Spices and oils lined tables as Manhattan residents chopped, sliced and ate the night away during the Miami Cuban Heat class Friday night.
The scene looked more like a picnic, but the cooking class is part of the UFM Friday night series. The classes are open to all and vary each week, and they are meant to be a cheaper alternative to the traditional dinner and a movie, said David Espenoza, class instructor.
“It’s really nice to have new people,” he said. “We get a new group every time. It’s a nice mixture of different age groups.”
Eleven students crowded around tables to listen for instructions from Espenoza. The six menu items for the night included meat-filled empanadas and arepas, and cornmeal pancakes.
Before the cooking began, the class volunteered to chop, knead and stir the different ingredients.
The first recipe was for Papa Hemingway Daiquiris. Class members sipped their beverages while continuing with the rest of the night’s cooking.
Barbara Pearson, psychologist at K-State Counseling Services, said the class volunteered to help with the preparation.
“Everyone has pitched in and helped, and I think that’s the fun part of this,” she said.
Pearson said cooking is her hobby and a creative outlet. She said she has taken other cooking classes, but the Cuban class was more interactive than others had been.
“You know these recipes are recipes that are simple to come home from work and make,” she said. “They look good and taste good, too.”
The evening went smoothly until the cornmeal pancakes were made. First the blender leaked the recipe’s ingredients, and then the first few creations burned. However, Espenoza assured the class the residue left on the grill added seasoning to the pancakes.
“You are never supposed to eat the first ones – it’s bad luck,” he said. “The first ones are doorstops.”
The six recipes were finished in just less than three hours with little time left for the class members to load up the food in containers to take home.
Espenoza encouraged them to “not be shy” when they filled their plates, and he told the class to not be afraid to try the recipes at home.
With the mess left over, some joked about who would do the dishes. However, several volunteered and cleaned the kitchen for Espenoza.
Dixie Curtis, Manhattan resident, is a regular UFM class attendee. She helped wash the dishes while talking about the enjoyment of taking the classes.
“I’ve taken a few,” she said. “It’s just a great thing to do with my free time.”
Curtis said the classes give her different meal ideas.
“The good thing about them is they teach you how to use ingredients that you may not know how to use,” she said.
Espenoza said he has taught other classes, though the recipes are always different. In the past he has taught students to make tamales, tortillas and tapas.
“I have a lot of influence from my family,” he said.
He said the recipes used are Cuban and Spanish family recipes. He also uses recipes that are versions of things he has cooked at restaurants.
He said the recipes are not too complex, and the classes are always hands-on.
“I’ve learned they want to learn how to cook, not just watch me cook,” he said.
Besides teaching UFM classes, Espenoza owns a catering business that is named after his mother.