If you asked me friends to describe me I would like to think they might mention my fierce loyalty, or my thoughtful gift giving skills. But in reality, they probably get in a jab about my creative driving or, more infamously, my total lack of skill when it comes to matters of the kitchen.
This reputation may or may not be the result of incidents including but not limited to: mindlessly putting a tin can in the microwave whilst chatting on the phone, surviving four years of college almost exclusively on frozen dinners, and once summoning the Cayman Islands Fire Department when I attempted to prepare boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. (That last one happened to be in the same week that I dyed my ex’s full batch of work uniforms pink in the laundry, so at least I’m consistent in my domestic failures).
While swinging back through Chiang Mai for a weekend on my way back down to Bangkok, I decided to try to rectify my lack of basic life skills at one of the cities’ abundance of cooking schools. I called around to a few and while none of them took me seriously when I asked if they covered beginner-level chopping, I eventually settled on Asia Scenic.
The day started with tea at the school’s downtown location, where we met our classmates and planned our menus for the day. As part of the full day course, we could each pick from several options for each of the five courses. I chose chicken cashew nut from the stir fried menu, spring rolls from the appetizer menu, tom sab from the soup menu, massaman curry from the curry menu, and sticky rice with mango from the dessert menu. I immediately cursed myself for bothering to eat anything in the days leading up to the class.
Next, we popped to a local market to pick up supplies for the day and learn about how to spot the freshest ingredients. I was surprised to find the market hidden away in a corner of town I walked by all the time, but had never ventured into. And I was thrilled to find a Coke Light to wash my Advil down with — future note to self, don’t go out drinking and dancing all night before a full day activity that involves eating spicy food and handling raw meat.
Luckily I had a full twenty minute journey to both reflect on my poor decision making from the night before and also to suss out the skill level of my fellow chefs-in-training. I quickly inferred from my eavesdropping that all seemed knowledgeable on how chop an onion and none had ever been responsible for setting off the fire alarms of an entire apartment complex. Dismayed, I accepted that I was firmly at the bottom of this class’s bell curve.
We soon arrived at the charming organic farm where we would spend the day — one of my main motivations for choosing Asia Scenic over the plethora of other available schools.
Donning Vietnamese-style rice hats, our instructor Anne gave us a quick tour around the 1.6 acre farm. We learned about how local herbs differed from the the ones we might be used to from home (ha! they assume I know what herbs are!), and dutifully repeated the Thai names for vegetables we would be using throughout the day (as if I knew their English names).
Before I knew it we were ditching the hats and throwing on bright pink aprons, and Anne was doling out the ingredients for our first dish of the day. I liked that things were flexible — when I made an offhand remark about my dislike for mushrooms, Anne subbed in carrots for me instead.
After chopping up the ingredients and stir frying them together in the wok, it was time to eat. I was surprised how simple one of my favorite Thai dishes was — though I still managed to make mine a bit too salty (and if I’m calling it too salty, believe me, it’s too salty.) It was quite fun to tuck in and enjoy the tiny portions of the dishes we had all just made — and the portions definitely had to be tiny, because we would be doing nothing but eating all day.
Next up, spring rolls! I nearly burst with pride when the class voted my folding to be the best. Who knew all those years of crafting would finally pay off in the kitchen?!
I wasn’t overly excited by the soup course, mostly because, well, I don’t really like any Thai soups. Blasphemy, I know, but I’m more of a creamy broccoli soup kind of girl. Luckily, the soup lesson was followed by a much needed break time, or as I took it, kick-MM-out-of-the-hammock-and-nap time.
Next up was the highlight of the day: curry making time! My relationship with massaman curry is one of my great Thailand love affairs, and yet I couldn’t even begin to imagine how it was made. We went right down to basics, gathering fifteen ingredients in order to grind up our own curry pastes.
Fun as the whole mortar grinding process was, I don’t think I’d replicate that at home — it took ages! Luckily, I picked up some fairly authentic curry powder in the market that morning should I want to whip up an almost-homemade version at home. Oh massaman, how I love you.
I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to fit one more thing into my stomach when it came time to make dessert. Which dessert to make had been the hardest decision of the morning — I was torn between sweet sticky rice with mango, banana and coconut milk, and deep friend banana. I went with the first choice, and I wasn’t disappointed. This day completely reignited my love for this quintessential sweet Thai snack.
When it came time to leave the farm, I was pretty sure they were going to have to roll me back to Chiang Mai. But first, Anne gave each of us an adorably designed cookbook with recipes for each of the dishes we had made that day — such a sweet touch.
During the class I posted a photo of one of my dishes on Facebook, which immediately garnered a few comments asking how I handled the water boiling portion of the course. I answered that “boiling water went pretty well, I have a lot to learn with chopping though.” The amount of likes that comment received makes me think that people didn’t realize I was being totally sincere.
I left the farm excited — for one of the first times in my life — about cooking! I’m so looking forward to make big Thai dinners for my friends and family when I get home this summer. I might have to trick them into coming though — or at least assure them that I have a fire extinguisher at the ready.
Have you ever taken a cooking course on your travels? Did you use what you learned back home?
Asia Scenic in no way paid or perked me for this post. In fact, they had no knowledge of either my profession or my incriminating kitchen history.