Sometimes you visit a country that you feel could be your second home. You feel a pull of the heart when you leave, intertwined with the knowledge that you will soon return.
That’s how Kristal Smith feels about Mexico. Having spent a great deal of time there over the past 12-13 years, Kristal is fascinated by Latin America’s colours and cuisine, engaging with locals, visiting markets, learning about Mexican culture and cuisine from local farmers and families.
Since her return to Australia, Kristal has shared her knowledge of Mexican cooking through Pop Taco, the taqueria and catering business she opened in 2013, later co-founding Palm Beach restaurant Goodness Gracias, opened in 2015.
With her recent establishment of Clay Cantina, Kristal continues to share her passion for Mexican food and culture, not only giving joy to others through the robust flavours, but also building expertise and using food as a conduit to share experience.
Held in Cloud Nine, the atmospheric upper level of Currumbin Valley’s Dust Temple, Kristal’s classes teach Gold Coast locals to prepare Mexican cuisine the way it would be prepared in the family homes and small town cantinas of regional Mexico.
Working with traditional authentic ingredients, each class focuses on the flavours and specialty dishes of a particular region of Mexico.
There are two different levels of class: the five hour ‘masterclass’ and the more relaxed three hour ‘Cooking Social’ class. From Mayan cuisine to Plant-based Mexican, there are classes to suit your desires.
It’s the social class that I attend, three hours of cooking, eating and drinking on a Thursday night, the theme being ceviche and tacos.
In clusters, we prepare ingredients for the night’s dinner: classic Guacamole with totopos (corn chips) alongside Mexican Ceviche (cured fish with pico de gallo), followed by Baja Fish Tacos with a simple slaw, and Chargrilled Fish Alpastor with pineapple pico de gallo.
This is where we come to the ‘clay’ comes in. Instead of a blender or food processor, Kristal uses pre-Hispanic ‘molcajetes’, the Mexican equivalent of a mortar and pestle which brings out the true flavours of the food, keeping a texture that’s impossible to achieve with an electrical implement. Apart from gas and charcoal cookers, all of the plates, bowls and tools we cook with have been handmade by Kristal, a further mark of authenticity.
While the main aim of the class is to teach skills and to impart knowledge, as with any class, it’s the asides that make the experience worthwhile. Kristal tells us about her experiences in Mexico, how the food is eaten there, pointing out differences between types of chillies, where to purchase ingredients and finer points of Mexican cuisine.
Finally, the meal prepared, we sit down and dine together. This is, after all, a social experience, with dining around a table eating food we have prepared together the ultimate conduit to making new friends. Hola!
NOTE: For all bookings and information, visit the Clay Cantina website. claycantina.com/
Marj Osborne attended a Clay Cantina class at Dust Temple as a guest of Clay Cantina.