I teased you last week with a glimpse into my Tuesday-night classes with Thai cooking maven Kasma Loha-unchit. This most-recent set of classes was the fourth 4-week series I’ve attended; I started with the beginning series nearly 10 years ago, followed up with the intermediate course a few years later, and then — after travelling with Kasma through central and northern Thailand in January 2006 — picked up again with the advanced series last spring.
In the beginning series, you master popular curries, simple stir-fries, spicy soups and salads, and authentic (ketchup-free!) pad thai noodles. Even if you think you know a lot about Thai food, you’re sure to learn a lot: You’ll taste-test multiple brands of coconut milk, learn about the best places to buy ingredients, hear the lowdown on the top brands, and get plenty of practice balancing sweet, salty, sour, and hot flavors under Kasma’s watchful eye.
Intermediate classes move on to more labor-intensive preparations, and a larger assortment of ingredients. By the time you reach this level, you’ll have a thorough understanding of flavors and techniques — pounding curry pastes, balancing flavors, frying ingredients in coconut cream — that will put you in good stead for the advanced courses. A total of six advanced series walk students through regional specialties, intricate preparations, and adventurous foodstuffs. Many students work their way through the entire curriculum and then start again — it’s just that much fun to cook alongside other students who are experienced and passionate about Thai food.
The real joy of learning to cook Thai with Kasma is that she makes Thai cooking accessible without dumbing it down. I hope you won’t think I’m immodest when I say that — even after just the basic courses — I could make Thai food better than what we find at local restaurants. The setup of Kasma’s classes allows for plenty of hands-on work, and lots of time to talk, taste, and learn. Each session starts with a snack while Kasma explains the four to six dishes of the day. Students team up for prep, then gather round as each dish is completed. When the cooking is done, you sit down with Kasma and her charming husband Michael to enjoy the feast you’ve prepared. I promise: You won’t leave hungry.
Kasma also sells specialized tools and hard-to-find items to her students. Years ago, when I first took the beginning series, her dining-room table was one of the few places to find Thai coffee filters and decent papaya graters. Her offerings have blossomed into a veritable general store of favorite brands and equipment, a useful one-stop-shop when stocking your Asian pantry. Students can also buy from a dwindling stock of Kasma’s award-winning (but out-of-print) cookbooks — Dancing Shrimp and It Rains Fishes — at their original retail price … a big savings over the $40-plus prices you’ll see on Amazon for used copies.
And speaking of bargains: You won’t find a better deal on cooking classes anywhere. Each four-class series costs $160 — just $40 per class, less than you’d probably spend for dinner at your favorite Thai restaurant. Kasma’s house is located close to Oakland’s MacArthur BART station (a quick bus ride or a leisurely half-hour stroll gets you the rest of the way there), making it easy for visitors and bridge-averse City-dwellers to attend. If you live outside the Bay Area, you’re not completely out of luck: Kasma offers week-long intensive sessions each summer for a stunning price: $550. You spend five full days covering territory similar to the beginning and intermediate series, or an assortment of advanced recipes in the later intensives.
Now that I have you salivating, let me disappoint you: You’ll have to be patient. All of Kasma’s classes, especially the beginning series, are perennially booked — and the mention she got in this month’s San Francisco Magazine (alongside Shuna Lydon and June Taylor, among others) will only make matters worse. To finagle a spot, join Kasma’s announcement-only Yahoo group, and be the first to hear about next spring’s offerings.
The Art of Thai Cooking
near Piedmont and Grand Avenues