We’ve talked before about my lack of confidence in the kitchen, and my decision this year to try and rectify that by learning some cooking skills. Mr M and I started with some knife skills at Recipease, which I’ve been putting to great use, so when I was offered the chance to learn a bit of Thai cooking, I decided it was time to take things to the next level.
The culinary skills classes at Chaophraya Thai Restaurant in the Bullring are the welcome result of their success at the chain’s other venues. And I can see why. Informative, fun, and plenty of food. What’s not to like?
Our class took place upstairs in the impressive glass-fronted restaurant, where we and our six fellow wannabe chefs were introduced to ‘Du’, our chef teacher, and his glamorous assistant. The focus was definitely on fun, and it wasn’t long before they had us all introducing ourselves, donning aprons and chefs hats, and exchanging jokes about our own cooking skills (or lack of).
We were given some recipe sheets for our planned meal of Thai fishcakes, beef Panang curry, and coconut pancakes, and set to work in our makeshift ‘kitchen’ made up of camping stoves on a u-shaped arrangement of tables. Each pair shared a station which worked well for our group, (which consisted of me and Mr M, one son and mother team, two ladies on a girls day out, and two other women who paired up for the occasion) but might not have been ideal if people wanted their own stove and equipment.
Our bits and bobs were mostly already prepared and Du took us through what each ingredient was so we could understand the flavour combinations that makes Thai food what it is. The laughter continued as we mashed spices and fish together into what we hoped was the right consistency, with Du rendering our recipe sheets useless as he chucked extra spices in here and there with the flair of a chef with years of experience.
Pretty soon, we were frying our fishcakes in pans of boiling oil over our stoves (slightly surreal yes – I can see why they get you to sign a disclaimer before you start!) But despite our worries, with some supervision from our bosses we all managed to produce some pretty tasty starters, which we retired to a table together to enjoy with some sweet chilli sauce and crushed peanut.
Starters scoffed, we tackled the main course, first making our own spice paste of chilli, garlic, galangal, lemon grass and onion, smashed down in an industrial sized pestle and mortar. The fragrant spices only got better as we cooked them, before adding coconut milk, beef, and green beans to form the curry.
Having been quite easy up to this stage, it got a bit more challenging when it came to adding the right amounts of fish sauce, sugar, lime leaves and coriander to get the right balance of flavours. Mr M and I were rather pleased with our efforts, producing a spicy (obviously all the chillies were chucked in, no messing around here) yet sweet and ever-so-slightly coconutty curry. The only downside to learning in a group is that by the time we’d waited for Du to check our efforts, it had been cooking for slightly too long so we ended up with a rather tough, but tasty, beef Panang curry. At least we know why, so we can easily prevent that happening in the future.
After another little sojourn to the table with our fellow diners-cum-chefs, where we snaffled our curry accompanied by helpfully supplied rice, we moved on to dessert – Thai coconut pancakes. I’ve never had these before so, despite being full, was intrigued to try them. Plus, Mr M’s previous attempts at pancakes at home have always been disasters, so I was hoping to get one over on him finally!
We mixed plain flour with coconut milk, adding an egg, then mixed in palm sugar that had been melted into a liquid with hot water. I could probably have drunk a bucket of this stuff on its own as pudding, it was that heavenly sweet and sickly. As well as a pinch of salt, we mixed in desiccated coconut to form a nice thick batter. Then it was a case of cooking them. Unfortunately, after one false start Mr M proved to be a dab hand at this, producing beautifully golden, evenly cooked pancakes.
They come out quite thick, more like American or scotch pancakes than traditional English pancakes or crepes. And man, were they good! The coconut gave a slightly crunchy texture to the sweet, thick pancakes. My newfound love of palm sugar was satisfied with a generous drizzle on top, and some vanilla bean ice cream. It made for a delicious dessert, despite our waistbands straining after “testing” several pancakes between us while we were cooking them. Luckily for us, any leftovers were packed up for us in takeaway containers to take home, along with our goodie bag and our aprons.
We finished the night stuffed, both with food and plenty of new cooking tips. But the best part of the cooking school at Chaophraya was that as well as being informative, it was a lot of fun. Thanks to the atmosphere created by our teachers and the others in our group, we laughed our way through a fab evening. At times it seemed a tiny bit chaotic, but that actually made the atmosphere even better. After all, us average Joes aren’t training to be chefs, we just want to learn a bit about how to cook the things we like and have a good time. Which we certainly did.
I haven’t been for a meal at Chaophraya, but we definitely plan on going now. I heard nothing but rave reviews from my fellow ‘students’ who had been there. After all, if my efforts under their instruction turned out well, it must be pretty awesome without my amateur mitts getting in the way. And for something a little bit different, their cooking school is worth a try. At £60 a head, I don’t think it’s too unreasonable for what ended up being about three-and-a-half hours of fun, a three-course meal, some goodies, and plenty of laughs. Oh, and a 25% voucher for when we go back 😉
I was invited to try the culinary skills class at Chaophraya, Birmingham for free as part of my role as a guest blogger for Citylicious