What It's Like To Participate in a Traditional Cooking Class in Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon native Cristiana offers a glimpse into home-style Portuguese cooking through her hands-on culinary experience.
Check out the video highlight reel of this experience here!
When you arrive at Estúdio Ai de Mim by Cristiana Gastão, the seafoam green doors welcome you. The culinary studio sits atop one of Lisbon’s many steep hills with faint views overlooking River Tagus.
Before my sister and I even stepped out of the Uber to soak in the beautiful surroundings of pastel-painted homes, Cristiana was out front, eagerly inviting us inside. The studio effortlessly yields natural light and is filled with plants and a cozy wall packed with culinary knick-knacks.
I immediately felt at home when I spotted a clay-colored Tagine. It let me know that Cristiana’s cooking expands Lisbon’s borders. She mentioned it was essential to not have the space look sterile. She wanted people to come in and feel like they were in their own kitchen. So, instead of having monochromatic stainless steel cookware and white plates, she opted for colorful ones.
Before diving into the lesson, Cristiana openly shared her story with my sister and me. At this point, we realized the cooking class would be intimate as no other people had arrived. So the three of us sat at her counter as she expressed her path of leaving her career as a lawyer to embark on a cooking journey.
Cristiana is a home cook and proud founder of the food blog Ai de Mim which focuses on healthy, practical, and uncomplicated food. Her love for cooking stems from her admiration of her family and culture; this passion shows through her teaching.
We started by preparing to cook a “fisherman’s stew,” as she called it, mentioning that this dish was typically consumed by people living in Lisbon with little means. The first step involved marinating fish in white wine with some spices. But not for too long as she instructed, or the fish would take on too much flavor. Next, we assembled a base of aromatic veggies into a ceramic pot. We layered the same pot with the fish, followed by more veggies and herbs.
This layering technique for making stews came as a surprise for my sister and me. But, already, within twenty minutes, we learned something new.
While the fish stew cooked down on the flame and began to fill the room with a delicious aroma, we started on our appetizer, tempura green beans, aka Peixinhos da Horta. The batter we learned is made with Portuguese beer. The green beans get dipped in the batter and fried until perfectly crisp. Cristiana, during this part, remarked that she loves to mitigate food waste as often as possible. Typically, she will fry any vegetables she has in the tempura batter - including potato peels.
While waiting for the fish to simmer, we unashamedly munched an entire plate of fried green beans paired with a deliciously spicy and creamy aioli. We also gulped down a delicious cocktail with white port, tonic, and fragrant orange rinds.
As the stew neared its end, we began to prep dessert. By this time, it felt as if we had known Cristiana forever as we continued to connect over conversations. We made Farófias, a celebratory dessert that involves whipped egg whites and a creamy cinnamon custard sauce.
Cristiana, throughout the class, struck the perfect balance of remaining supportive while hands-off. Allowing us to truly feel like experienced cooks in her kitchen.
As we neared evening and the sun began to set, my sister and I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. The cooking class was going great.
And then, as if the experience couldn’t improve, Cristiana invites us downstairs for a surprise. At this point, we had no idea what to expect. But, to our disbelief, Cristiana had the coziest den below. A table was laid out with charcuterie, more wine, and kielbasa.
Then came the grand finale.
We eagerly sat down, again smiling from ear to ear and excited to feast on the dinner we had cooked. And then, out of nowhere, Cristiana pulls out a shot of liquor!
At this moment, Cristiana pours the alcohol on the kielbasa and lights it on fire! We watch as the smokey kielbasa aromas start to fill the room. It was the most beautiful sight ever, watching the kielbasa crisp up.
This was charcuterie on another level.
Already stuffed with a whole plate of crispy green beans, we mentally had to prepare ourselves to indulge in the meats, cheeses, olives, and bread on the table. While we grubbed on the charcuterie, Cristiana left to gather the rest of the feast.
Moments later, Cristiana returns to the marble stairs holding the pot of stew we labored over.
We all gaze at the stew as she sets it on the table and then dig in. The fish stew was perfect, simple yet delicious. We continue to stuff ourselves, all while continuing amazing conversations with Cristiana.
In our hearts, we know we must see Cristiana again. To our luck, she mentions that we are welcome to take another class with her or even explore some of her favorite restaurants alongside her. At this moment, we realize we have experienced more than a cooking class but also the start of a lifelong friendship with Cristiana here in Lisbon.
The evening continues as we get lost in more conversations and dive into dessert.
When we finally muster up the discipline to leave after talking for what feels like forever, not only do we go with satisfied bellies but also with full hearts.