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For the fifth year in a row, Frommer's has worked out a special offer for those who are interested in a totally authentic Mexican cooking vacation, complete with hands-on instruction, eating, drinking, and an insider tips on nearby ruins and historic sites. At the Mexican Home Cooking School, just five minutes outside of Tlaxcala, owners Jon Jarvis and his wife Doña Estela Salas Silva open their home, Casa Carmelita, to teach guests how to cook cuisine that's a blend of indigenous cultures -- Olmec, Mayan and Aztec, with some influences from France and Spain, too. It's the cuisine Doña Estela learned from a young age in her native Puebla, about 45 minutes away.

The classes are kept to between four and six students per week, so it's really an intensive experience in the kitchen. You start in the morning, shop for fresh ingredients at local markets, and cook for a few hours. Classes are held for five days and are taught in English. All equipment, including chef's apron, is provided. "I format each course to the level of experience of each student, and you don't need to be an advanced cook to learn this cuisine. The techniques are simple, and you'll be surprised how deliciously complex the flavors turn out," says Doña Estela. In Doña's kitchen, you'll prepare lunch and dinner each day, including soups, salads, main dishes and desserts. Doña Estela tailors the course as much as possible to the enthusiasm and interests of her guests, whom she says are often surprised to learn that it's not all about heat. "Though you will learn about the flavor nuance of a host of chiles, this is not a course about hot and spicy food. It is about flavors as ancient as the Aztecs and as sophisticated as French cuisine," she says. Typical recipes covered during the week could include beef in mole verde sauce, tortilla soup, pork in adobo sauce, squash blossom soup, and beef in chile pasilla sauce.

The Frommer's-only price is set at $1,000 for six nights lodging, all meals, beer, wine and margaritas, and the five-day cooking course; it's a discount off their regular price of $1,200. You must arrange your own flight to Mexico City, which is 75 miles west, or Puebla. A nonstop luxury bus from Mexico City's airport runs every half hour or so to Puebla for about $15 USD, and the owners are kind enough to pick up guests from the bus or from the Puebla airport. The price is good through the end of 2005. All rooms have private bathrooms and fireplaces and the home is in a rural setting near a lake.

The city of Puebla, situated halfway between the coast and Mexico City, has a long history of hospitality in the local convents. "The women in Estela's family have worked for generations as cooks for the well-to-do residents of Puebla. Her dream was and has been to pass on not only the traditional cuisine of Puebla, which is being lost, but the distinct and unique dishes developed by her family," says Jarvis.

The two have years of business experience: Doña Estela worked in Mexico City and her parents' restaurant in San Francisco; Jon as a caterer, plus "years of cooking along side her," he says.

In addition to their combined culinary prowess, they serve as fantastic ambassadors for local attractions. Your afternoons are free, so Jarvis will help you arrange day trips to Cacaxtla ruins and its famed murals and pyramids, the city of Puebla, or an afternoon jaunt for a meal and drinks at local haciendas that are not open to the public. Additionally "the city of Tlaxcala is a hidden gem," he says, with an archeological museum, three volcanoes and Colonial architecture.

Finally, if your traveling partner is less concerned with cooking and more interested in eating, drinking, and ruin-and-volcano exploring, he or she is welcome to come along for an additional $500.

For more information, including photographs and free recipes to whet your appetite, visit

www.mexicanhomecooking.com. You can also contact Jon Jarvis by phone or fax at 001-246-46-809-78 or e-mail at mexicanhomecooking@yahoo.com.

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