Our project manager at Great British Chefs was holiday in Thailand and found herself in Chiang Mai with five days to spare. With this time on her hands, she thought what could be better than taking a cooking course? Find out how the cooking course ended up being the highlight of a month-long trip.
Photography by Gemma of Great British Chefs
Chiang Mai is THE PLACE to take a cooking course, there's a cookery school on every corner, all claiming to be the authentic, the one and only, the best and the one 'seen on tv'. So how does one choose? I went on Trip Advisor, of course. A Lot of Thai, the cooking course I'm eventually going to talk about, was ranked #1 on the traveler recommended tours, so that's the one my husband and I booked.
We were picked up from our hotel in the old city bright and early. I knew I would like the style of this cookery school when I saw their vehicle: an old WV van painted a light blue. Absolutely stunning! We were taken, along with four young Americans, to Yui's house, as this is an unashamedly family-run cookery school, which is what makes it so special. There, we met the hostess, Yui and the rest of the group, a Catalan family of four living in Hong Kong (what are the chances!!!). We were soon assigned a cooking station in Yui's patio, given a lovely apron and we were set to go.
Yui is a natural teacher, friendly and, most importantly, absolutely adores her job. She grew up in a family of farmers and cooks and it shows in her love of cooking AND eating! Yui, which translates to 'chubby cheeks' was absolutely adorable - even Gordon Ramsay has received tips from her (and some abuse too I hope).
To kick off our 6-course thai classics course, an easy one: 'Pad Thai'. Yui taught us how to divide ingredients by 'hardness' and how we should throw in the wok the hard ingredients first and then progressively the softer ones, ending usually with the herbs which only need about 20 seconds to cook. She also told us we should put the garlic in the pan first and then add the oil to avoid charring the garlic and giving the dish a bitter taste. Another tip was how to break the egg on the side of the wok and then mix it in once it's cooked. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed smashing mini garlic cloves with my macro knife, and how concentrated do I look chopping those Chinese chives?
Next up 'Tom Yum', which is quite literally instant soup. The whole thing took us no more than 5 minutes to make, including the chopping. Since we've been back in the UK we have cooked Tom Yum at least once every couple of weeks, it's such a nice quick and easy soup to knock up on a mid-week evening.
And then, finally, onto our all-time favourites, 'Thai Green Curry' and 'Thai Red Curry'. I chose green, my husband red and I have to say both were utterly delicious, even if I say so myself! The trick is to know the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream AND unlike what I was doing at home, the cream is the first thing to go into the wok, even before the meat, so the oil starts to split slightly. After the curries, we had just about enough room left in our stomachs to cook and eat 'Stir fried chicken with cashews'.
After downing the stir fry we set off to the market, where Yui taught us about the local ingredients, how they are cooked and what they bring in terms of flavour. It was a lovely village market, clean and the stall holders were more than happy to allow Yui to get involved and show us every single product: rice of all types and varieties, chillies, noodles, coconut cream in the making, bamboo, aubergines, lemon grass, cashews, keffir lime, garlic, turnips, mushrooms, dried squid, fruits... oh the choice!
Back in head quarters, spatula in hand, and we were ready to start our dessert and to make spring rolls! We started by cooking the rice for the 'Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango' and while that was cooking made the filling for the 'Thai Spring Rolls'. Here, Yui taught us the advantages and disadvantages of rolling your spring rolls plain side up or rough side up. She prefers rough side up, so you can cut them without making a mess. I prefer the rough side because the plum sauce sticks to the spring rolls much better! She also showed us the best way to deep fry and how to avoid greasy food by draining the food properly after frying. It's all common sense, really, but nobody tells you this in cookery books!
The end was near, we prepared the creamy mixture to go with the sticky rice and added the most beautiful mango I've ever tasted. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable day, a lovely memory and we got to take home Yui's book, so forever we can reproduce all of these dishes and more at home. Thanks Yui, we hope to visit you again soon for an advanced lesson!
For some Asian-inspired dishes on the Great British Chefs site you can try Martin Wishart's Crab cakes or his Lime-marinated flank steak.