San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Grupo Nación serves up a cooking school

From the print edition

Coming down the San José-Santa Ana highway toward Escazú, the bright, modern building is unmistakable. It’s giant letters spell out “Sabores,” announcing the entrance of a new gastronomy center and cooking school and perhaps a new chapter in culinary education in Costa Rica – a country not often associated with achievement in the kitchen. 

“We’re pretty bad and we need to raise the bar,” said Carolina Coronado, founder of the Culinary Trainer School, referring to the quality of the country’s restaurants. “Sabores has helped the people do this by awakening desires for the people who want to learn and be better in the kitchen.”

Opened in early August, the Sabores Center of Gastronomy is also a final piece in the Sabores cooking empire, owned by Grupo Nación. Already behind a regular TV show, website and the most popular cooking magazine in the country (170,000 readers pick it up weekly), Sabores now has its own training ground. “We were missing the experience part,” Carlos Castiñeira, manager of the gastronomy center, said. “You can read about it and you can watch the show, but now you have the opportunity to live it.”

The modern, two-story building contains one classroom and one auditorium that seats 36 students. Although it has no podium, it does feature a European-style kitchen, complete with top-of-the-line culinary technology. The kitchen also doubles as set for the occasional TV shoot. 

Sabores 2

Crab simmers with spices and vegetables.

Lindsay Fendt

What Sabores calls its classroom is actually a spacious kitchen with stainless steel and cutting-edge stoves, ovens and tools that make it seem more like a five-star restaurant than a school. It’s surrounded on three sides by large glass windows that allow visitors to watch gastronomy in progress. 

Still, the learning environment is intimate. Each class has a maximum of 12 students along with two instructors. “We don’t want big classes. Why? To facilitate better understanding, personalize the experience, and allow people to feel comfortable cooking,” Castiñeira said.

Sabores offers classes for a wide range of people, from lifelong foodies to complete amateurs. For those who want the full experience, the school gives classes at three different levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. Three-hour classes are held once a week for eight weeks, and are available in morning, afternoon or night sessions at $480 for the whole shebang. Chefs from around the world with years of experience teach lessons on presentation, technique, flavor and the execution of a meal. 

The school also offers more intensive courses on specific international cuisines, which last only a couple of sessions and run between $120 and $220. Want to learn how to cook Lebanese food? Gluten-free treats? Want to understand the difference between Malbec and Cabernet? Whatever excites your palate, Sabores likely has a class to satisfy it. 

In addition to high-quality utensils, cooking technology and instruction, the school also provides students with the highest quality ingredients to make their meals. The cost includes the cleanup process as well: Students aren’t even required to do their own dishes.

Despite all the frills, the school is currently unrecognized by the Education Ministry and lacks accreditation from the government. In fact, Coronado’s Culinary Trainer School is the only school in the country certified to produce professional chefs.

For Sabores to become an accredited institution, it would need the support of the Education Ministry and certification from the Pan-American Forum of Gastronomic Professional Associations. This involves rigorous evaluation of the curriculum and the entire program, and requires all instructors to be certified.

Sabores administrators acknowledge the school is geared toward those with a passion for gastronomy, not toward aspiring professional chefs. Still, the school seems to bode well for Costa Rica’s culinary competence.

Whether its students go on to become certified chefs or not, Coronado sees it as a good thing. “Costa Rica is missing a lot, and Sabores is a necessary platform to increase gastronomic interests in the country,” she said.

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