One month after my birthday, I got the best birthday present ever…a chance to attend a one-day cooking class at the “Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School.” This was the first cookery school of its kind to open in Chiang Mai…and I’d have a hard time understanding how any of the schools that have opened since could compete. Sompon Nabnian (and his British wife) are the owners of the school…he’s a world renowned celebrity chef who has even done cooking shows for BBC and National Geographic. He has eight assistants, some of whom have already attended cooking school before coming to work for him, and all of whom undergo a special training course (over a year) under his supervision. The school offer five days of courses (with five different menus to prepare), but our schedule for the week only left one day open for me to attend.
The price of the class includes transportation, teaching, all ingredients, meals (you eat what you prepare), beverages, and a cookbook (with pretty colored pictures) including the recipes from all five days of courses. It also has detailed lists of what you can substitute when ingredients aren’t available in your neck of the woods. For example, if you can’t find any palm sugar in Canada – you can simply substitute some maple syrup or brown sugar.
The menu for my course included:
Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup (Tom Kha Gai) – one of our favorites!
Red Curry with Fish (Gaeng Phed Plaa)
Fried Mixed Mushrooms with Baby Corn (Phad Hed Ruam Khao Pod Om)
Fried Big Noodles with Thick Sauce and Pork (Raad Nah Muu)
Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
Steamed Banana Cake (Khanom Kluay)
We started off the morning with a market tour led by the assistant chefs – An and Piim. They showed us the most essential ingredients for Thai cooking, explaining for us the differences between coconut cream and coconut milk, the different types of basil, different kinds of rice, and lots of other stuff. Then we took about a 20 minute drive into the countryside to Sompon’s home, where he has a special area set up for the cooking classes. They also have classes at his restaurant in town, The Wok, but I thought it would be more fun to go out of town and see a little bit of the countryside.
The flow of the class was like this. We would go into an air conditioned demonstration room, where the assistants (and later Sompon) would show us how to make the dish. Then we’d head out to our individual cooking stations and prepare it ourselves. I was surprised at how quickly most of the dishes were cooked! Of course, it helped that most of the ingredients were already prepped for us – fish was sliced, papaya was grated, etc. After we finished cooking each dish, we’d take it over to the dining area and eat our results. It was awesome! For our third and fourth dishes (the red curry and the mushroom stirfry), Sompon himself was on hand to do the teaching.
All of the teachers were great – very professional, relaxed, and seemed to be having a great time. Each of them had their own style for the demonstrations and made lots of jokes throughout. One of my favorites was that every time we used garlic or chilis, they would use the flat side their giant knives (like a cleaver) to smash the ingredient on the cutting board. They’d say something like…”Now for the garlic…Kill it!” SMACK…down went the flat side of the knife. “No Mercy!” BAM BAM…then they’d pound a fist onto the flat of the knife to smash the ingredient even more. I guess you kind of had to be there, but it was really funny.
They were also always joking around about the garnishes added to the food after preparation. One teacher said, “How much you pay for this bowl of Tom Kha Gai? 10 Baht?” Then he stuck the garnish on it and said, “Ah…there we go. Beautiful…Now, you can charge more. 300 Baht!” Sompon also had this great bit about curry that illustrated perfectly why Joel and I love Thai food so much:
…so many curries, so little time!!!
Class went from 10 am – 4 pm…and it felt like we did far more eating than cooking, though I’ve definitely picked up lots of tips to improve my own Thai experimentation. I can’t wait till I locate a wet market in Tianjin and see if I can find the ingredients there so that I can try out my new cooking skills on Joel. I wish my sister Shauna, friend Kelly, and Joel’s mom could’ve joined me for the day, since they all like to cook Thai food too. I was SO full after the class that I couldn’t even eat dinner. I took lots of photos, so everyone can see what it was like…including photos of my own personal creations. Well, all except for the banana cake. It was so yummy that I finished it off before I even remembered that I should take a picture…oops. :D So much good cooking, eating, and laughing made for a great experience and wonderful day…one I’d highly recommend for anyone else passing through Chiang Mai. I wish I could take all five days of classes…and if we ever make it back to Chiang Mai again, maybe I’ll get the chance!