What you got cooking?

Imagine if you could have any man fall in love with you just by using your hands?  Well if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, putting your paws to work in a Thai cooking school for a day could very well be the ultimate hand job.  You’ll be winning (and breaking?) hearts in no time.

Taking a one-day cooking class is a great Bangkok experience.  With options from high end classes set in luxury hotels or old colonial buildings (e.g. The Siam or Blue Elephant) to budget classes in and around the backpacker area of Khao San road, you’re spoilt for choice.  Even outside Bangkok there will be plenty of cooking courses on offer.  Often your class will involve a trip to the local open-air wet market, providing fascinating insights into Thai daily life and traditions.

Given my already extensive experience with meat, I decided to take on something different  and chose May Kaidee’s vegetarian Thai cooking school (associated with the May Kaidee vegetarian and vegan restaurant), conveniently located in the Khao San road area of Bangkok.

May Kaidee has become somewhat of an international vegetarian celebrity.  Having grown up on a small rice farm eating all manner of animal (including rat, dog, cricket, worm, and scorpion – her favorite dish was snake curry, isn’t it everyone’s?), in 1988 she tired of being asked if she was pregnant (she wasn’t) and switched to a vegetarian diet, slimmed down and opened her chain of successful restaurants.

I arrived at 9am and our beautiful chef Waan got straight to work, introducing us to the local ingredients we would be using for the day – aromatic, crisp & fresh vegetables, herbs and spices.  After donning our aprons and head scarves we immediately started preparing chili paste and peanut sauce, key ingredients for later dishes.  The group was split into pairs – a Spanish couple, a Swiss couple, and my visiting mother and me.

Waan took us through the intricacies of preparing the sauces with flair and passion – they’re remarkably easy (hint: use a blender rather than the traditional method with mortar and pestle – too much pounding – something I thought I’d never say).  It’s remarkable the variation of sauces which can be made by substituting an ingredient.

We moved on to prepare our first dish – Tom Yum soup.  For each dish (8 in total!) one person would cook while the other instructed.  Chef Waan was full of helpful tips – what ingredients can be substituted in your home country, how to effect the play of spices with small tricks etc.  She was a wealth of information and obviously a true lover of Thai food and cooking.

The Tom Yum soup turned out perfectly, as did the fried vegetables with ginger and cashew, and Paad Thai.  I’ve never thought of myself as much of a chef, but after turning out several delicious dishes in a matter of minutes, I was feeling quite cocky in the kitchen…which has got to be a good thing.

We quickly whipped up a Thai Green Curry and Massaman Curry.  Again, amazingly delicious!  I was surprised that it was just as delicious as the versions I’ve tried with meat.  About this time, I was wishing I hadn’t eaten earlier (no need to eat breakfast if you take this class!).  Regardless we pressed on with fresh spring rolls, more reminiscent of Vietnamese food however delicious (and healthy) nonetheless, and then the legendary Som Tam salad.

All of the dishes only took a few minutes of cooking (plus several minutes of preparations) – perfect for the busy (or lazy) amongst us.

By this time I couldn’t possibly eat another thing.  Cue dancing class.  Chef Waan and owner May suddenly appeared in costume and performed a Thai traditional dance before asking/forcing us all to join in, coaxing us to bend our hands at the most unnatural angles.  Foolish, but fun.  And it freed up room for our final dish (and one of my favorites), Sticky Rice with Mango.  The dish is more complicated to make than I would have thought but the taste was magnificent.

Our 4 hour cooking class was over – a great (and filling) holiday experience which will keep paying itself back for years to come (both by the yummy food I can now cook and the string of broken hearts I’ll leave behind).  Plus it is excellent value – only 1,200 baht for the class (about $40).