I spent my day cooking and eating with a group of total strangers, and I already want to go back

A loud slurp emerged from Mirta Rinaldi’s herb-filled gourd.

“You hear that?” she asked the group of five strangers seated around her kitchen table. “That’s a good sound.”

Rinaldi, a native of Argentina, is a participant in The League of Kitchens — a series of cooking workshops in New York City put on by immigrant home cooks — to pursue her passion for cooking and culture by teaching culinary classes. The initiative, launched last year, offers day-long cooking immersion classes to the public.

Lisa Gross, the founder of League of Kitchens, says Rinaldi was chosen as a cook because “Her home is such an expression of her life..She was special, so warm, and entertaining.”

I spent the day with Rinaldi and four other strangers talking about Argentinian food, tango, and the best place to buy housemade chorizo in Queens. Here’s why I want to go back.

When everyone arrives, we all introduce ourselves. The set-up is much less awkward than you would imagine. Rinaldi tells us about the spread she set on the table, including provolone, prosciutto and quince jelly.

Lyanne Alfaro

When we take a seat at the table, we are each greeted with our own gourd filled with maté. My gourd is embellished with vibrant colours and floral design, but all containers are different.

Lyanne Alfaro

Rinaldi asks us to push our bombilla, or straw, to the bottom of the cup and tilt the gourd so that the maté sits at a 45 degree angle. Now, we can add the raw sugar. Here my neighbour, Luca, is scooping some into his gourd.

Lyanne Alfaro

Matéando, or the act of drinking maté, 'unites family and friends,' according to Rinaldi. She showed us photos of her daughter and herself drinking maté many years ago.

Lyanne Alfaro

Someone asks about the jelly on the table, and Rinaldi shows us a picture of herself surrounded by quinces, a fruit similar in shape to a pear. Rinaldi runs her own business on the side, selling quince jelly to shops, she explains.

Lyanne Alfaro

Rinaldi also used to be a party planner to the stars. Here she is photographed with former President Bill Clinton, and yes, that is Hillary in the background.

Lyanne Alfaro

After a few appetizers, we roll up our sleeves and get to work on making dinner. We are all wearing aprons as we file into Rinaldi's snug kitchen. Heather volunteers to grate corn on the cob for our first dish.

Lyanne Alfaro

Our finished product: corn pudding served in small husks reminiscent of those used in tamales. They are called humitas and filled with corn shaved from the cob, onion, pepper, tomato, and fresh basil.

Lyanne Alfaro

As the day progresses, we become more comfortable cooking. Akeo, a fellow guest, shares a laugh with Rinaldi as she tells us about her experience cooking at the US Open.

Lyanne Alfaro

Rinaldi soon begins pouring eggs into her food processor to create a creamy texture. All entrees for the evening -- which I helped make -- are made from scratch, right down to the mayonnaise.

Lyanne Alfaro

The results are beautiful. Here, we have a carrot-based mayo and regular mayo.

Lyanne Alfaro

The mayo was especially tasty combined with the chorizo and morcilla we cooked. The grilled spiced chorizo and blood sausage are placed on slices of toast.

Lyanne Alfaro

These short ribs were also grilled for the main dish. Rinaldi's entire home was smoky by the time we finished, but the overall smell was intoxicating.

Lyanne Alfaro

We are not done quite yet. For dessert, we prepare alfajores de maizena, or sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche.

Lyanne Alfaro

With instruction from Rinaldi, Julie dots the coins with dulce de leche after the cookies are out of the oven.

Lyanne Alfaro

Heather coats the cookies with coconut shavings. Thanks to our efficient system, we make about 50 cookies in less than an hour.

Lyanne Alfaro

Finally, we take a seat around the dinner table after several hours of cooking. We dig in about an hour after the scheduled meal time, but we could not be happier with the results.

Lyanne Alfaro

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