I come from a foodie family. We all love food, exotic and local, fancy and ultra-basic alike. Our favorites through the years, though, were always Indian, Mexican, and Thai.
And in recent years, our collective interests in cooking have exploded from my dad's new interest in soups and stews to my brother's virtuosity on the grill to my mom's native talents coupled with her collection of cookbooks (she has hundreds). Being busy Manhattanites, my husband and I don't often cook, but FoodTV is always on our television.
When I decided to join my brother on his trip to Thailand, there was little we knew we had to do, but a cooking class was a definite MUST.
We booked a day at Krabi Cookery School through a tourist office in Ao Nang, and were picked up and dropped off at our hotel. Chef Chonlaya Laotong known as "Ya" and her staff gave us without question one of my favorite experiences during my almost-month in Thailand.
For the extremely reasonable price of 1000 Baht per person for the day, we learned how to prepare 9 delicious Thai dishes from a charming woman who was also the first female to graduate from her culinary school. Ya will regale you with fascinating stories of her career and some of the extraordinary places its brought her, both for the good and bad. And she has a pet monkey named Billie, so what more could you want?
Well, how about a shaded, open-air classroom that smells of delicious ingredients as well as flowers from Ya's garden. The one standing wall has photographs of beautifully-carved Thai fruits and vegetables - a national tradition highly valued by the Thai culture.
After choosing the nine dishes we wanted to learn and cook, we began with the initial steps. We worked during all stages of preparation. Except for clean-up, we did it all! We chopped, peeled, and diced things like galangal root, tiny eggplant, chiles, and bamboo on little round wooden blocks. We crushed and pounded garlic, spices, and pastes in a large mortor with pestle. Then we sautéed, combined, stirred and flipped our various dishes under the watchful eye and expert instruction of Chef Ya.
Our final product? Four different curries (red, green, masaman, and my favorite, penang), two soups(coconut and a lemon grass-based soup), fish cakes and dipping sauce, a coconut chicken dish, and the perenial staple in the States, pad thai were on our menu. This was accompanied, of course, by steamed rice, water and tea, and lovely local fruit. Delicious.
A walk in Ya's neighborhood to see deer mice and a rubber tree grove completed what was already a fabulous day. We learned Ya's Thai recipes and invaluable techniques and tricks, we ate a phenomenal meal we'd prepared ourselves, and we met Chef Ya, a fascinating, impressive, and generous woman.