I am not a foodie. And I am certainly not a cook. I am a food simpleton. I routinely confuse the words “colander” and “coriander”. When forced into the kitchen, I’m usually found hovering over the sink, gulleting toast, complaining that it’s not going down fast enough. Gastronomy? Surely the study of fuel on distant planets.
So when my Canadian cohorts suggested we take a Thai cooking class, there was more than a little apprehension on my part. Would they discover my years of fakery? Would I burn the kitchen (and its occupants) to the ground? Would I start having to use words like “flambé” and “reduction”? I guess there was only going to be one way to find out.
So up I signed.
Charlie & Lek Restaurant has been serving up traditional Thai dishes to rave reviews in Pai, Thailand for the past four years. Last year, they started offering cooking classes. Here’s how it works – you select 5 things you would like to learn from their menu, they take you to the food market at 9:30 in the AM to pick out the ingredients, then you cut, cook, and eat until 3:00. Sounds simple enough.
And surprisingly, it is.
Not only do you pick out the ingredients, but Lek describes in detail the local fruits and vegetables, and why certain ones are used in certain dishes.
The first thing that we selected was that good old standby – Pad Thai. It’s what I used to order whenever I went to a Thai restaurant back home. Of course I had no idea what was actually in it. I thought I had seen pieces of egg floating around, but that could have been tofu. As it turns out, it contains both egg AND tofu. Hmmpf.
Lek lets you know the exact portions and the order to put things in to make it turn out right every time. So much for my habit of tossing everything in at once and praying it doesn’t burn. Prayer, it seems, is not a prime ingredient.
Next on the list was Tom Yum Soup. Now anyone that knows me knows my take on soup – I hate it. Almost as much as I hate green peppers. Then there’s celery, lasagne, black licorice – quite an extensive list really, but I digress.
To me, soup is just hot boggy water. It’s swamp in a bowl.
I didn’t actually choose Tom Yum as one of the 5 dishes, but there were other folks with me to consider, and they wanted in on some Tom Yum action.
The result was pretty good – spicy and sour at the same time. I have to admit though, I picked all the good stuff out and left the swampy bits in the bowl. But I stand firm on my soup stance.
Once we were finished with the Tom Yum tomfoolery, we moved onto a Green Curry. The first time I had this was only a couple of weeks ago, and I was hooked, so I was looking forward to this one.
Turns out, the only thing that separates a Green Curry from a Red Curry or a Yellow Curry is the colour of the chilies. Otherwise, the ingredients are pretty much the same.
The hardest part of this one was that we had to make our own chili paste, which counted as dish number 4. I had seen a mortar and pestle before (probably at Pottery Barn), but assumed they were either only decorative, or used in witchcraft. Turns out they ARE used in the kitchen. Double-hmmpf.
This baby was my pride and joy. I turned out just like the menu version, and even though I was full from the Pad Thai and Tom Yum, I ate every tasty morsel.
Our final dish was a simple Thai Stir Fry. This one you can pretty much get by with any ingredients – it’s the basil and the chilies that make it distinctly Thai — but it was the chance to put some oomph in the kitchen by putting some flames in the air.
I lost most of my onions to the flames, but the stir fry was still a treat.
Coming from a newbie, I have to say this was a great beginner course in Thai cooking. Lek emails you the recipes afterwards, but also encourages you to play with them and make them your own.
Charlie not only quizzes you, but gives fascinating talks while you are eating. His discussion on Thai rice culture versus the flour culture of the west is an eye-opener.
He also delves into how Thai food has been influenced by India, China, and Burma and discusses the difference between North Thai and South Thai cuisine.
Both Charlie and Lek love food, and it shows. They created a warm, welcoming environment, and made it a fun experience for everyone.
if you find yourself in Pai, Thailand and are hungry to learn more about Thai food, I highly recommend Charlie & Lek’s. They will leave your tongue Thai’ed.
Note: I was not paid anything to write this, nor did I receive any freebies. I just thought it was an excellent class, and Charlie and Lek are awesome folks.