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Foodie Trails - Thai Cookery

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Published April 19th 2019
Hands down the best hands on cookery experience around
J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

While we can all pick up a few cookery skills by watching YouTube videos or cookery shows, there is nothing quite like learning in the physical presence of a really great cook.

Someone who can guide our hands in the process of the fundamentals from slicing and seasoning to searing and stirring.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

These talented individuals often supply the missing links in our culinary education. They can turn us from pedestrian home cooks to someone who can now create memorable family meals or even better still create dinner parties for guests that have a wow factor.

That is one of the reasons I really enjoy Foodie Trails cookery classes. They aren't taken by celebrity chefs who are often out of our league. Instead, they are fun, casual and informative classes taken by home cooks (though some of them may now work in the industry). These presenters pass down the tips their mothers and grandmothers taught them.

And they offer culinary tips from other cultures that depending on our own background you may never have been privy to before. There are classes in Sri Lankan, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Indian cookery.

I did an Indian cookery class some years ago with Foodie Trails and have religiously kept my Indian spice box (masala dabba) that I immediately went out and bought afterwards to add a sprinkle of this or that to my dishes ever since.

So I was delighted when I was invited along to their Thai cookery class. The class was lead by Jack and Tracey Aing of J &T Thai Catering.

This delightfully fun couple have owned various Thai restaurants over the years, turning each into successful businesses. Today they run a Thai home catering business as well as presenting great cookery classes for Foodie Trails.

Tracey did most of the demonstrating but Jack helped host the event with his plentiful smiles, general helpfulness and gems of wisdom.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

The small group event was held at a restaurant kitchen in Bentleigh. Foodie Trail classes are always a manageable size, so they can be so hands on.

After a welcoming drink and an introductory chat, we went backstage to the kitchen where all the ingredients had been carefully laid out for us.

We were making three dishes and everything would be hands-on rather than standing back and watching Tracey do all the work.

The dishes on this occasion (they change depending on the group) were Pad kee mao (stir-fried flat rice noodles with chicken, basil and chilli), Thai fried rice with kana and egg, and an interesting traditional dessert of pumpkin in coconut cream with palm sugar.

We all had individualised chopping boards and Tracey showed us exactly how to chop up the chicken, Chinese broccoli (kailan) and other seasonal vegetables.

As I was trying to take photos, I was concentrating less on the process than I should have been.

But the great thing was that Tracey came around to each of us and for those who hadn't quite got it like yours truly, she literally held our hands while we improved our chopping skills.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

"It is about finding the line and cutting on a sharp bias," she told me as we somehow managed to sheer the chicken so thin, you could almost see through it.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

Again, there was an art to the chopping the Chinese broccoli which had to be sliced in half first along the spine and then into 1cm strips, with the thicker part cut very carefully on an angle.

We seemed to cut up a mountain of broccoli but I noticed how it quickly disappeared into the dishes. Thai food is a great way of secreting vegetables into your family's diet.

And learning how to cut everything properly means the difference between seeing kitchen work as a chore and food preparation becoming a joy.

Tracey used a mortar and pestle to grind the chilli and garlic into a paste. She made this process look effortless and I got whiff of the chilli from across the table.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

"The mortar and pestle are essential tools in Thai cooking for crushing fibres and release flavours," she said.

But in the fried rice, Tracey told us to always use garlic powder for an even flavour.

We all got a chance at stirring the dishes on the stove and I noticed Tracey did a lot of moving the pan off the direct heat and letting the flavours meld and settle.

The chicken was carefully kept separate as there was a vegetarian in our group.

At home when I cook any kind Asian food my stovetop becomes strewn with vegetable bits. As does my floor, to be honest. But Tracey showed us all how to use a two-spoon method that kept everything contained even though the wok was overflowing with heaps of last-minute additions such as a pile of Thai holy basil leaves.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

We were soon all experts at moving food around a wok.

We learnt that dark soya sauce offers colour rather than flavour. That rice for fried rice should always be cooked at least the day before or you end up with glug and how the eggs should be cooked first for fried rice rather than added later.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

And how to manoeuvre noodles in a pan gently, so you don't end up breaking them apart.

The pumpkin dessert (Kaeng Buat Fak Thong) was easy to make but a revelation. Tracey instructed us to leave a few patches of the skin on the pumpkin as we chopped it up into acceptable sized pieces. A few bits she needed to rechop, I think they were mine, but I was there to learn.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

The pumpkin cooked within minutes. In a separate pan, she heated a pot of coconut milk, a very small amount of palm sugar and a pinch of salt. Then the cooked pumpkin and sweet liquid were combined.

The result was a refreshingly original and comforting home-style dessert.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

With the cooking completed, we sat down to enjoy the vegetables of our labour. Tracey had been careful to season to our taste buds getting us to try each dish before adding more seasonings as required. Some like it hot, as they say. Others do not.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt

There was a side plate with slices of cucumber and wedges of lemon to squeeze onto our dishes. These accompaniments made the dishes taste even more amazing.

Thai food cooked correctly is a harmonious blend of the spicy, the subtle, the sweet and sour, and is equally satisfying to the eye, nose and palate.

Jack came into his own taking photos of the group and telling us all about the health benefits of Thai food.

Apparently the abundant use of fresh herbs such as mint, Thai basil and coriander all helping with cholesterol and blood sugar.

There is also something wonderful about dining out with other people who also enjoy food and cooking. It was a lovely discussion over dinner. As Julia Child said: "People who love to eat are always the best people."

Foodie Trail cookery classes are good value if you consider you are not only getting individualised attention, but copies of the recipes and also a three-course sit down meal.

Now all I have to do is replicate this meal at home for my family. Not sure how I will go without Tracey holding my chopping hand but I now feel a lot more confident about giving Thai cooking a go. And that's the main thing.

J & T Thai Catering, Foodie Trails Cookery Classes
Photo by Jack Aing

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Why? Learn to cook Thai food
When: Various dates Class Duration. The course is 3 hours in duration.
Phone: 1800 667 791
Where: 353 Centre Road, Bentleigh
Cost: From $100 - $125
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