One of the richest, most fulfilling, days spent in Thailand was under the lighthearted guidance of a young Thai woman named Garnet. At the Thai Farm Cooking School, in Chiang Mai, Garnet’s melodic laughter was infectious, and her knowledge of Thai cuisine was extensive. From the cultivation and harvesting of fruits and vegetables in the farm’s gardens, to the careful styling and presentation that would make her dishes at home in the most upscale of restaurants, Garnet carried herself like the former restaurant owner that she was. And she had jokes and stories to share all along the way.
We were greeted warmly: ‘Sawadee ton chao’ which means ‘Good morning!’ The farm’s website explains: “Today is your great day and we wish you to enjoy your day with us at our organic farm.”
The day started early, with a tour of the Ramchook-market, before it was flooded with locals shopping for base ingredients, as well as prepared sweet treats and Thai beer. We learned about the staples of Thai cuisine, including the fish sauce that gives dishes their saltiness, coconut milk’s creamy richness, spicy Thai basil, and chilies – added for their vibrant color as much as for their heat.
Back at the farm, at side-by-side kitchen stations, students in Garnet’s class would prepare 6 dishes, eating (and admiring) the results along the way. I should mention that the entire experience is completely hands on. Starting at the beginning . . . rice, of course. After some instruction and a demonstration of the preparation of sticky rice, traditionally cooked in a steamer pot and woven basket, there was a 2nd demonstration of the more modern method – the rice cooker. Both gave great results.
I made red curry paste from scratch, for the first time, smashing a mixture of seeds, chili peppers, and spices by hand. Garnet instructed me to look away as I worked, to keep the stinging ingredients from jumping up and into my eyes. The mixture smelled. . . well, it smelled like Thailand, as I beat the mixture with the heavy granite mortar and pestle, trying not to work up a sweat in the 90 degree temps.
We’d been encouraged to pick up some of that Thai beer at the market, to make our mini-meals into celebrations of our novice efforts throughout the day. It was only when I got a few bottles of Chang beer back to the U.S. that I noticed the peculiar odor. But in the moment, and in the excitement of what we had accomplished in the kitchen, it was refreshing. We raised a toast as a group, around the 4th course of our meal. By the time we got to dessert we were all cracking jokes.
With an experience like this, I’m reminded that it’s possible to bring back the flavors of the places my Wanderlust takes me. I loaded my suitcase with a handful of spices, sauces from the market (which I’ve now learned I can get at the International Market near my apartment), and several bottles of amber gold Hong Thong – Thai Whisky. I had a book of recipes in hand, with plans to cook for friends, and vivid memories that will last a lifetime.
(Recipes from that inspiring and entertaining day can be found at the link below.)
Come along on the next adventure!
Thai Farm Cooking School: http://www.thaifarmcooking.com/home/#.VpMRhU2FPIU
Recipes from Thai Farm: http://www.thaifarmcooking.com/home/content.asp?active_page_id=175#.VpMRs02FPIU