I know Georgia will like the Thai cooking class. She’s a gifted cook, intuitive about flavor combinations, enthusiastic about putting food before family and friends. She’s also able to taste a dish and identify the separate ingredients, which is practically a superpower. Personally, I’m an uninspired cook. I’ve got a few recipes I pull out when something special is required, but for the most part, dinner’s fifteen minutes from stove to table; and in another fifteen minutes it’s gone.
A young man meets Resi, Georgia, and me in front of our hotel on Khaosan Road. His name is Tuk (rhymes with book). He leads us across the street, around the corner, and into the cooking school, where he introduces us to our classmates, who are seated around a table, waiting to get started. Much is made of where everyone is from: Martin is Hungarian; Evie, his girlfriend, is German and, as it turns out, is suffering a foul reaction to something she’s eaten and must race to the restroom every five minutes. Poor Girl. Two from Switzerland; he’s named Fabio, and she’s named Fabien. Georgia asks if they’re twins and they laugh and share a look. Apparently not. An Israeli couple and their daughter arrive last. Their names are given—foreign-sounding, difficult to pronounce, pointless to remember.
Tuk, it turns out, is the chef who will be explaining the foods and guiding us through the recipes. He pays special tribute to his assistants, two quiet women who smile and duck their heads. I’m relieved that he’s considerate toward them. In the last cooking demonstration I attended, the chef berated her assistant until she made him cry. I’ve never seen anyone so brazenly, proudly sadistic. So Tuk’s kindness is a relief.
We’re assigned partners. Resi and I are together. Georgia is paired with the Israeli woman who speaks no English, which makes her no use at all. She can’t read the recipes, she doesn’t understand the instructions, she can’t communicate with her fellow chef-in-training. Georgia’s happy to do it all. She adds and stirs, asks Tuk questions, and hands the woman her share of the food at the completion of each dish. Resi and I, both of us pragmatic cooks, hum happily along, taking turns adding ingredients and stirring. The ingredients aren’t things that are found in either of our pantries—kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemon grass, coconut milk, roasted rice powder.
Here’s a list of what we make and eat: pumpkin hummus, chili paste (this is a spicy staple used in many dishes), tom yam soup, pad Thai, fried vegetables with ginger and cashew nuts, green papaya salad, peanut sauce, spring rolls, Massaman curry, mango with sticky rice.
In addition to doing all the work at her wok, Georgia runs around with her camera. She gets pictures of Resi and me, our teacher and his assistants, the two couples, and the food. She takes a picture of the Israeli daughter and offers to send it to the girl’s father if he wants to give her his email address, to which he replies, I’m assuming more loudly than he intended, that he prefers never to give out that information, an odd and almost belligerent reaction that draws notice from the whole group, making things weird for several minutes.
This is a lot of food. Too much. We’ve consumed to the point of pain. And there’s still the desert to get through. Realizing that we’re all stuffed, Tuk’s solution is for us to get up and dance to make room for more. Forming us into a circle around the room, he shows us the hand and arm motions to a Thai folk dance, then gets us moving around and clapping. Surprisingly, five minutes of this renders us more comfortable, able to stuff in a few more bites. I’m fond of neither rice nor mango. While others proclaim it the best concoction ever, I take my polite two bites, and move it to the side.
At the end of our cooking day Georgia’s still enthusiastic. She’s got plans for the new recipes. She buys the shredders and slicers that’re available for purchase at the front counter. She’ll cook for her friends back in Utah. When I ask Resi if she’s ever going to actually go to the trouble to follow the involved recipes and set a Thai meal in front of her family, she tells me that she’ll probably use some of the spices and implement some of the methods she’s learned—which I take to mean probably not. Will David ever get to taste pad Thai in his own home prepared for him by his wife? Wouldn’t hold my breath.