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Dugla Tours- the Mexican Edition: Part One

After we returned from South America at the beginning of February, it didn’t take us long before we were frantically searching for somewhere to go to get us out of the hellish cold.  As much as I like the nice volunteer greeters at Calgary International Airport, it was all I could do not to lash out when the adorable little old lady in her red vest and white cowboy hat announced, “Welcome to Calgary, Canada, it’s -33 C.  Have a great day.”  “Minus thirty- freaking- three” we say, looking at each other in horror.  “What were we thinking?”

It seemed like a good idea going home at the beginning of February- do a little skiing and enjoy some winter.  “Seemed” being the operative word here!  Shaking our heads, we drag our suitcases out into the giant walk-in freezer that was Calgary, maybe even all of Canada that day, and head for home.

About five minutes after walking in the door I say, “Why don’t we go somewhere to study Spanish for a month? A place that’s not too far and maybe we can get a ticket on points?”   24 hours of -30 C later, and we had booked a trip to Oaxaca, the Southern Mexican colonial city nestled against the Sierra Norte mountains, and which has a great reputation for language schools, arts, music and culture, traditional weaving and crafts, and a well-developed gastronomic identity, meaning lots and lots of incredible food.  Bingo!

The plan was to study Spanish and do some volunteering.  So after a search through numerous language schools offering everything from Spanish to cooking classes and  salsa lessons, we liked the looks of the Oaxaca Spanish School.  We booked private classes Monday to Thursday 9 -12. Next, find a place to volunteer.

Emanuel, Lily and Flor, our great teachers at Oaxaca Spanish Magic.

Emanuel, Lili and Flor, our great teachers at Oaxaca Spanish Magic.

Doug scouted out an organization called Fundacion En Via, a small NGO that provides interest-free micro-loans to women in the villages surrounding Oaxaca and offers English classes in two of the villages.  And so after a Skype interview with Kate, En Via’s bilingual, 24 year old English Coordinator from the US, we were booked to teach English in the pueblo of Tlacochahuaya, about 40 minutes by local bus from Oaxaca.  With slight apprehensions about teaching English two afternoons a week (Dugla) and learning Spanish one on one for 12 hours a week (me), we escaped the cold and were off on another Dugla ToursMexican-style.

The Teaching Staff in Tlacochahuaya: Kate, Stephanie, Timmy and us.

The Teaching Staff in Tlacochahuaya: Kate, Stephanie, Timmy and us.

Some of our students.

Some of our students.

Aleeson teaching "Days of the Week."

Aleeson teaching “Days of the Week.” “Thursday” isn’t so sure if he is in the right place?

Maestro Dugla teaching "Professions."

Maestro Dugla teaching “Professions.”

Being one of Mexico’s major tourist centres, drawing people from around the world, and a haven for gringos and other expats trying to avoid winter, there are loads of hotels, bed and breakfasts and apartments for rent in Oaxaca.  A little digging in the accommodation department led us to a great apartment at the Oaxaca Learning Centre.  In the centro historico, a short walk to one of the many food and artisan markets, twenty seconds to – get this – a wood-fired oven pizzeria, that just happens to be one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca, and around the corner from the cutest little Lavanderia, the location was perfect.  Plus, it was somewhere that we could put our money to good.

Just two of the hundreds of students and tutors at The Oaxacan Learning Centre.

Just two of the hundreds of students and tutors at The Oaxacan Learning Centre.

With Chef Andres in the courtyard of the Oaxacan Learning Centre.

With Chef Andres in the courtyard of the Oaxacan Learning Centre.

We read about the Oaxacan Learning Centre a couple of years ago, thought it was a cool program, and were excited to see that they also had a Bed and Breakfast and a little flat with a lovely terraza.  The OLC is a non-profit that offers tutoring and mentorship to students from surrounding villages, who are in need of support- educational and financial- and the guidance to help them be successful in their studies.  All money earned from the rental accommodation is put straight back into supporting programs at the centre.  Lucky for us, when we contacted Gary Titus, the centre’s founder, and we would come to learn, an incredibly kind and generous man, the apartment was available. For the next four weeks, we would live above the centre and get to know many of its students, its staff and Gary, who has made it his life’s work to provide opportunity to young people.  As he said to us one day over a breakfast of fruit salad, homemade yogurt and homemade granola, made by the centre’s chef and cooking teacher, Andres, “All people need is to be given an opportunity and the support to get ahead.  Really, it’s what we all need in life.”

Mercado La Merced

Mercado La Merced

Verduras y Frutas

Verduras y Frutas

Chiles, chiles, chiles

Chiles, chiles, chiles

 

 

Queso Fresco

The Zocalo

The Zocalo

Adelaide in her rug-weaving shop. She is one of the women helped by En Via's micro-finance program.

Adelaide in her rug-weaving shop. She is one of the women helped by En Via’s micro-finance program.

Being served Mezcal at a wedding that we accidentally became a part of!

Being served Mezcal at a wedding that we accidentally became a part of!

El gato, our neighbour!

El gato, our neighbour!

 

Dancing in the streets with the bride and groom!

Dancing in the streets with the bride and groom!

Shopping for aprons worn by the Zapotec women.  Who could resist buying an apron from this beautiful woman?

Shopping for aprons worn by the Zapotec women. Who could resist buying an apron from this beautiful woman?

 

A parade almost every day.

A parade almost every day.

My Beautiful Lavanderia

My Beautiful Lavanderia

Me gustan los colores…

 

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There were beetles, everywhere. Or, I should say “vochitos!”

 

Gustu: A Culinarian’s Dream in Bolivia

When Doug and I decided that La Paz – the capital city of Bolivia that sits at the dizzying elevation of about 3500m – was going to be where we would start our South American tour, I immediately got to work on finding out about the food scene.  I can’t quite remember exactly what terms I put into the “Googler” as the father of a friend of mine calls it, but one of the first things to pop up was a Guardian article entitled, “Gustu, Bolivia: the surprise restaurant venture by Noma’s Claus Meyer.”

Claus Meyer has a restaurant in La Paz?

Claus Meyer, the chef and co-founder of noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that took top place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list three years in a row and the co-founder of the New Nordic Cuisine Movement?

The same Claus Meyer who gave one of the best TED Talks I have ever seen?

Wow, what do I do?  Just send him an email?

And, so I did.  Well, sort of.  I actually, messaged him on Facebook, which, I know, sounds quite ridiculous, but he is one of my “friends” ever since I watched his Ted Talk and signed on to his Facebook page.  I received an immediate response from “Josefine Carstad on behalf of Claus Meyer,”  thanking me for my enquiry and asking me to contact Kamilla Seidler, Head Chef at Gustu.

But, before I go any further, I should tell you little about Gustu and how it got its start.

Entrance to Gustu

Entrance to Gustu

Gustu isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a ground-breaking, game-changing culinary non-profit with a plan to revolutionize the face of Bolivian cuisine. Under the umbrella of Meyer’s Melting Pot Foundation, Gustu has a mission“to inspire a whole new generation of cooks” and “to become an engine for socio-economic progress, as well as a source of unity, equality and pride.”  Not only this, its “main objective is to revalue and harness the wealth and potential of the Bolivian culinary culture and position Bolivia as a leading tourist gastronomic destination.”

Interior of Gustu

Interior of Gustu

Lofty goals, I thought, but after also reading through the Fundación Melting Pot Bolivia web site, it became very clear that Gustu was an amazing project and from what I had come to learn about Claus Meyer, he was definitely the guy who could make the vision a reality!  In a nutshell, Meyer wanted to do for another area of the world what he has done in Scandinavia in establishing the New Nordic Cuisine Movement and Manifesto; that is, to relocalize the food system, revive culinary traditions, and revisit indigenous foods that had fallen out of fashion.  Oh, and he has been quoted saying that he would like to combat poverty with deliciousness.”

In partnership with the Danish NGO, Ibis, Meyer spent two years searching for a country that had, among other things, struggles with poverty, low crime, a richness of biodiversity, an untapped gold-mine of indigenous ingredients and an under-developed gastronomic culture. Once Bolivia was identified and La Paz was chosen as the ideal location, preparations began for the establishment of a restaurant and a culinary training facility. A new generation of young cooks who were gleaned from the poorest neighbourhoods in La Paz will one day, it is hoped, shape the future of food in Bolivia. With all the pieces put in place, Gustu opened its doors in April 2013 with 25 eager young cooks embarking on a training program most cooks could only dream of.  Lucky for them, lucky for Bolivia- lucky for me!

And so a few emails and a few weeks later, I arrived at 300 10th St. in Calacoto, a tony neighbourhood in southern La Paz, for my first meeting with Gustu’s Danish chef Kamilla Seidler.

Kamilla, who is taking the South American cooking scene by storm and who was about to wow an audience of highly-esteemed chefs and food academics the following week at the Culinary Institute of America, welcomed us warmly.  At Kamilla’s side was Bolivian-born chef and Gustu’s education coordinator, Coral Ayoroa, who is also making her mark in South America.  What followed was a bilingual crash course in all things Gustu.  Oh, and did I mention the rich coffee and sweet scones?  How on earth do they get them so light and perfectly risen at this elevation?  I make a mental note to ask for the recipe.

Once it had been decided how best I could help out in the coming weeks by giving workshops on food safety and nutrition, we were taken on a tour of what might just be one of the coolest kitchens I have seen.  Let me tell you, this definitely isn’t your typical restaurant kitchen that can be cramped, dark, dingy and, quite frankly, depressing.   It was spacious, bright, absolutely spotless and outfitted with some very snazzy equipment.  Side by side, each student was beaming with pride while busy dicing, whisking, sautéing, and packaging ingredients for sous-vide preparations.

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Out back, space is being made ready to house a small garden area for growing herbs and micro-greens.  And, how many restaurants have a food research lab?  Next to the prep kitchen sits the Laboratorio de Alimentos Bolivianos, Gustu’s Bolivian food documentation and research facility.  While we were there, the LAB was in the early stages of creating an infusion made with coffee husks and powdered orange peels.  And then there’s the fair trade coffee project that’s in the works. Oh yes, and the bakery and artisan food shop!  It seemed as if the possibilities for innovation in the place were unending.

Artisanal foods and baked goods.

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As you can imagine, I could hardly contain myself at the thought of being even just a tiny part of this amazing project and so off I went into the Bolivian dusk, my head swimming with anticipation and Doug holding my arm to keep me from walking, completely obliviously, into  the cars whizzing by.  In the taxi back to Jupapina, our home about fifteen minutes south of La Paz, I suddenly had a stark realization.

How on earth was I going to teach a workshop on food safety to a group of professional cooking students in SPANISH?

In one week?

I don’t speak Spanish?

Did I forget to tell them?    

The Pizza Diaries: South American Edition

As you may know, not only is Doug the CEO of Dugla Tours, but he is also a fine builder of wood-fired pizza ovens- or horno de leñas in Espanol- and a muy buen cocinero of pizzas.  In fact, I would say he has become a bit of a pizza aficionado, after me, por supuesto

If you are an expert on, or a drinker of, fine wines, you are called an oenophile.  Does the same go for pizza, as in pizzaphile?  If so, I suppose you could say that we have joined the ranks of pizzaphiles.

This little obsession we have acquired was borne out of a pizza-tacular experience we had at a little pizzeria in McLaren Vale, Australia, just south of Adelaide, a few years ago.  Russell’s Pizza is known far and wide for having the most incredible wood-fired oven pizzas anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, all made with locally grown ingredients- local cheeses, olive oils, olives, fresh sausage and herbs- amazing.  There were many times I wanted to jump on a plane back to Russell Jeavon’s little restaurant in an old Welsh miner’s cottage to have my fix.  Really, I could go on and on.  In fact, we loved it so much that ever since we dreamed of having our own pizza oven. 

Well, lo and behold, last spring, Doug downloaded some plans from Forno Bravo- which is really worth checking out- and within a few weeks, ta da…an amazing horno de leña became the defining feature of our front yard.

 

The Oven that Dugla Built!

The Oven that Dugla Built!

Whenever we go anywhere, we check out the pizza opportunities.  Close to home, we love the pizza made with locally-raised and house-smoked pulled pork at From Scratch– A Mountain Kitchen in Fairmont Hot Springs.  In Vancouver, our favourite by a mile is Nook Restaurant on Denman and Robson.  In Seattle last August, we had a top ten pizza at Serious Pie with our friends Byron and Spring.  Even on the island of Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, down a long jungle path we found outstanding wood-fired pizza at Finca el Zopilote in an outdoor kitchen under a thatched roof.  If you are looking for a place that plays the best of Bob Marley and the Wailers and where you are surrounded by twenty-somethings who may just be wearing that Afghani skirt you wore in 1972, then this is the place for you!  Name a city and we can probably give you a good recommendation.  So, by now, you have probably figured out that South America has been no different for us on the pizza front.  What follows is a little compendium of pizza from Bolivia to Ecuador…

When we arrived in Jupapina, the little village south of La Paz where we spent our first month volunteering with Up Close Bolivia, we kind of wondered what we were going to do as far as restaurants were concerned.  Within about the first twenty minutes of settling in, Emma casually mentioned, “there’s a cute little restaurant up the road you might like, if you like wood-fired oven pizza.  The owner is from Italy, a real character, the pizza is fantastic and he makes all of his own pasta.”

Stunned, we replied…

“Wood-fired oven pizza, within a ten minute walk, made by a guy from Italy?”

 “In a little village in Bolivia?”  

“Are you kidding?”

And so that night marked the first of many visits to Il Portico for terrific pizza made by maestro Marcello, a spirited Italian guy who is a passionate cook, loves to talk food and is a character with a capital “C.” The first night he shared his highly coveted artisan beer with us, joined us at our table with his wife and son, and generally treated us like his long-lost family.  The next time, we kind of wondered if he even recognized us.  You just never knew. No problem for us though, it all added to the experience!   And, the most important thing…the pizza was terrific!

Marcello's Marguerita

Marcello’s Marguerita

Seeing Marcello in action leading his team of great young Bolivian pizza chefs was also part of the charm.

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“Pizza Margherita, Napoletana, Quatro Stagioni?”

“Ravioli, Gnocchi, Lasagne?”

“Que?”  “Que?” Marcello would ask in part Spanish, part Italian and a little English.  We were never quite sure, but we always managed to communicate with each other and by the end of four weeks, we became the best of friends.  Doug even got so comfortable with the place that he started doing a little pizza prep!

Dugla trying out for a job at Il Portico!

Dugla trying out for a job at Il Portico!

Every pizza was delicious, a super thin crust, fresh mozzarella…buenisimo!

 Marcelloo 1

 

Leaving Jupapina and everyone at Up Close Bolivia was sad for us in many ways, but leaving behind Il Portico and Marcello made it even harder.   

 

Farewell pizza with Jeremy and Paula and Bell Mendoza-Dolan.

Farewell pizza with Jeremy and Paula and Bell Mendoza-Donlan…

 

And Rolando and Emma

…and Rolando and Emma…

...and David Mendoza-Donlan!

…and David Mendoza-Donlan!

But, never fear, Dugla was on it and our next stop, Uyuni, provided another great pizza opportunity.  After four days of touring the salt flats with nary a decent meal in sight, it was a huge thrill to find a great pizza joint right next to our hotel.  Hello Quinoa Pizza with Spicy Alpaca at Pizzeria Donna Isabella.  And, not just any quinoa pizza, but award-winning quinoa pizza made by Fernando, a chef who worked in Sweden for ten years!  Mighty fine washed down with a quinoa beer, too!

Yuyuni

 

Prize-winning, quinoa-crusted, alpaca-topped, super yummy pizza!  Gracias!

Prize-winning, quinoa-crusted, alpaca-topped, super yummy pizza! Gracias!

Heading north to Peru, Dugla consulted his guide once again and found us another gem.  One of our best pizzas of the trip was at a great little restaurant in Arequipa.  El Hornito is in the centre of this beautiful colonial city and this pizza definitely vied for a spot on our “Top Ten Pizza Experiences List.”  The thing is, we never just go and EAT the pizza, we go into the kitchen and ask for a tour of the oven- Doug talks design and I talk recipes.  If we have a computer with us, we even show pictures of our oven at home, which kind of places us in the pizza-stalker category, but everyone seems to love talking pizza!  This night, our pizza was proudly made by Chef Hector.  Of course we always order too much, so off we went into the night with six slices to share with our new friend and favourite breakfast cook, Alonzo, at our hotel, Hostal Solar.

El Hornito, Arequipa. Peru

El Hornito, Arequipa. Peru

 

Hector- Pizza Chef Arequipeno

Hector- Pizza Chef Arequipeno

 

Dos Pizzas Delicioso!

Dos Pizzas Delicioso!

Next stop, Colca Canyon.  As far as pizzas go, I wouldn’t say this was the most delicious pizza we have ever eaten, but it is definitely up there on the “Top Ten Pizza Experiences List.”  Our evening at the Kunter Wassi Hotel in Cabanaconde was an absolute scream which started with a fabulous pisco sour- stay tuned for the Pisco Sour Chronicles coming soon- made by a young man who took his cocktail-making very seriously, followed by pizza baked by the most adorable trainee-chef in the world, and ended with us being dressed up in traditional Colca Canyon clothing by the hotel manager!  I was in the loveliest of lovely embroidered “ropas” and Doug was wearing an awfully nice skirt, too!  Apparently all the Incan warriors were wearing them!

A Serious Pisco Sour

A Serious Pisco Sour

 

The most adorable pizza chef in Peru!

The most adorable pizza chef in Peru!

 

Pizza and Cross-dressing!  Now that's a new one!

Pizza and Cross-dressing! Now that’s a new one!

Moving north, didn’t we discover that in Hauraz, where we would be spending a month volunteering with the Andean Alliance, there was a little Italian restaurant with a horno de leña?   Not only that, but the owner’s son just happened to be going to the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris!  And, the pizza was terrific.  Very light crust with little perfect pockets of air, which is hard to achieve when you are at 3091 meters!  Spicy local chorizo, queso fresco, a pizza chef who whirled the dough in the air.  Ah, yet another great pizza experience at Mi Comedia in Huaraz, Peru!

Working the dough.

Working the dough.

Saucing after whirling.  That was too quick for me to catch on camera!!

Saucing after whirling. That part was too quick for me to catch on camera!!

 

In the oven it goes!

In the oven it goes!

 

Tres pizzas muy rico!

Tres pizzas muy rico!

 

The star of the night!

The star of the night!

And, on to Ecuador for the last days of our trip.  Otavalo is known for the best artisan market in South America, but is there any good wood-fired oven pizza? I mean, I love the prospect of a good market, but we have priorities!  When I consulted with the CEO of Dugla Tours, it turned out that there was only one place in town worth checking out, so off we went last night.  In the back of the Hostal Doña Esther you’ll find Arbol de Montalvo a cozy little café warmed by a beautifully-made horno de leña.  The minute we sat down, we were offered a bowl of popcorn and two teeny glasses of warm cane sugar and cinnamon liqueur by a lovely women in traditional Ecuadorian clothing.  The women in Otavalo wear beautiful long sari-like skirts, colourful embroidered blouses and gold-beaded necklaces.  I make a mental note to check out the buying possibilities at the market tomorrow, but first to the pizza.

Our Otavalo pizzas cooking in a flash!

Our Otavalo pizzas cooking in a flash!

 

Delicioso Capricciosa!

Delicioso Capricciosa!

Doug ordered his usual, Marguerita, while I branched out and had a Capricciosa with acitunas negra y verde– black and green olives- and artichokes. Cooked in about ten seconds in the blazing oven, it was good and definitely hit the spot, but we confessed that we were both dreaming about getting home, firing up our little oven and falling into pizza heaven, Canadian-style!  Not sure if we’ll find another horno de leña between now and when we touch down in Calgary, but we’ll keep you posted!

 

Looking forward to a Marguerita a la Dugla!

Looking forward to a Marguerita Pizza a la Dugla!