Anne and I kicked off our Thailand meal sampling with green curry, which we bought on the sidewalk for 30 baht (less than a dollar). Following ten minutes of belly rubbing, eye rolling, gum smacking, lip licking, and burping, we raced to register for a cooking class. Internet research led us to Thai Farm Cooking (www.thaifarmcooking.com).
The chef herself picks us up at our hotel. Worth noting: in addition to curry, Southeast Asia excels at door-to-door transport. First-class service is as inexpensive and readily available as Bordeaux is in Bordeaux.
The four-foot-ten fireball of a cook introduces herself as Cookie. She assures us that if we cannot remember her name, we can call her “Cook” instead.
Class begins with a tour of a local market. The warehouse brims with friendly faces, including hog heads on ice; chickens hanging piñata-style; and fish bathing in viscous brown goo. All liven the warehouse with an invigorating stench.
Ingenious vendors keep flies at bay by affixing bags of rice to propellers, and spinning them like Jackie Chan nunchucks. Nonetheless, when Cookie wraps her tutorial on the virtues of pure rice, our class collectively flees the stalls and exhales.
Far more refreshing are the sinus-clearing scents of Cookie’s own organic garden. Our chef produces exotic goodies ranging from pea-sized eggplants to watermelon-plump bananas. I suddenly understand how Alice in Wonderland must have felt while sampling mind-expanding, portion-altering mushrooms.
Finally, Cookie takes us to the kitchen. Anne and I beam when we see “CURRY” in boldface at the top of the menu. We learn its societal importance:
“You know someone is a good wife or good husband if they have a big arm from grinding curry,” Cookie advised, producing her own oversized forearm for our inspection. “A big arm apple means a good marriage.”
That it mind, we athletically assault the chilis and chives. I sweat profusely, partly because I keep sampling the chilis.
“Bang bang bang!” Cookie bellows, “Faster! More muscle!” She sounds less like a chef and more like Jerry Maguire.
We progress to soups and main courses. All ten of us students sprinkle conservative pinches of various alien ingredients into our woks. Cookie will not stand for moderation.
“Keep going, and keep smiling!” Cookie urges. “Tastes better if you smile!”
Things go well until I become overzealous and spill an extra liter of oil into my pan. No matter how many other ingredients I add (everything in reach), my pad thai behaves like a crackling, fire-spewing witch brew. I’m a hot mess.
Cookie circles the room to help students pack masterpiece dishes into “Thai Tupperware,” or plastic bags. By the end, everyone looks as though they won goldfish at a county fair, except that the bags swim with drunken noodles rather than house pets. Suddenly, my soppy brown Pad Thai does not stand out anymore. Not to sound elitist about containers, but everything looks unappetizing in a fish bag.
Looks aside, Anne and I purr with joy as we apply chopsticks to our plastic bags in the privacy of our hotel room. The take-home treats must be Cookie’s way of encouraging us to Keep Smiling after we’d parted ways.