One of the many things you can do while on a holiday is to go back to school. Well, not the kind where you need to study and take exams, but perhaps the type where you learn skills to prepare good food. Cooking schools abound in Chiang Mai, and you will be spoilt for choice. From high end schools (with all them glitzy ovens and stoves) to home-based kitchens, take your pick.
Our pick was with a relatively small outfit that takes in only 8 “students” at a time. We were kind-of looking out for the teacher-student ratio thing, so that we’d not be left unattended to. Yes you see, we are the students that crave the teachers’ attention!
It was an early morning start. First off to the market, we had our lesson on the important ingredients in Thai cooking. While most ingredients are indigenous only to Thailand and southeast Asia, our teacher gave us instructions and guidance on what substitutes can be used – especially for those living in the temperate regions. Each ingredient has its unique place in Thai cuisine.
Our morning lesson was to provide us a view of how the ingredient contributes to aroma, taste and color when we prepare our dishes. It was an interesting observation that there was a very wide and varied use of herbs, vegetables and even fruits in Thai cuisine. The variety of sticky rice was yet another area where we found rather instructive – with each species aptly suited to particular dishes.
Then it was off to the kitchen. Well laid out, there were 10 work stations for each student – a preparation area and the stove.
We each had made a selection of dishes to make and the school had already purchased and prepared some of the materials. Thus it was actually not all “from the basic” lesson that we had. For example, the onions and garlic were already chopped up for us! What we did though were the “important” steps – for example slicing the lemon grass into suitable sizes for the soup.
During the course of the half day, we will each prepare 6 dishes (5 mains and a dessert). If you eat them all, you’d really be stuffed. After each course, we were sat down to eat our own creation. Here you have to bake your own cake and eat it too! Of course there is the option to share – which Suan and I eagerly did.
Mel started out with Pad Woon Sen – which is fried glass noodle. This was not a standard offer on the menu of dishes in the lesson. So, I had to prepare my dish separately from the rest and got an instructor all to himself (haha, that was the way to get the teacher’s attention!). It was the same with the Thai fish cake, where I had the pleasure of hand kneading a flour mixture with fresh fish slices into a melange suitable for forming into small patties. The trick is in the mix and not the actual hard work of kneading it.
Mel’s offering to the rest of the ‘students’ was welcome, as it was a different dish from what they had chosen to prepare. This, together with the Green and Red curries (that Suan and I separately prepared) made for a nice combination.
Suan in the meantime had help to prepare coconut custard cubes wrapped with banana leaves. Much of the preparation was done before hand, and Suan took the helm in mixing the custard dough into the final form. Mel on the other hand was struggling to fry coconut flakes in an open wok. The flakes had been soaked in a mix. I had to repeatedly ruffle and stir the mix to dry out the flakes. It was really hard work!
However, when this was added to the stick rice, it tasted heavenly! Mind the calories though, this one dessert will set you back to run 10km in order to work it off! As with any cuisine, preparation is key. Thus it was very much appreciated that a lot of the “leg work” had been done for us. We just did the “critical” steps!
“Roughing it out” at Thai cooking school is definitely a recommended activity. It certainly is not Muay Thai, and you get to eat what you made + share it with your classmates. It was a mix of learning to cook and having potluck with a group of strangers.
We thoroughly enjoyed this and we believe you will too!
Try it, it can be addictive!