on the cinnamon-sugary sticks of fried dough, the floor was open for a question and answer session so audience members could get clarification on material covered, or get any other question answered that may have sprung up over the three hour Mexican food odyssey.

How much would you pay for such an experience?  $300?

$200?

$150?

$100?!?

No!  You get the education, the entertainment, the food and the booze all for the low low one time only payment of $65!  But wait, THERE’S MORE!  For special guests, that’s YOU, you’ll get Eben Klemm’s new book, The Cocktail Primer, a $19.99 value, absolutely free!  (Ron Popeil ain’t got nuttin’ on this!)

In all seriousness though, I can’t imagine many better ways to spend $65 on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon than this class.  It really was a lot of fun, and what you get for the money is extraordinary.  Although (in full disclosure) The Wife and I were generously comped by the wonderful Maggie Feldman of Magnetic Public Relations (it’s good to be the king, if not the jester), I wouldn’t hesitate at the ticket price for those looking to have a special afternoon with friends and loved ones.  I don’t know if they specify, but I don’t think this would be something (this particular class at least) to drag the kiddies to.

Chef Scott Lindquist, Eben Klemm, Chef Roberto Hernandez

Chef Scott Linquist, Eben Klemm, Chef Roberto Hernandez

Many thanks to Eben Klemm, Chefs Scott Linquist and Roberto Hernandez, Maggie Feldman and the fine staff at Dos Caminos for a fabulous afternoon.  When the next class at Dos Caminos is offered (they hope to do about one per quarter), I’ll certainly bring it to your attention. Until then, stop on by Dos Caminos at the Palazzo and get yourself a couple dozen of those pork tamales. Yum!

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Dos Caminos

Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino
3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

(702) 577-9600

http://www.palazzolasvegas.com/doscaminos.aspx

Follow Dos Caminos on Twitter at @DosCaminos

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Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

Dos Caminos (Palazzo) on Urbanspoon

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