Khun Kasma has taught Thai cooking for over 25 years and written 2 popular cookbooks, It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions, and the Joys of Thai Cooking and Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood. Her cooking school, which she operates with her husband, Michael, is located in their house in Oakland, California. I had the opportunity to visit Khun Kasma's advanced class, which revealed why teaching style matters. In this class students cook, learn and laugh together.
The Format of the Advanced Class
After the meet and greet and a snack, the class settled down at a kitchen table discussing menu for the evening. An appetizer, two main courses, one soup and a dessert were to be put on the table. Khun Kasma went over the recipes in details, describing what needed to be done and sprinkling Thai food history in between.
As soon as the last recipe was discussed, students started to put their chairs away. Everybody got really busy, pulling thing out of cabinets, pots, pans and bowls, like it was their own house. Each team of 2-3 people worked from their notes and recipes, discussing and solving problems. After several weeks of cooking beginning and intermediate, advanced class students had become good friends and knew each other really well.
The sight, sound and fragrances perfuming Khun Kasma’s kitchen that night was reminiscent of a family reunion. From the unmistakable scents of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and chili pepper, I knew the class was preparing Thai food from scratch. You could hear someone pounding a paste for a stir fry in Kasma's grandmother's mortar. Several conversations were going on at once. Sometimes, everybody joined in and burst into a laughter before going back to their own task. Khun Kasma’s merchandise, like hill tribe garbs, were quickly worn for a fashion show by some students. Michael joined in to show them how they looked on a tall mirror.
The Uniqueness of the Teaching Style
These classes are designed for thorough learning through hands-on experience and wrapped up with students sharing with the class what they learned. After the initial instructions, the students are effectively on their own, debating and deciding what to do. Khun Kasma walks around checking on each team, giving advice and answering questions. Then, at the end, once the meal is all prepared, the learning is reinforced informally because each team tells the others what it did and learned. ‘You need to put the bread on its side to drain out the oil like this.’ paraphrasing what Khun Kasma said by a student in charge of frying the appetizer.’ ‘When you are frying, put the shrimp side down first’, another offered. Unless you truly understand it, you won’t be able to explain to others.
The appetizer for the night, fried shrimp on bread served with plum sauce, was as good, if not better than what I’ve had before. Everyone cleared the appetizer, set the table, sat down and enjoyed the meal together. After the dessert put out the fire in our mouths, students cleared the table and put dishes in the dishwasher and cleaned the pots and pans
Khun Kasma offers two types of classes; 1 week-long intensive and one evening per week over 4 weeks. The classes are grouped into 3 categories, beginning, intermediate and advance. The beginning classes have more demonstrations and some hands on while the advanced classes, students were cooking on their own with Khun Kasma's oversight.
The Take Home
Khun Kasma’s class is unique in the way it is conducted, providing the opportunity for students to learn to cook on their own, just like they will at home. The good result was evident in their ability and knowledge in preparing authentic Thai food. Many students claimed they wouldn’t be able to eat at Thai restaurants again. I agreed with them. What they’d learned that night and prior was making delicious, authentic Thai food that rivaled any Thai restaurants in the US.
Thai Cooking Class: Kasma Loha-unchitLocation: Oakland, California 94620Phone: 510-655-8900Early reservation is highly recommended. Classes are booked well in advance.