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Chef Garcia brings traditional Mexican food to the Central Market cooking school

At only 32, Ana Garcia is the executive chef and co-owner of Reposado restaurant and hotel in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she also runs La Villa Bonita School of Mexican Cuisine. Her recipes have been published in Bon Appétit magazine and her cooking school has drawn media attention, earning a reputation as a relaxing gourmet retreat for novices to make their first refried beans and professionals to find inspiration.

"I teach traditional Mexican food because I want `students` to learn how to make things the right way, and then from there they can go wherever they like with the recipe," says Chef Ana Garcia of her La Villa Bonita School of Mexican Cuisine.

Although Reposado serves nouvelle Mexican cuisine, La Villa Bonita teaches the traditional dishes, a focus Garcia will bring to San Antonio on June 12 as the host of a tequiza, or taco party, class at Central Market's cooking school. Central Market students will learn how to make corn tortillas and various traditional stew fillings, including Villa Melon, Cochinita Pibil, Picadillo, Alambre, Nopales, and Cazon.

Here she speaks briefly to the Current from the 16th-century mansion in Cuernavaca that houses the school and the restaurant, and where she lives with her husband and small child.

Current: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?

Ana Garcia: I never wanted to be a chef; I just really liked cooking and enjoyed the effect that it had on other people when I cooked. It really wasn't until my husband suggested that I would be good at it and that it was economically viable for us that I became a chef. It's still his job to make me believe I can do this - some days I feel really unsure of myself ...

Are there cooks that have inspired you?

In Mexico, especially back when I was a child, we had a lot of help around the house, and that meant my mother had a cook. Carmelita was a huge inspiration; she taught me how to do my first refried beans and red rice, and how to lay down my first tortilla correctly ... But, now that I'm older, I also have other inspirations.

Such as?

I love Patricia Quintana `author of 14 books` who is one of the best Mexican cooks in Mexico. She has done a lot for our food, mostly presentation-wise. Our food has always been rich and elegant in flavor but, even though most of her food is street food, the way she presents it is first-class and modern. And her restaurants are very chic and fancy - sort of New York City. And I don't mean American, but cosmopolitan.

Do you follow recipes or invent your own?

Ana Isabel Garcia, Guest Chef
Central Market Cooking School

4821 Broadway
6:30-9pm June 14

I don't invent, but I put my own spin on things. You know how people have magazines in the bathroom? I have cooking books ... When I'm in the kitchen, I remember the recipes, but I might not have all the ingredients at the moment, so I just throw in whatever I think could be a substitution. But I'm very bad at following recipes because I like doing a little of this, a little of that.

What are the qualities of a good cook?

First of all, that they like to eat; I don't like people who cook but don't eat. That doesn't mean that you stuff yourself, but that you try everything ... at least once, and say this is interesting, this is not for me. And a passion for food, you know, more than anything else, that you are adventurous and not afraid of making mistakes.

Is food forgiving?

I think it is, I've made major mistakes with food and I just pretend that's how it should be and people accept it. (Laughs.) I think the best advice my mother has ever given me is that friends should be grateful you're inviting them, so whatever you put on the table, you should say, this is how it is. Maybe make notes for next time, but don't apologize and say it's not as I thought it should be. Let me tell you, you sometimes realize that is how it should be, or you end up with a really nice product after thinking you've ruined everything.

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