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The Moles of Malibu

March 26, 1997|MARGARET SHERIDAN

Thirty cooking devotees gathered in Malibu on Saturday afternoon to learn from an American-born mole-meister. Susana Trilling, who moved to Oaxaca in 1988 and opened a cooking school there named Seasons of My Heart, was teaching a course in the moles of Oaxaca at the mountaintop hacienda of restaurateur Gerri Gilliland.

We sat on the patio in squeaky chairs of old straw and leather. The sun streamed through the beams; there was a lulling sea breeze. When Gilliland wasn't shooing one of her six dogs from our feet, she was rinsing the blender or passing out straw hats.

Trilling, her back to Malibu's undulating canyons, presided over two makeshift worktables, a pair of gas burners and countless pieces of Mexican pottery brimming with something from the blender or chopping board or griddle. (Trilling had spent two days prepping ingredients for the demonstration.)

The gas jets fired up, and everyone started to scribble notes on recipe sheets. As the demonstration went on, I, for one, found the sheer amount of labor involved in Oaxacan moles--chopping, toasting, frying, grinding, blending, searing--to be exhausting. Of its own accord, my pen stopped moving and I surrendered to the view and the sequence of smoky mole aromas. The fantasy of being a house-sitter here floated idly across my mind.

A dozen dishes were later presented in two buffets. The beer was well chilled, and the rose was a perfect foil for the complex sauces.

At the end of the four-hour class, Gilliland asked for a round of applause for an electric blender that should put in for overtime.

When asked whether the modern Mexican woman would ever invest so much time preparing mole, Trilling laughed. "That's why Mexicans have extended families."

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