tasted on December 5, 2005 — A semi-regular feature of
any tourist adventure in Thailand (especially when visiting Bangkok
or Chiang Mai) is a cooking class. I was both excited to learn some
basic Thai cooking skills, and leery of a tourist trap. I told
myself that I would find some small hip cooking school that was off
the beaten track in terms of tourists. Unsurprisingly, I failed.
After the 27th time when I tried to get someone to recommend me the
little known authentic Thai cooking class, and the response was
"Blue Elephant Cooking School. It's the most famous." I gave in.
Besides, they had a class that started off with a trip to the
market. And that seemed like a nice way to start.
The Blue Elephant Cooking School is located in a
colonial style building (note:
not sure if this is an appropriate characterization as Thailand is the only country in the
immediate vicinity that was never colonized) on this small parcel of
land surrounded by the tumult and height of Bangkok. The first hour
or so of our class was spent heading to a
local market. I thought we
would buy the ingredients we were going to cook. But in retrospect
that was silly. The Blue Elephant had their act together and already
had all the ingredients we needed. Our trip to the market was most
informational though not functional and that was ok. Then it was
back to the school for some instruction and hopefully cooking.
It turns out, that despite being the "most famous"
cooking school, the class was pretty enjoyable. Even though we were
on rails (the
ingredients had mostly been prepped for us) my dishes came out
as good or better than most Thai food I've had in the U.S.
The chef kept repeating this as well showing his disdain for the
quality of many Thai restaurants.
I was worried at the beginning when we entered a
standard classroom setting that we'd only be watching him cook, but
after each demo we went to a
kitchen across the room where we got to cook ourselves. It was
cool. One weird moment was when he warned us about the unripe papaya
juice saying it would hurt our eyes and stain our clothes but it was
ok to eat. I guess unripe papaya juice is essentially edible bleach.
We learned and cooked several dishes including:
Green Chicken Curry (Keang Keaw Wan Kai),
Sour and Spicy Prawn Soup (Tom Yam Koong),
Stir Fried Rice Noodles (Phad Thai), and
Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam). The chef really took the time to
try to articulate what the flavor of each dish should be. He'd
learned Thai cooking at his mother's side and had many years as a
professional chef. I remember him going on at length about how the
sweet flavor should never come first on your tongue. For me this was
huge. Thai food is one of those cuisines (like Mexican) where the
uninitiated joke about how it's the same seven ingredients
and flavors recombined in hundreds of slightly different
combinations. But this is missing the point. There is not only wide
variety in Thai food but strict discipline in terms of flavor
profile and balance. And while I wasn't happy that I made my green
curry three hours before
I ate it at the sit down "luncheon" (not sure what the
alternative was) it turns out that our food came out pretty good
anyway. In fact, I think the food that I made that day was
better than almost every Thai restaurant in Seattle. Unfortunately
that's not saying a whole lot, but still I was impressed. Whether I
can duplicate it in my kitchen is another matter entirely, but I
will have fun trying.