In November we wrote about a good friend who we lost in this world, Chef David Sterling, the owner and teacher at Los Dos Cooking School. My first cooking class with Chef David was in 2003, a class that found us becoming fast friends and supporters of Yucatan culinary history.
Keith emailed me in January with news of what would become of this famous cooking school held near and dear to both Meridians and visitors to the Yucatan. Chef David could never be replaced, this we all knew, but his love for Yucatecan cooking could live on. Who better to do this but his long time sous chef and food photographer Mario Canul.
This is the note that Keith released to his friends of the cooking school announcing the ‘changing of the chefs’.
“No one can replace David, he was truly one-of-a-kind! However, Los Dos continues forward under the direction of David’s faithful right-hand-man, Chef Mario Canul. Mario has worked side by side with David and the crew for the past 12 years, and was an integral part not only of the team, but also of the award-winning cookbook ‘Yucatán: Recipes From A Culinary Expedition.’ Many of the excursions were planned and orchestrated by Mario, and even some of the women who work in the Los Dos kitchen are his relatives from here in Yucatán. Mario arranged every research trip taken, and he met with every contact for not only this book but the upcoming, as yet unnamed, book. There is no one who knows Los Dos as intimately as Mario, and he’s already winning excellent reviews from students who are delighted by his vast knowledge of his homeland and cuisine, dedication, and great personality.”
Only knowing the Los Dos School under the direction of Chef David, I quickly phoned and asked to book myself into Mario’s class so I could see for myself what this changing of the guards meant for the school.
The format of the class is similar. Breakfast is served as you discuss the day’s schedule, walk through the history of recipe ingredients, and chat about local Yucatecan culinary specialties found in local cocina economicas, Merida’s Lucas de Galvez Market, and roadside stands.
Then it is off to the market for a tour, some shopping, a snack of cochinita pibil and lechon with a horchata, a handmade rice drink flavored with cinnamon. Mario explains ingredients found in the market extremely well, so well I ended up purchasing items to take home. His love for the Yucatan comes through in his explanations and his relationships with local vendors.
Once we returned to the cooking school, we had a quick snack and then moved on to cooking! We worked together as a team under Mario’s direction making four dishes. What is special about this class is that Mario enlists a team of teachers. This team includes his aunt, Dona Lupe, who walked us thorough tortilla making. This was one of many highlights for me, as I sat on a small stool side by side with a master tortilla maker. Though I will never be a master myself, I do feel much more confident in my ability to shape and cook handmade tortillas.
We decided on the fly to film Mario walking us through the preparation of Pumpkin seed salsa. Have a look at this Facebook live video that now sits permanently on my Facebook page. You will see for yourself Chef Mario in action showing not only his skill for great cooking but the incredible fun we had at Los Dos Cooking School.
After working hard in the kitchen, Chef Mario and his team took over and finished off the dishes. We took this opportunity to mingle with our fellow cooking students, have a beer, and discover a bit about each other. Then the magic happened.
Sitting around the dining room table we shared our efforts of the day, Panuchos, Soup, Pollo Pibil, pumpkin seed salsa and of course dessert, home made ice cream! In my excitement to dig into the pollow pibil dish, I completely forgot to take a photo!! Next time.
The magic of my first class at Los Dos in 2003 had stayed with me, but the latest class ran by Chef Mario renewed the magic of Yucatecan cooking for me once again. Chef Mario is not Chef David nor does he try to be. Chef Mario brings a new flavor to the school that I love! I cooked side by side with a local chef who grew up in the Yucatan and surrounds himself with local cooks who have spent their lives cooking for both their families and the general public. Mario is proud of his heritage, proud of his family, proud of local farmers and it shows. Since he was a young child he has embraced the benefits of local produce, the history of Yucatan culinary traditions and businesses who continue the legacy of his ancestors.
This could not be more beautiful, more authentic and inspiring.
I tip my meager cook’s hat to you Mario! I loved the class and most of all I loved sharing this experience under your expertise.
Note about Chef Mario: Chef Mario is a man of many talents. Not only is he a chef, but he worked on Chef David Sterling’s award winning cookbook Yucatan – A Culinary Experience as both a researcher and as the photographer. Mario works in the kitchen and also is an accredited photographer!
Listen to our podcast interview with Chef David Sterling where he shares his passion for the area, his life story and local secrets in Merida.
Check out their cookbook which won several James Beard Awards: Winner, James Beard Foundation Best Cookbook of the Year Award, 2015, James Beard Foundation Best International Cookbook Award, 2015, The Art of Eating Prize for Best Food Book of the Year, 2015