Who would have imagined that I’d be ripening avocados into a healthier “butter” for my morning toast, or that I’d eat all sorts of unfamiliar cheeses for breakfast? The Mapuyampay Hostal Gastronómico, at the foot of the snowcapped Andes in Chile’s major winemaking region, the Curicó Valley, turned out to be full of surprises. Located in a remote village 100 miles south of Santiago and run by Ruth Van Waerebeek, executive chef of the country’s largest winery, Concha y Toro, the school is surrounded by an organic vegetable garden. During our hands-on workshops, Ruth guided the two of us (maximum class size is eight) through the repertoire of Chilean cuisine, from classic (empanadas and pastel de choclo, a meat-and-vegetable pie baked under a crisp corn topping) to contemporary (cold avocado soup with ceviche of Antarctic krill and Chilean sea bass with hot-pepper adobo). This was a leisurely course—really more of a themed vacation—with time built in for hiking and horseback riding, visits to boutique wineries and farmers markets, sipping Pisco Sours by the pool, and a stop at Concha y Toro, about an hour away. (011-56-9-9-228-0905; mapuyampay.cl; $250 per day, double occupancy, for up to five days, November through April, including lunch)
What I Learned
How to make use of such diverse local ingredients as merkén (a smoky dried-chile mix that added zip to a quince adobo) and chancaca (unrefined sugar, which we used to make a tangy orange syrup).
Chilean food is as straightforward as Italian. It’s all about the quality of the ingredients.
Before You Go
Beware when renting a car: Depending on the company, insurance may not always cover the wheels. (I hit a pothole and had to buy a new tire.) And be prepared to pay a $131 landing fee (credit cards accepted), good for the duration of your passport.