Salbutes, papadzules and hojaldras — Creative Academy students journey to Yucatan, Mexico

Each place setting at the Cuisine of Mexico class was equipped with a recipe card, measured out ingredients and tools like pastry brushes, banana leaves and mixing bowls.
Katie Hatzfeld/Park Record

On Sunday night, the Deer Valley Creative Academy — a program of culinary events, classes and experiences open to all different cooking levels — transported its sold-out class to Yucatan, Mexico. Chef Jhonatan Noguera, a pastry chef at Silver Lake Lodge, brought the flavors of his home country through three dishes, plus a homemade flan for dessert. 

This was the season finale for Deer Valley Creative Academy’s series of summer classes, which offered everything from cooking, tastings and pairings. The academy was started this year, with the goal of providing guests access to hands-on culinary experiences and giving Deer Valley staff members a chance to interact more personably with the public.

The class was tucked in the left corner of the Deer Valley Plaza. The pop-up cooking event, one of three sold-out classes, relied on small induction burners and extensive chef preparation. Attendees were seated elbow-to-elbow at a long table, with overflow tables creeping into the lobby. 

Noguera wore a microphone and his work space was filmed with a camera, projecting a bird’s-eye-view video for students to see him work.

“I’m going to enjoy teaching you how to make food from my state and country,” he said while introducing himself. This was Noguera’s first time teaching a class.

A long table was set for students attending the Deer Valley Creative Academy’s class on Cuisine of Mexico. Part of the class included details on how to make puffed tortillas for a Yucatan dish called salbutes.
Katie Hatzfeld/Park Record

He started with a dish called salbutes, made with a fried, puffed tortilla and topped with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, pickled red onions and shredded turkey, seasoned in achiote paste. Similar in construction to a tostada, these finger-foods could be found anywhere in Yucatan, Noguera said.

He demonstrated how to make the tortillas with masa, maseca corn flour, salt and water. Pressed flat between two banana leaves, these circles puffed when fried in oil, making them light and crispy.

After several failed attempts, a guest originally from New Orleans used her beignet technique to fry them perfectly. Once the tortillas cooked, they were topped with all the fresh ingredients and, for a touch of heat, a black-colored salsa made with charred habaneros. 

With an assortment of beautiful colors, the finished salbutes, though difficult to eat gracefully, were a flavor explosion. The salsa burned hot and fast, a lime-centric base which quickly cooled the flaming habaneros. The achiote-seasoned turkey had a peppery taste, a slightly dry texture which was balanced by the tomato, lettuce, cucumber and the pickled onions. The salbute base was salty and crispy, light and filling. 

A guest who grew up in New Orleans used her beignet technique to fry the tortillas.
Katie Hatzfeld/Park Record
Chef Noguera’s demonstration has balls of tortilla dough (right), fried, puffed tortillas (left) and a plate of finished salbutes, topped with shredded turkey, pickled onions, lettuce, avocado and cucumber.
Katie Hatzfeld/Park Record

Before moving on to the next dish, the Deer Valley staff helped clear out dirty dishes and box up leftovers.

Back at his station, Noguera demonstrated how to assemble the next dish, called papadzules. These, a Mayan boiled-egg stuffed enchilada smothered in pumpkin seed sauce and a tomato-like sauce, Noguera explained, could be eaten at any time of the day, best served warm. 

Having prepared the sauces and the boiled eggs for the students already, he gave a brief overview on how each part was made. The pepita sauce, a light green creamy sauce, was made with toasted pepita, or pumpkin seeds, salt and water, blended and diluted into a warm sauce. The tomato sauce was orange and made with a traditional herb called epazote, which has a distinctive salty, earthy flavor.

To construct the enchilada-like dish, corn tortillas were dipped in water, then in the pepita sauce, and rolled with a filling of crumbled hard-boiled eggs. The three tortilla rolls were then covered with the remaining pepita sauce, the tomato sauce and garnished with more egg. 

Since the sauces and egg were prepared ahead of time, the dish was pretty cold by the time we tasted it, yet still flavorful with the nutty and tomatoey sauces, and the chalky savoriness of the egg. Leftovers, heated in the oven at home, were much tastier as the tortilla soaked up the sauce and blended the flavors together.

A finished plate of papadzules was smothered in two sauces: a creamy pumpkin seed sauce and a bright orange tomato sauce.
Katie Hatzfeld/Park Record

As time ran out, Noguera moved us on to the last dish, called hojaldra, which he described as “a grilled cheese sandwich with sugar.” The class laughed. These square-shaped pastries filled with ham and shredded cheese were dusted in a generous amount of sugar crystals and baked golden brown.

He passed out sheets of puff pastry for us to create our own, packaged in to-go pans to bake at home. Until then, we tasted hojaldras that Noguera had made earlier. 

Similar to a ham-and-cheese croissant, the sugar on top created a mix of sweet and savory, flakey and crunchy that could be a delightful, on-the-go snack. 

After a savory meal, Noguera’s flan was a carmel-y, sweet finish, whose unreal creaminess coated the mouth. Noguera explained that the Yucatan-style flan was made with cream cheese, making it one of the richest flan recipes. 

The Creative Academy’s class description was accurate, the evening was a gastronomic journey, full of dishes most of the students had never tried. While attempting to replicate these somewhat-complex dishes at home would be a daunting task, in the end we were sent home with generous amounts of food, a recipe card and no dishes to clean. 

The next series of Creative Academy classes will run Oct. 7 through Dec. 29, with a series of fall/holiday hosting-focused courses like homemade ramen, Thanksgiving dishes, gingerbread house-making and seasonal cocktails. Classes will open for registration on Tuesday, Sept. 12 at

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