Cozumel – Part 2

By the time the shuttle bus for the cooking class arrived, we were pleasantly buzzed from our cocktails at Fat Tuesday. We had to sign a waiver thing in case we ended up losing any fingers to some ill-judged garlic mincing- which I feel the cocktails made only the more likely- and we were on our way. It wasn’t a long drive. That’s part of what made this particular excursion such a perfect choice. There was no faff involved. We drove north along the island’s western coast for about ten minutes, give or take, and arrived at the resort.

The façade reminded me of a swimming pool or a thermal spa. If I didn’t know I was being taken to a cooking class, that’s what I would have assumed the building was- which isn’t entirely wrong, as the cooking class is just one of the things the resort offered. The main purpose of the resort seemed to be its swimming-with-dolphins experience.

As we waited for the class to begin, we were free to mill about and take pictures of the dolphins. Even though they weren’t wild, it still felt breathtaking to actually see them in person. There’s something about dolphins in particular that makes seeing them feel special. I think that’s partly because they are marine animals, and anything that dwells underwater feels more mysterious, more rare. I feel like I’ve always had a spiritual connection to dolphins for some reason. When I was a kid I came face-to-face with a gold-colored metal statuette of a dolphin in a gift shop and something about it left me enraptured. I had to get it.

I begged my dad for two quid and his answer was a flat no.

“Why do you want that? What are you going to do with it?”

So I skulked off down an aisle and found my aunt. I told her what happened and she gave me two pounds. “Don’t tell your dad,” she said in a hushed tone, smiling at me. To this date, the dolphin sits at my desk. I don’t know if the reason why it called out to me requires any deep analysis, other than that children are stupid, but I’d say there was something about its form that I found pleasing. They’re so smooth and streamlined; their every move carries with it a kind of majesty.

I liked this resort already. It had dolphins, a tequila bar, a cooking classroom, and an infinity pool with a swim-up bar. And it all overlooked the sea. Out of every place we visited throughout our trip, this was the one I wanted to return to the most.

After admiring the dolphins for a few minutes, our tour group was led up a set of stairs toward the room where the class would take place. It was spacious and light, with big glass walls that gave a wide, unobstructed view of the sea. We arranged ourselves around a U-shaped countertop, divided into sections of two. I had to pair myself with a stranger, but he agreed to come to the station I was at so that I could still be next to Aaron and Anne-Marie. He ended up being a really nice guy, and he’d taken a few cooking courses before so he was very relaxed.

I’d never been to any kind of cooking class before so I had no idea what to expect. We had to do a mandatory catering class in school for a few months when I was thirteen, but all I remember is it being an hour of zero-fucks pissing about every week while the teacher sat at her desk pondering the futility of existence. But any apprehension I had of looking like a numpty went away once the class started rolling. This was baby’s first cooking class. You’d have to be nigh-on paralytic to screw it up. The chef is right there in front of you the whole time, and demonstrates exactly what to do before you do it. If you somehow got confused, he’d float over and correct you. Most of what we did involved adding various things to a skillet at certain stages, and all of the ingredients were already prepared for us. We didn’t have to dice anything or put in too much effort, which was fine by me.

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The emphasis is squarely on having fun. This was encapsulated no better than by our flamboyant chef, Luis. The first thing he did was provide us with free cocktails, which were endless throughout the class. By the end I’m pretty sure everyone was blitzed. He took the time to joke around with every group, and he’d always flirt with the women- but not in a creepy way. It would have been creepy if he’d made the jokes personal to each woman, but instead he made knowingly-corny remarks like “May I light your fire?” when he came over to turn on the range. He had a way of making it funny and comfortable for everyone. I feel like you’d have to be an extremely awkward person not to get on with him.

When he came to Aaron and Anne-Marie he asked how they met and seemed to genuinely enjoy their story. I watched as a warm smile crossed his face and he exclaimed “High school sweethearts!”. Although I’ve heard the story many times before, I never get tired of hearing it.

Everyone was in a good mood and the more extroverted members of our tour group took every chance they got to banter with Luis. Ted and Sylvia in particular enjoyed a good-natured back and forth with the chef and indeed some of the other members of our tour. I think out of everyone I’ve ever met, Ted and Sylvia are by far the easiest people to talk to. They’re not embarrassed about making jokes in front of strangers, even large groups of strangers, and they’ll go out of their way to charm just about anyone. You could be the most misanthropic, bitter, antisocial dickhead that ever walked the Earth, but Ted and Sylvia would find a way to make you laugh.

In total we made three dishes in the class. Ceviche, a popular raw fish appetizer cured with citrus juices, an entrée of ground pork rellenos (stuffed chilies), and fruit tacos for dessert. My partner and I took it in turns when it came to our respective roles, so we each got to do a bit of everything. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I worked at a restaurant.

“Damn, I’ll follow your lead then!” he said.

“Don’t bother, I’m just the dishwasher,” I explained. It was important he realize this early on. I can’t cook so much as a tortellini soup without setting the house on fire. And if that sounds oddly suspicious to you, you’d be right to think so.

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Usually I leave out the detail that I’m not actually a chef. In fact, I do more than leave it out. There have been a few times at work when I’ve taken meals out and the customers mistake me for the head honcho. I think it’s because our wait staff all wear a uniform, are always clean-looking, and have neat hairstyles. And then I come strutting in like I’m being weighed down by balls that would shame a titanium elephant, sweat glistening across my brow, my hair looking like an upturned bird’s nest, apron covered in stains. They take one look at the apron and see authority personified. The last time it happened, an old gentleman asked me where the usual chef was, and I said “Don’t worry- I’ll be taking care of you today.”

But here in the cooking class I could indulge no such fantasies. It was pretty straightforward stuff, but I had to make sure I wasn’t setting myself up for some kind of phenomenal display of ineptitude. For the most part I just looked over at Aaron and Anne-Marie like a school-kid copying answers during a midterm quiz, and my finest moment came when I had to mash the ground pork around the skillet with a wooden spatula. Somehow I was making it look like I’d done it a thousand times before.

“Are you sure you’re not a chef?” my partner asked. I was too drunk to feign embarrassment; I just caught Aaron’s eye to verify that he’d overheard the compliment.

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While we were cooking, the previous class were all sat outside eating what they’d made and drinking margaritas. At one point a young blonde lady that was quite obviously shitfaced stumbled into the class and started loudly flirting with Luis in a thick Texan dialect. We all watched with interest as Luis handled it cool as a cucumber, like this was an everyday occurrence for him. The blonde hinted that she was ready to hook up with him now that her husband wasn’t looking, and Luis kept on teasing her like an absolute Casanova. She demanded a hug, oblivious to the fact we were all watching, and as she embraced him, Luis gave us a cheeky wink over her shoulder. Then she stumbled her way toward the restroom, and Luis said “I can’t even remember her name!”

Just as the class came to an end and everyone was starting to sway slightly from standing up for so long and consuming so much alcohol, a thunderous downpour started outside. The classroom felt like a cozy place to be while it rained, but it dawned on us quickly that this meant we wouldn’t be able to go in the infinity pool once we were done.

When all three courses were made, we were led back out of the class and down the stairs to where a couple dining tables were set up. It was outside but we were covered. Out of the three dishes we made, I liked the ceviche the best. That’s something I would legitimately like to try and make again sometime. I liked the fruit tacos second best- they were stuffed with pear and apple slices and overloaded with Nutella, jam, and cinnamon. The chile relleno was my least favorite but I still liked it.

Someone asked me what I thought of the food and I said “Quite lovely!” to which Ted quipped “That’s British for FUCKIN’ AWESOME.”

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Around the time it stopped raining, we decided to make haste back to the Freedom. We’d missed out on the infinity pool but we had hope that something better awaited us back onboard our vessel. We changed into our swimsuits and hauled ass up to the Serenity Deck to see if we could finally snag ourselves a hot tub. If it wasn’t going to happen now, it was never going to happen.

On the way I said “Hey remember when I said the food was lovely and Ted said that that was British for fuckin’ awesome?”

“Yes, Mike, that was literally 45 minutes ago,” Aaron said, rolling his eyes. “You’re reminiscing already?”

“Ahh, good times, man.”

Up top the hot tubs were indeed occupied, but this time there was plenty of space for us to join in. We weren’t going to get a better opportunity. Tearing off our clothes and throwing them on a nearby sunbed, we practically jumped into the hot tub while the opening was still there. The only people occupying it were a family of four from Illinois. They were Bears fans, but they were nice to us. Ted and Sylvia engaged them in a hearty conversation that quickly bridged our religious differences. The best tactic in such situations, it seemed, was to poke fun at a mutual rival- in this case the Minnesota Vikings.

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