I once took a fish course in the Lake District. It was taught by an estranged protege of Gordon Ramsay. Aside from the disparaging remarks about Gordon (his own kitchen nightmare), it was a course that squeezed skinning, filleting and scaling into a single morning in a way that left you reeling and terrified. A cookery school for holidaymakers and boasters: “darling, I removed the pin bones of this little beauty in a single move”. Educational, especially if you want a career at Le Gavroche, but not really for the everyday cook.
I’m excited by chefs that actually make food accessible. Experiences, TV programmes and cookery books that include and don’t alienate you. Food should be an engaging thing – from preparing to sharing and enjoying it. So I jumped at the chance to try the House of Thai cookery course at Corner Kitchen, which promised from the very outset to be a truly ‘hands-on’ experience.
Looking out onto quiet New Street in Sheung Wan, Corner Kitchen is made up of two rather cosy (and by this I mean intimate, rather than estate agent speak for tiny) spaces with homely and rustic decor. Charming plates line the walls and the table which is surrounded by colourful chairs. At the back is a state of the art working (and teaching) kitchen, with one in each of the two rooms. The kitchens open onto a tiny connecting terrace, a breakout space for the staff and essential ventilation for the novice cooks.
Since they moved into this much larger premises, Corner Kitchen now has the space to host more scheduled cookery classes, as well as cookery parties and private dining. Our Thai-inspired class was in the smaller of the two rooms, and next door we could hear the hum (laughter, sugar and fizz) of a pastel-themed baby shower. Almost immediately, I knew that this was an entirely different proposition to my showy fish course.
Our teacher for the day, Chi, welcomed us with her side-kick and sous chef, Bruce. She offered us soft drinks and gave us aprons whilst she attempted to memorise our names. Not a bad effort given that we were seven strangers. Two sets of friends, a sweet couple on what I assumed was a first date that we had all gatecrashed (in the nicest possible way), and a Sassy blogger, me. At this point Chi brought over some canapés to warm up our taste buds and the added bonus of a plate of freshly made donuts from the baby shower next door. A cinnamon and sugar coated welcome, it was shaping up to be a pretty good Saturday afternoon…
The Corner Kitchen concept is hands-on throughout. Chi guides you through each and every course. Everybody has a go making the dishes, learning about (and tasting) the herbs and ingredients along the way, and getting their hands dirty. There’s nothing like a few tears whilst finely chopping shallots to break the ice among strangers.
We started off with Pad Kaphrao Gai, or stir fried chicken with Thai Holy Basil. We moved onto a Thai institution Pad Thai – which was done in such a light, fresh way it shamed the yellowy-orange MSG-packed Pad Thais we’ve become used to.
This was served alongside a Thai Beef Salad with gluten-free thread noodles. We finished with a coconut Thai Sticky Rice with ripe, juicy mangoes.
The smell of fish sauce, soy, fresh basil (two types), coconut milk, freshly-grilled steak, and oil warming in incredibly hot pans is a heady, delectable mix and enough to draw in a crowd from Hollywood Road. The flavours and variety of fresh ingredients that go into Thai food are unbeatable. For the first time, I felt pretty confident about being able to replicate some of these dishes at home. Forget the shop-bought curry pastes, pass me a pestle and mortar!
Chi gave us some great tips on where to buy the ingredients and what to look for and to avoid at the supermarkets and wet markets. She was entertaining, amusing and efficiently guided us through the menu, and we all managed to keep pace with her instructions. Daunted enthusiasts at the beginning turned into pretty confident cooks by the end of this Thai cooking class!
Between each course we sat down to eat and chat about our efforts and ourselves. They have worked hard to create a very relaxed atmosphere and a place to meet interesting new people. And it’s something I won’t hesitate to recommend, and have been ever since. There was plenty of food to go around, so my advice would be to skip lunch and go hungry. There was even enough to take a box or two home afterwards! Inclusive, welcoming, and insightful. You learn some dishes you might actually make again. I would rather this experience any day to some cookery introductions, and yes darling, I did single-handedly prep and wok-fry the Pad Kaphrao Gai, don’t you know.
Corner Kitchen, GF, 21 New Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, 2803 282, www.corner-kitchen.com