On a Monday night, I headed to the Old Bowery Station with Leti Salama from Leti’s Catering to learn how to make paella. “Paella” is a Spanish Rice Dish, that is cooked with vegetables and meat/seafood. Key ingredients always include saffron to give the dish its rich yellow color, and olive oil.
Upon entering the cooking class, Leti immediately made us feel at home. There were a few couples, but mostly solo professionals coming out of work with all a common interest in cooking. There was light nervous chatting before the actual cooking took place, but after a few pleasantries, everyone started to feel comfortable. We were given aprons and chefs hats to complete the uniform. She was a gracious hostess as she explained the dishes, offered us delicious sangria, and explained techniques to cook the dish. Separated into two teams of seafood eaters and non seafood eaters, we began to cook our meal.
The first course we learned was the traditional soup “gazpacho”. For those of you that do not know what it is, it’s a tomato based vegetable soup usually served cold. Everyone at our table set to cut the vegetables. Soon, people started chatting and comradery amongst the “chefs” was formed.
The Seafood Paella Team working hard
While we waited on the gazpacho to be blended and cooked, we started on the paella. Everyone started to dice, chop, peel, and drink. As always with the wonders of cooking, the team effort brought us together as we learned to make the dishes. As we waited to make the paella, we learned about a variety of Spanish wines, made a flourless chocolate cake, and patiently sat in our seats as the smells from the kitchen started to become overwhelming.
Soon it was time to eat. Now amongst friends, we chatted, drank, and enjoyed our team effort. The cooking class was informative but relaxed. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting others and sharing our in common passion with food. Leti was an excellent teacher, and I cannot wait to attend another class.
Intrigued by Leti’s relaxed but professional style of cooking, I asked her a few questions about her background.
How did you get into cooking?
I started cooking since I was a small kid, I have always been that curious type of kid who wants to learn about those activities that implied some kind of creative skill like painting and cooking. I remember spending weekends learning from my mum’s friend how to make traditional Spanish dishes, I loved it. When i went into university I already was in charge of cooking for my family and I decided to take cooking lessons for leisure during summer. It hasn’t been until I arrived in the US that I realized how passionate I was about cooking and that eventually it could become what I would want to do in the future. I love cooking for people and seeing them enjoy what I cook, and lately I like seeing my students learn and feel the same passion i had when I started.
With both French and Spanish background, do you find yourself influence by both in your cooking techniques?
Yes, I tend to say I have a Mediterranean influence. My mum’s family is French and I learned about the French cuisine from my mum and my auntie. One of my favorite dishes is the Quiche. I also did a cooking course on the Cordon Bleu Institute a couple of years ago where I got to deep dive into the secrets of the French cuisine. In the other hand I feel very Spanish and I love cooking Spanish dishes, I can’t understand life without olive oil. I really believe there is a great opportunity to expand Spanish cooking culture in the US, Tapas and Paella are well known dishes but most of people don’t know the richness and breadth of the Spanish Cuisine.
What’s a cooking pet peeve?
I don’t like people messing around in the kitchen when I am cooking, I like to have people around when I am teaching, but when I am cooking I prefer people to be at the other side of the kitchen enjoying a nice glass of wine, while I do the cooking.
Best cooking quick tip?
Be patient and enjoy the process, if you do so you will give yourself space to be more creative and try new things that will eventually expand your cooking skills. With patience everything will eventually end up falling into place.
Why should people come to your cooking classes?
Its a new way to enjoy cooking and eating. Its a fresh and relax experience where you can have fun, meet new people, drink good wine and enjoy great food, and if you are lucky you will learn easy and practical recipes. Also we are working on a social project in which we invest a percentage of each persons payment to fight hunger in NY, so if you are interested in giving back to the community, attending our classes is a fun way to do it.
If you’re looking to learn new dishes and meet new people, I highly suggest checking out Leti’s Catering and her available cooking classes!
New York, NY 10013
To cook with Leti Salama, find out more information here
Our finished seafood Paella
Decadent and can I say FLOURLESS chocolate cake