TIJUANA "Let's add a little more water to the mix. There's a certain consistency it reaches when you know that it's ready." Baja California chef Ryan Steyn drizzled a bit of water from a glass into my hands and I continued to knead my dough for the fresh pastas we were learning to make at The Cook Book, his new Tijuana culinary workshop.
My wife and I, along with six friends and colleagues, had gathered around a long chrome prep table in a large open space in Zona Rio last week to pick up some kitchen skills, meet new people, sip a glass of wine and by the end of class enjoy the pastas we'd created with our house-made sauces of pesto and pomodoro.
Chef Ryan Steyn instructs workshop attendees. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com.
There's an old adage that states, "Those who can't do teach." But in the case of chef Ryan Steyn, this couldn't be further from the truth. A native of South Africa, Steyn attended the Swiss Institute of Hospitality and worked as chef at the Relais en Chateux hotel group in Paris. Steyn met his wife Susan Monsalve and they partnered to open Bistrot L'Escargot in her hometown of Tijuana.
I was introduced to the easygoing surfer cook in the Valle de Guadalupe when he was executive chef at Latitud 32 at El Cielo. We followed him through two seasons at his campestre kitchen El Jardin por Ryan Steyn at Adobe Guadalupe and we enjoyed lunch last October at his and Monsalve's casual eatery El Clavo in Ensenada which has since closed.
"We decided not to have a restaurant anymore. And we're happy with that decision," Monsalve shared during our culinary experience. "We're doing catering, Ryan's doing menu design as a consultant and he loves teaching." The chef's instructional style is patient, enjoyable and engaging. Ryan kept checking in with us to make sure we were enjoying the experience and offered some great pointers as we prepped.
The Cook Book in Ensenada and now Tijuana. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com.
The new Tijuana location is the second for The Cook Book, as the couple opened and still operates their first workshop in Ensenada. "At both locations, our focus is on giving very practical, hands-on cooking lessons to everyday people," chef Steyn emphasized as we chatted before the workshop. "We don't train chefs. We don't train cooks. We don't want to do that. We want to convey our knowledge of the food, get together, share new ideas, try new recipes and have fun."
Preparing pomodoro sauce at The Cook Book. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com.
Though we were focused on Italian that night, The Cook Book in Tijuana offers twice daily classes that cover a variety of recipes and preparations, including Hindu, vegan, sushi, artisanal bread and even an upcoming workshop on craft brewing. "That class will be once a week for four weeks," Steyn stated. "Attendees will have a chance to work with Ezki De Basabed from Tijuana's Cervecería El Sauzal."
As we fed our dough through the pasta maker adjusting the width for with each pass and eventually cutting it into fettuccini I continued my conversation with Monsalve. "We will also hold cooking workshops for kids with Ana Laura Holguin, who has a lot of experience as a culinary educator. In these classes, it won't just be kids painting icing faces on cookies. They will really learn how to cook something."
Voila! Our hand-made fettuccini. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com.
Our class gathered around the stove where my wife and one of the other attendees were putting the final touches on our creations. We had a "professional kitchen" moment when the flames jumped as the light, oily pomodoro sauce hit the hot pan with the pasta. In addition to gnocchi and fettuccini, we also made mushroom ravioli and a sweet and savory tortellini of ground pork sausage. All of the dishes were delicious and we unanimously exceeded our own culinary expectations.
Gnocchi al pomodoro. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com.
As I devoured a couple of the ravioli in pesto, I enthused to Monsalve that I would pay the price of admission to The Cook Book JUST for the wine, meal and good time. "That's the great thing about this," she concluded. "At around 450 pesos (approximately $25 US) per workshop, you're paying less than you would for a fine dining experience in Tijuana. And we provide the professional chef, wine, ingredients and top quality equipment. We provide the entire experience."
Tortellini al pesto. Photo: AGringoInMexico.com.
Both the Cook Book in Tijuana and Ensenada offer workshops twice daily, mornings and evenings, Monday through Saturday. Workshops are typically three hours in length. The Cook Book is also available to book for private parties and events. For the most updated information on schedules, or to contact The Cook Book, visit their Facebook page here.
The Cook Book Tijuana is located at Plaza Jardin Local #1, Zona Rio Via Rapida Pte. #4246, Tijuana. (52) 664-156-5384.
The Cook Book Ensenada is located at Calle 10 #482-2, enter at Ruíz and Obregón, Ensenada. (52) 664-156-5384.
The author was invited to media night at The Cook Book Tijuana as a member of the press and has not received any compensation from the restaurant or its affiliates for writing this article. All opinions are those of the author who has been a paying customer at chef Steyn's restaurants on past occasions.
San Diego-based culture, food and travel journalist W. Scott Koenig has explored Mexico and Baja California for over two decades. He founded AGringoInMexico.com in 2012 to report on south of the border destinations, food, culture and adventure. The website has since become an invaluable source of information on the burgeoning food and culture scene in Baja California, as well as the wider scene throughout Mexico. Visit Scott's websites and social media via the links, below.