Near the giant Jungceylon shopping complex on Rat-U-Thit Rd, Patong, Pum’s Cooking School is in a bright orange-coloured shop-house, and also operates as a bar and restaurant. It has an open space on one side which is used as a dining area and a small open bar at one end.
The kitchen is big and open, and occupies much of the restaurant. This is where students do the actual cooking after learning all the techniques from the teacher. At Pum’s Cooking School there is no hiding in a closed kitchen.
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Who is Pum?
Pum, or Yardfon Booranapim to give her her full name, started cooking when she was a young girl. Her first teacher was her grandmother.
She later added her own personal touches in food-making, using influences from the many countries in which she has lived or which she has visited.
Her motto is: ‘Keep it simple, use natural ingredients and create beauty.” She runs two cookery schools; the one in Patong and another on Phi Phi Island.
There are four teachers at the Patong school including Pum herself. The teacher I got was Pui, a lovely Thai lady who has been working with Pum for five of the six years the school has been open.
Pui is a very good cook and knows how to make cooking easy for everyone, especially for people like me who have no experience. Khun Pui said her students are a mixed bunch. Some are professional chefs, but most are simply lovers of good food.
The youngest was just eight years old. The three most popular dishes among students are Phad Thai (Thai fried noodles), Gaeng kiew wan (green curry) and Tom yum (hot and sour soup).
Pum’s Cooking School and restaurant is open daily from 10:00 to 23:00 and there are four lengths of cookery class: 90 minutes, four hours, five hours and six hours-plus. Mine started at 11:00 and ended at about 15:00.
Also in my class was an Australian lady, a flight attendant called Carla. She travels a lot and has tasted a lot of different cuisines but Thai is one of her favorites. Although she knows Thai food well, she has never cooked it. Her goal was to be able to cook Thai meals for her family.
Pui asked us to choose two dishes each from a small cookbook that she hands to students when the class begins. I picked chicken with cashew nuts and noodle soup with chicken. Carla’s choices were fried meat in sweet-and-sour sauce, and Andaman fried rice.
Thai Herbs, Spices and Sauces
We started off with getting to know Thai vegetables, herbs, spice, sauces and the miscellaneous ingredients that are used in everyday cooking. Pui let us taste and smell each of them – lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, fish sauce, light soy and dark soy sauce and oyster sauce (which she nicknamed ‘sexy sauce’).
She tries to help students to associate these ingredients with similar ingredients they may have in their home countries so that they can use the “home” ingredients as substitutes. That said, most of the ingredients mentioned above can be bought easily enough from Thai or Asian shops in most countries.
Pum’s Way is a Fun Way
They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and this was definitely the case in Pum’s school. After getting to know all ingredients, we started to cook our first dish, and then we sat down to eat it.
As we did so, we shared ideas and opinions about the taste and the cooking methods. Then we did the next dishes and sat down again to eat those. Before we knew it, we’d eaten them all. We had made our own Thai food and, much to my surprise at least, it was all thoroughly delicious.
Here are a few tips from the class:
• All vegetables should be cut into cubes. This makes them look good, and turns them into bite-sized morsels.
• For some vegetables such as tomato and cucumber, the seeds should be taken out before they are used. Tomato is used a lot in Thai stir-fry and soup while cucumber is used a lot in salads. This advice has no effect on taste, but it makes the dish look more attractive.
• Meats such as chicken and beef should be ‘massaged’ when stir-frying. Use a spatula to put pressure on the meat, then turn it over and do the same, repeatedly, until the meat is cooked (which takes very little time). This technique will speed up the cooking. However, don’t use this technique with shrimp or fish or any other meat that has a soft texture. I noticed that at Pum’s cooking class you don’t hear any of the banging and crashing that you hear in so many Thai kitchens. Some Thai cooks bang their spatula against the wok when they are cooking fast, perhaps as a way of bringing rhythm to the process or maybe because they believe it helps to mix the ingredients well. But in Pum’s cooking classes the only noise you will hear is laughter and discussion.
Pum’s Cook Books
I was so impressed with the class that I went home with a cookery book called Pum’s Lazy Cuisine. It has all the Thai favourites from starters and soups to main courses.
It will remind me that anyone can cook if cooking is made as simple and fun as it was for me at Pum’s Cooking School. Note: Pum has published one more book, about Asian dishes.
But, as a beginner, for the moment I’m sticking with one cuisine: Thai.