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Weeklong Thai Cooking Class

Michael Babcock, October 1st, 2011

Note: Kasma no longer offers the weeklong Thai cooking classes. I will leave this blog up as a historical record.


During July and August, Thai cooking teacher Kasma Loha-unchit used to offer weeklong Thai cooking classes in the San Francisco Bay Area for people who wanted to learn how to cook Thai food as authentic and delicious as that found in Thailand. The classes were called “intensives” because for 5 straight days participants spent all day learning, cooking and eating Thai food. Unfortunately, we no longer offer these classes – Kasma retired from her cooking classes in 2020.

In this blog we’ll try to give you a sense of what those classes were like.

Click images to see larger version. There’s also a slideshow further down.

Overview

Kasma Loha-unchit

Kasma demonstrates Green Papaya Salad

Kasma, who offered 4-session evening series classes starting in 1985, began offering these classes in 1998 because of requests from people who discovered the classes through Kasma’s website – thaifoodandtravel.com. She very quickly began offering two of the Beginning/Intermediate intensives each summer along with two advanced weeklong classes. Hundreds of people from all over the world attended the Beginning/Intermediate class, many of them going on to take the Advanced weeklong classes as well.

Kasma taught all of her classes in her home. The more casual and intimate setting allowed people to relax more and to get to know one another. Since most students would be cooking in their home kitchen, it made sense to learn in a home kitchen similar to what they found when they returned home.

Plate of Thai Food

Thai food - what it's all about

The Beginning/Intermediate class combined the evening/weekend Beginning Series and evening/weekend Intermediate Series with some extras; it introduced the most important Thai ingredients and many of the cooking techniques, including using the mortar and pestle to make pastes. The Beginning/Intermediate class laid the foundation of how to balance flavor groupings to create Thai tastes, whether using a recipe or not. Everyone started with the Beginning/Intermediate class: it was the only way Kasma could insure that everyone in the Advanced classes has a common set of essential information and that everyone had been exposed to harmonizing Thai flavors. Many of the recipes in the Beginning/Intermediate class are familiar to anyone exposed to Thai restaurants in the U.S. – Basil Chicken, Green Curry, Shrimp Cakes, Pad Thai noodles – to name a few.

Students at Work

The classes are great fun

In the Advanced weeklong classes more Thai ingredients (less common ones) were introduced along with new techniques and the refining and expansion of previous techniques. In addition to more familiar recipes, the Advanced classes included more recipes that are not so common in this country. Kasma estimates that the Thai restaurants in the U.S. offer around 5% of the total number of dishes in Thailand; the advanced weeklong classes were a chance to learn how to cook and to eat many of the other 95% of Thai dishes. Kasma started out with just one Advanced weeklong class and added 3 more in response to demand from students, who wanted to keep learning more dishes and more about Thai food.

Format

Breakfast

One morning's breakfast

The format of all of the classes was the same. Class always started with a delicious breakfast consisting of pastries and cheese breads from local (mostly co-operative) bakeries, organic heirloom tomatoes and tree-ripened organic fruits from the Berkeley Farmers market, quail eggs with Thai dipping sauces and a different Asian snack each day. Peet’s coffee and a selection of teas were also served. The breakfasts are fantastic!

After breakfast, everyone sat at the long table and Kasma went over each of the recipes. This teaching session necessarily took a bit longer in the Beginning/Intermediate class: Kasma needed to introduce the ingredients for the first time as she went over each of the recipes. Questions were encouraged and part of the process involved smelling, tasting and touching Thai herbs and some comparative tasting (of coconut milks, for example). Class most days started at 9:30 a.m. and the sitting instruction could last anywhere from 2 to 2-1/2 hours (with a break in the middle to sample more of the breakfast).

Students Prepping

Students prepping dishes

Students Prep Food

Chopping & pounding

After the initial instruction, the group broke up into teams, each team working on 1 or 2 recipes; each team did all of the prep with Kasma supervising and instructing further as needed. After the ingredients were prepared, the food was assembled. Unlike other classes, the assembly was done as a group: everyone got to watch each dish being cooked and finished. Initially (the first day or two) Kasma did much of the assembly herself and each day students took over more and more of the work, with Kasma watching. Each dish was designed to serve many people: you learned to cook dishes exactly the way you would cook them at home.

Folding Banana Leaves

Folding banana leaves

Making Roti

Making roti

Pork Rice Soup

Assembling Pork Rice Soup

Assembly of many of the dishes involved a series of tasting exercises. The essence of Kasma’s classes was learning to balance flavors. (See Kasma’s article Creating Harmonies with Primary Flavors.) Most of Kasma’s recipes gave a range of quantity for many key flavoring ingredients, such as fish sauce, lime juice or palm sugar, because these ingredients can vary widely and blindly following a recipe with just a set quality may not produce a very tasty dish. (See the blog Following Thai Recipes.) Kasma would add a certain quantity of an ingredient, say fish sauce, and then everyone got a chance to taste what the dish tastes like; more fish sauce, or palm sugar, or lime juice was added and after each addition, there was another tasting and students got to see how the flavors interact and how they become more layered and more complex, sometimes with just a small extra addition of something. I’ve had many experiences with these tasting exercises where I thought something tasted really, really good – I would have stopped right there. Then Kasma adds just a bit more of something and the flavors POP!!! into a revelation. It was a chance to see, to experience the alchemy of Thai cooking.

Students Cook

A team of students

Each day there was a dish or two that was cooked earlier on to serve as lunch or as a snack to bridge the time until everyone sat down to eat a Thai feast around 3:00 or 3:30 p.m. Most people found they don’t need to worry about eating dinner – they went away very full indeed! We provided beer or wine, as desired, and lemon- or limeade. Each day finished with a Thai dessert. These classes were a great way to try some of the wonderful variety of Thai kanom wahn (“sweet snacks”).

One day during most of the weeklong classes was a one-dish meal day. Students learned many noodle dishes, from familiar dishes, such as Pad Thai, to the other noodle dishes that Thai people actually prefer: such as Stewed Duck Noodles, Boat Noodles and Kao Soi (Chiang Mai Curried Noodles). Some of the non-noodle (one-dish meal) dishes included Kao Man Gai (Poached Chicken Rice), Salted Black Olive Rice, Muslim Yellow Rice and Pork Rice Soup.

Grilling Fish

Charcoal Roasted Sea Bass

The last day is a little different. We started Friday with a 2-hour or so field trip to the Old Oakland Farmer’s Market, with its many Asian vendors, and to some of Kasma’s favorite markets in Oakland’s Chinatown. This was a chance for students to learn how to negotiate Asian markets and to learn about some of the exotic Asian ingredients that are found there. Every single one of our Advanced weeklong classes wanted Kasma to include the optional field trip again. We then returned and assembled the day’s meal, which always included grilled dishes, on Friday, and on this day we ate out in Kasma’s beautiful garden.

After the Beginning/Intermediate class you would have been introduced to most of the important Thai ingredients, would know most of the main cooking techniques and would understand how to balance the flavor groupings to make delicious Thai flavors, with or without a recipe. You would have over 40 delicious Thai recipes with which to amaze and delight your friends. Many students over the years, that they no longer wished to eat in local Thai restaurants because the Thai food is better at home!

Advanced Class Format

The format was essentially the same – breakfast, initial instruction and then breaking into teams, coming together so that everyone can see how a dish is cooked and finished. In the advanced weeks, students did pretty much everything under Kasma’s supervision.

Each Advanced weeklong class had 40 to 45 delicious Thai recipes, many of these dishes seldom seen outside of Thailand. Students could cook dishes at home that aren’t found in the local Thai restaurants. A student who had taken the Beginning/Intermediate class and all 4 Advanced weeklong classes came away with well over 200 Thai recipes to choose from.

Weeklong Food Sampling

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Frying Fish
Fried Fish
Making Basil Chicken
Spicy Basil Chicken
Making Mee Krob
Mee Krob
Steaming Fish Curry
Haw Moek
Mushroom Salad
Bean Thread Salad
Thai-Style Chicken Salad
Black Olive Rice
Calamari Salad
Stir-fried Eggplant
Lemon Grass Salad
Spicy Tamarind Prawns
Dipping Sauce
Daikon Cakes

The 3rd day of the First Week you learn to fry a whole fish

Crisped Whole Fish Topped with Chilli-Tamarind Sauce (Bplah Rad Prik) from the First Week, day 3

On day 2 of the First Week you learn to make Basil Chicken

Spicy Basil Chicken (Gkai Pad Gkaprow) on day 2 of the First Week

Making Mee Krob noodles on the 4th day of the First Week

Mee Krob- Glazed Crispy Noodles (a snack or appetizer), on the 4th day of the First Week

Haw Moek is a Fish Curry Mousse in Banana Leaf Baskets, here ready to be steamed

Curried Mousse of Red Snapper in Banana Leaf cups (Haw Moek Bplah) from day 2 of the First Week

Charcoal-Grilled Mushroom and Jicama Salad with Shrimp and Fried Cashews (Yam Hed Pao Man Gkaew) from day 3 of Advanced Set D

Thai-Style Bean Thread Salad (Yum Woon Sen) from Day 4 of Advanced Set B

Spicy Thai-Style Chicken Salad (Gkai Naem) from day 2 of Advanced Set B

Putting finishing touches to Salted Black Olive Fried Rice (Kao Pad Nahm Liap) on day 2 of Advanced Set B

Spicy Calamari Salad with Lemon Grass, Mint and Lime Sauce (Yam Bplah Meuk) from the very first day (First Week)

Stir-fried Eggplant with Chillies and Thai Basil (Pad Makeua Yao) from the day 3 of the First Week

Lemon Grass Salad (Sukhothai) (Yum Dtakrai) from day 4 of Advanced Set B

Southern Thai-Style Spicy Tamarind Prawns with Crisped Shallots and Garlic (Gkoong Yai Pad Som Makahm Bpiak)from day 5 of Advanced Set A

Pan-fried Mackerel and Assorted Vegetables with Hot-and-Pungent Fermented Shrimp Dipping Sauce (Nahm Prik Bplah Too)from day 3 of Advanced Set B

Pan-fried Steamed Daikon Cakes with Shrimp, Bean Sprouts and Garlic Chives (Pad Kanom Hua Pakgahd) from day 3 of Advanced Set D

Frying Fish thumbnail
Fried Fish thumbnail
Making Basil Chicken thumbnail
Spicy Basil Chicken thumbnail
Making Mee Krob thumbnail
Mee Krob thumbnail
Steaming Fish Curry thumbnail
Haw Moek thumbnail
Mushroom Salad thumbnail
Bean Thread Salad thumbnail
Thai-Style Chicken Salad thumbnail
Black Olive Rice thumbnail
Calamari Salad thumbnail
Stir-fried Eggplant thumbnail
Lemon Grass Salad thumbnail
Spicy Tamarind Prawns thumbnail
Dipping Sauce thumbnail
Daikon Cakes thumbnail

Why Take This Class

There’s an English proverb that dates back to the early 1600s that says: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” A cooking class can be lots of fun but ultimately you want to know that what you are learning to make is fabulous food.

Eating a Meal

Dinner in the garden

People took the Beginning/Intermediate class pretty much for one reason: to learn how to cook delicious Thai food. After this class, people returned for multiple reasons: to learn more about Thai cooking, because they had so much fun during the first week and to eat. They came to learn to cook Thai dishes that they couldn’t find anywhere else outside of Thailand. Always, though, the main reason people returned was because the food was so fabulous. These were truly unique classes – there was (and is) probably nowhere else in the United States that you could eat some of these fabulous meals. (The food in the Beginning/Intermediate class was fabulous as well; the Beginning/Intermediate people didn’t believe us when we said that the food in the Advanced classes was even better.) We have students who told us that Kasma’s food is even better than what they have in Thailand. People returned time after time – many people have taken all 5 of the weeklong classes and regularly asked us when Kasma will offer the 6th – because the food was so good. Several people repeated one or more of the Advanced Weeklong classes because they wanted their Thai food hit. Other students went on to take the evening/weekend series Advanced classes.

Students Eating

Sitting down to eat

Eating Outside

Eating Outside

You can check out advanced class menus to get an idea of the range of what was taught. You might also enjoy the blog about one of the most memorable days in an advanced weeklong class – The Best Thai Food in America?.

Kasma Stir-fries

Kasma stir-fries Pad Thai

Written by Michael Babcock, October 2011. Updated on in May 2017

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