One of the goals that Bordeaux and I set for this trip was to take a cooking course in each country we visited. We waited until we got to Chiang Mai to take a class, as Chiang Mai has a large number of different courses. We looked at a few programs, but were torn between May Kaidee's vegetarian classes, and the course offered from the Thai Farm Cooking School. We at last settled on the Thai Farm Cooking School, which offered a full day course at a small organic farm 40 minutes outside of Chiang Mai.Our day started at the market, where our teacher lectured us on the differences between several kinds of rice, and on the different compositions and flavors of curry paste. We were able to wander around while she bought ingredients, and on the way to find iced coffee Bordeaux and I passed piles of chiles, stacks of fresh vegetables, and plastic tubs full of live frogs.After a bumpy drive through rice paddies crowded with ducks and cows, we reached the farm. Our first cooking lesson was a brief introduction to making rice. Our teacher would be preparing the jasmine rice for us in an electric rice cooker, and making the more distinctively Thai sticky rice in a bamboo steamer. We left the rice to cook, and walked out through the farm. As our teacher gathered a few fresh ingredients for us, she introduced us to some of the flavors we would be working with, like lemongrass, sweet basil, and lime.Back in the airy kitchen we set to work making several dishes. All of the recipes we prepared were standard Thai menu items, but it was still interesting learning how to make them. We first made curry paste (either green or red), which we then used to make our curry. Making the curry, I became familiar with each of the distinct flavors that meld together in the dish- from the bitter eggplant to the sharp flavor of kaffir lime leaves. We then stir-fried chicken and cashew nuts in oyster sauce, and made a fresh papaya salad. We took these outside to the deck, and had a huge lunch of all that we'd made. I wasn't particularly good at chopping or making curry paste, but despite that the dishes all came out well.
Following a short walk around the farm, we returned to the kitchen. We were taught to make phat thai, a fun process where several ingredients are quickly fried, separated, and combined all in the same wok. After watching her demonstration, we each returned to wok to make our own. After wrapping up our phat thai in banana leaf to-go-boxes, we made mangos with sticky rice, using delicious mangos grown on the farm. The experience of being out on the farm definitely added to the class. All of our ingredients were delicious and fresh, and the breezey kitchen offered a nice escape from the city. I don't know when Bordeaux and I will have our own kitchen again, but at least we'll have a few new dishes to try out when we do.