Bienvenidos a Los Dos: Yucatecan Cooking School, Merida, Mexico

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Iron Critic: Gael Greene and Chef David Sterling face off
Gael Greene with Chef Sterling
19 February, 2008 THE SWARM OF CELEBRATED FOODIES TO MÉRIDA CONTINUES: Über restaurant critic Gael Greene recently spent a month in town, enjoying Yucatecan flavors and taking a class at Los Dos. Chef David Sterling and Ms. Greene also dined together at Néctar where pens were poised above notepads to see who could write the most entertaining review – on deadline. Read Sterling's review.
For those of you who don't eat enough animal fat (the amino acids help your synapses fire!) allow me to refresh your memory: Gael Greene has been the restaurant critic in New York City for the past 30 years, notably writing a regular column for New York Magazine (1968 - 2002).
In a handful of weeks, Gael became a fixture of Mérida, meeting just about everyone we know and dining at restaurants even we never heard of. This is due in large measure to her charming personality and also to the fact that she was here on a mission: to find fodder for her new online magazine and ‘blog, Insatiable Critic.

Her adventures took her to Mayan ruins such as Ek Balam, colonial Yucatecan towns like Valladolid, and culinary adventures like the cooking class at Los Dos!
Read more. Gael was traveling with companion Steven Richter who is a photographer and captured amazing shots of local color along the way.

The class Gael attended was crowded, and included a 10-year-old girl who surpassed some of the adults in her culinary skills and whom I invited to return as my sous chef during her summer vacation. Gael was an attentive and curious student, and an avid and appreciative diner. Along with the 10-year-old, she got an A! (Our only “test” has to do with whether or not you sample the fiery habanero salsa that we make in class – and both ladies did it with gusto.)

All foodies visiting Mérida want to know what the “street eats” situation is here, and it is always a pleasure to fill them in – and up! So Sunday Gael and Steven and I strolled around the Plaza Principal and sampled some of the amazing offerings found there every weekend, when the square is closed to pedestrian traffic and it becomes an all-day carnival known as Mérida en Domingo.

We noted one thing that might be helpful for the average tourist to know: look for logos on signs or aprons before you sit down at one of the many street stalls to snack. While an individual cook might have something tasty, the folks with logos are those who have small restaurants or take-out service in other neighborhoods during the week; their popularity and success as a business signals that their food must be pretty good. I can’t guarantee that this method is failproof, but it worked for us on Sunday. We had tacos of poc chuc and carne al pastor from such a venue and we were thrilled. Poc chuc is a Milanese cut of pork marinated in
sour orange juice, then flash grilled over a wood fire; carne al pastor is the same meat colored bright red with achiote and stacked on a vertical rotisserie mideastern style. A bit of shaved pineapple on top of the meat piled on a tortilla adds a tropical twist.

Gael and Steven and I shared some delicious sorbets – elote (corn) and limón (lime) – from Sorbetería Colón right on the main square before we bade a wistful ¡Adiós!
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