Today is not about misunderstood Mexican cuisine; it’s about los platos típicos,” the decidedly French chef Benoit Gelinotte said in heavily accented English. On this snowy day, the idea of learning to cook Mexican at a French school in the Canadian capital felt pleasantly incongruous. But there was nothing frivolous about Le Cordon Bleu, a sister branch of the famous Paris cooking school, which offers courses for would-be professionals. The weekend class—a whirlwind of fast-paced instruction—taught the basics of doughmaking, for such staples as empanadas de jaiba (crabmeat empanadas), as well as knife skills and food prep, in an intensive, three-hour demo. After that, we relocated to the kitchen. I got to work roasting kidney beans and chopping cilantro before turning my attention to the big deal of the day, a pechuga de pollo rellena de platano y pasa con mole (stuffed chicken breast with plantain and mole sauce) that required more than a little effort. With Gelinotte on watchful patrol—curiously peering over shoulders and poking fingers into pots—I felt like an unnerved student during exams. And my culture shock disappeared in no time. (888-289-6302; lcbottawa.com; $194 for one day, with lunch; $938 for four days, double occupancy, including meals)
What I Learned
When cooking sugar, resist the temptation to stir (it causes crystallization). Instead, dip a pastry brush in cold water and swipe the sides of the pot to get rid of hanging crystals.
The pros sometimes need practice, too: Each time our instructor tried to unmold his molten-lava cakes, he ended up with warm chocolate puddles.
Before You Go
Don’t underestimate Ottawa. My brisk evening walk back to the hotel from Le Cordon Bleu’s Tudor Revival mansion, through the University of Ottawa and past the stately Parliament buildings, was positively invigorating. And I stumbled upon Ma Cuisine (269 Dalhousie St.), a store packed with every kitchen tool imaginable.
Where to Stay
Arc The Hotel (800-699-2516; arcthehotel.com; from $199). Small, minimalist rooms are a hip take on the classic ship’s cabin, and the hotel is only a ten-minute walk from the school. For what it’s worth, the restaurant’s chefs are all Cordon Bleu grads.