Steve and I are no strangers to Thailand, this is my third time here, and Steve’s sixth — part of the reason we keep returning to this country is because of its fresh, delicious and flavourful food. In our round-the-world travels, we’ve found that taking a cooking class is a fun and interactive way to connect with the food culture of the countries we’ve travelled to.
We’ve taken cooking classes in Portugal, Peru, and Vietnam, and we just finished one in Chiang Mai, Thailand with Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School. Of all the cooking class options available in Chiang Mai, we went with Sammy’s because we loved the idea of cooking in an open-air kitchen, and the idea of picking fresh herbs from his garden to use in our meals.
The cooking class takes place on Sammy’s family farm, a short 20 minute drive out of Chiang Mai. From the moment we met Sammy at the hotel pickup, we already thought of him as the giggliest person we’ve met in Thailand. His contagious laughter and enthusiasm automatically makes you feel happy and welcome to be apart of his cooking experience.
After a quick market stop, arrived at the farm where Sammy lives with his family, where we received a tour of all the plants, herbs, nuts, and vegetables grown on his property. He picked from his garden fresh lemongrass, citronella, garlic, lime, turmeric, ginger, and placed them all on a small table where he explained the flavours and properties of each plant.
A highlight for us was seeing how fresh coconut milk and cream is extracted from a brown coconut. We saw Sammy crack it open and serve the coconut water inside, then, he grated the white interior of the shell and squeezed it through a mesh cloth to extract fresh coconut milk. The milk would eventually be used for our soups and curries we would be making in our class. He then tossed the coconut scraps into his pond, and his catfish all splashed to the surface to — “they’re vegetarian” he joked.
The undercover kitchen area is made up of individual cooking stations. Our menu options were timeless Thai classics: red, green, or yellow curry, spring rolls or papaya salad, tom yum soup, pad thai or pad ka prow, fried banana or mango sticky rice for dessert.
For the curry, we used a traditional mortar and pestle to crush, pound, and blend a dozen fragrant ingredients into a thick paste. Green Curry — over red or yellow — was the popular choice of the day. Most of the ingredients were chopped, portioned and prepared for us — our main responsibility was to stir fry or boil the ingredients — and finish off with tablespoons of oil, sugar, coconut milk, or fish sauce.
Our dishes were so delicious, and I’m not just saying that because I cooked my own meal. I really do think it’s the freshness of the ingredients that. And seeing the dozen ingredients that go into something as “simple” as a curry or a pad Thai. When you see the ingredients that make up a dish, you begin to taste and recognize flavours you may not have noticed before and appreciate the complexity of each dish.
After lunch, we had about an hour to rest in Sammy’s garden which had plenty of hammocks, benches, and mats for reclining and relaxing on. It started raining during our ‘siesta’ — there’s something very peaceful about swinging on a hammock outside under shelter, while seeing and hearing the torrential rainfall all around you…
We rolled spring rolls, grated papaya for the salad, and then flavoured and plated our mango sticky rice. At the end of the class, we were absolutely stuffed!! We had more than enough food to eat, we didn’t eat again until breakfast the next morning.
At the end of the class, we received a small cooking book with recipes so we can re-create what we learned back home. I’m happy to say that since our return to Vancouver, we’ve already used this book once to cook our families a big Thai dinner!
For more information about Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School, visit: sammysorganicthaicookingschool.com.