Come Play with Your Food at Tai Tai Fon Cooking Class／泰泰風 廚藝教室
Come Play with Your Food at Tai Tai Fon Cooking Class
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
Thai food has become more popular in recent years, and as more and more Thai restaurants have opened, they have been welcomed by a receptive crowd of patrons. As interest in Thai food grows, Thai cooking classes have popped up. Tai Tai Fon is one of the most popular Thai cooking classes in Kaohsiung, even though there has been no advertising. Growth has resulted entirely from word-of-mouth. People love the energetic atmosphere in Tai Tai Fon's classes, as well as the way they can make new friends while cooking up fine meals at a leisurely pace. Students learn Thai culture while tasting their favorite Thai foods.
Ms. Cai Siou-lan is the owner/chef/instructor at Tai Tai Fon, but students call her by the endearing nickname "Teacher Laura." When asked why she became an expert in Thai cooking, Laura replies with a laugh: "Because I can't say I am good at cooking Taiwanese food when there is already Chef Ah-Chi."
Tai Tai Fon's classroom has minimal decoration, and the white color scheme creates a sense of fashionable simplicity. Around the white cooking station sit Laura's students, their ages anywhere between 30 and 50. Some of them have come before, shared the dishes they learned with their relatives, and received enthusiastic feedback. This sense of accomplishment inspires them to return and learn more.
"Actually, I cook Thai food to make friends," says Laura. Thirty years ago, she moved to Thailand for business, and lived there for ten years. After she moved back to Taiwan, she began to make Thai food for potlucks, and her food became very popular among her friends. They convinced her to begin teaching, and one thing lead to another. She expanded her cooking class from friends' kitchens to churches, to community centers, and even to local farmers' associations. After a while, Laura's business sense kicked in, and she realized there was an untapped market. She went to Thailand and received one-month of intensive training in the Third Generation Royal Cooking Career Training Center, and then, in 2011, she opened "Tai Tai Fon Cooking Class" to share her knowledge of Thai cooking in a language of her own. Since then, the enticing aromas of her Thai meals have reached ever further.
Laura gives four classes each month, each class lasting three hours. During those three hours, Laura typically offers two tasting dishes and then teaches two dishes via step-by-step demonstrations and offering some hands-on experience. The class starts with an introduction to cooking ingredients. Laura puts herbs and spices in small dishes and lays them out on the table, encouraging the students to touch and smell them. As they taste the food Laura makes, they are able to observe and establish their own unique associations between the dishes and the ingredients. Laura uses projectors and printouts while teaching, so students can learn the processes step by step. Regardless of their previous cooking experience, everyone who attends should be able to add a signature Thai dish to their culinary repertoire.
Laura points out that it is important to respect the unique flavoring elements in ethnic cooking. For Thai food, that means using lemongrass, turmeric, lime leaves, cilantro roots and finger ginger to create the unique fragrance which distinguishes the food's Thai origins. She believes it is important to first have a good handle on authentic Thai flavors before adding personal touches. With that in mind, she supports the idea of making minor adjustments to recipes so Thai cuisine becomes more approachable for Taiwanese palates, and thinks this opens more possibilities for Thai cooking.
Laura's teaching style has been warmly received by her students, and it touches her in an unexpected way. She says she never expected the great respect she would receive by being a teacher, and that makes her want to become a better teacher. She flies to Thailand twice each year to sample new flavors, dining at high-end restaurants and roadside food stands alike to pick up nuances in the ever-evolving art of Thai cooking. By doing so, she is able to add new elements to her cooking classes, making them better and better.
「做泰國菜只為結交朋友！」Laura 如此說。30年前Laura因為經商關係，居住泰國10年之久，回台後每當聚會場合端出泰國菜，總為她贏得滿堂彩，朋友央求她開班授課，她欣然答應，有如水到渠成般，教學對象從朋友聚會擴展至教會、社區乃至於農會，Laura觀察泰式料理在台廣受歡迎，興起把泰式料理的功夫當成一番事業，於是重回泰國 ，在皇家藝廚第三代職訓機構密集受訓一個月，2011年，Laura以自己獨創的教學語彙在「泰泰風」廚藝教室傳承美味，因為分享，香味飄得更遠。