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Cooking and Culture: Gifts for the New Year

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Still wish you could give someone the world for Christmas? While you may not be able to wrap up a plane ticket to a dream destination, you can send friends and family on trips from the Caribbean to Cambodia via Mesa Komal (community table) at Casa Azafrán Community Center. Gift certificates are available for monthly Mezcla Mix and Master Cooking Classes where chefs share their skills and cultures.

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Participants gather in the kitchen where they prepare and eat a three-course meal together to the tunes of the cuisine’s native country. While the gift certificate ($40) covers the cost of instruction, food and alcohol, getting to know neighbors from diverse backgrounds is priceless.

Last June I returned from Central America disappointed that illness cancelled my plans to cook with a local chef in Puerto Viejo. No matter. Days later at home In Nashville, I learned to prepare Costa Rican food from Chef Raul Garcia at the first Mezcla cooking class. The menu included Heart of Palm Ceviche, Black Bean Soup, Cabbage Salad, Gallo Pinto (Rice and Beans), Barbudos (Green Beans), Fried Yuca and Passion Fruit Flan. Even more than the Latin music playing as we cooked, I enjoyed hearing Raul’s mother, Maria Mendez, who also taught the class, compare recipes with a participant’s mom in Spanish. Classes that followed featured foods from Egypt to Peru, and the proposed schedule for 2014 lists possible passports to Sri Lanka and Brazil. Also featured last fall was “home cooking” by Mesa Komal’s commercial kitchen residents-- Chef Carlos Davis of Riff Catering who taught canning classes and Chef Hunter Briley of Music City Pies who taught pastry perfection.

For the cooking/cultural experiences for yourself and others in 2014, purchase gift certificates here. Mesa Komal cooking classes are located at 2195 Nolensville Pike | Nashville, TN 37211.

And a big congratulations to Renata Soto, Founder and Executive Director of Conexión Américas, who was named Nashvillian of the Year by The Nashville Scene. Mesa Komal is a program of Conexión Américas, a nonprofit that assists Latino families in realizing their aspirations for social and economic advancement by promoting their integration into all aspects of life in Middle Tennessee.

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