Write a Thai cookbook for use in the Dutch school system – could it be done without sacrificing the balance of flavors and the use of fresh ingredients that makes Thai food so compelling? I thought I could do it and so agreed to help a team of Dutch chefs use my teaching kitchen as a laboratory for creating a cookbook to be used in the Dutch school system to teach students from ages 12 to 17 the basics of Thai cooking.
Peter, Tummy, Jaap and sous chefs Jeap and Jirapa celebrate their success
After six months of planning by email, we met in Thailand at my Thai cooking kitchen on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand.
I teamed up with expert Dutch chef and cooking writer Peter Schwank and his serene wife Elena along with their partners Jaap Van Duijvenbode and his vivacious wife Bella to try and translate the immense breadth of Thai cooking into 25 easy-to-follow recipes with photos to illustrate each step of the cooking process.
We spent three intense weeks pursuing our goal, with extensive debate, experimentation, trail by error cooking, filming and a lot of bad insider jokes as you get when you stand cheek and jowl with someone for three weeks. As their books are written in Dutch, I got a crash course in Dutch cooking terminology, too.
We braved rain, heat, mosquitoes, and dozens of trips to the fresh food market to get the right ingredients. They rigged up a lighting system to take photos of the elegant Elena serving as our “supermodel” to demonstrate how to cut and prepare each ingredient and the cooking steps. Each ingredient was carefully measured and the cooking time recorded so the recipes could be reproduced by students in a classroom.
Chef Tummy enters the market to hunt for fresh ingredients
The book outlines what ingredients and cooking implements are needed for each dish to make the cooking process simple and fear-free. The resulting recipes are flavorful and custom-designed so Dutch school systems can get the ingredients and help the students make Thai food that is authentic.
In addition to traditional Thai curry dishes using coconut milk, we added some delicious but less known dishes such as Northern Thai naam phrik ong (a pork and tomato dip) and the ancient dish of shrimp stirfried in a paste of garlic, peppercorns and coriander.
We had to balance authenticity with the availability of Asian ingredients in Holland and temper the traditional fire of Thai food for palates that favor savoury and sweet tastes. Some of the common ingredients in Thai cooking such as fresh lemongrass and galangal are in limited supply or available only in dried forms in Holland, so we had to adjust and adapt the recipes.
Ingredients common in a Thai market can be hard to find in Europe, sad to say
But in the end, it was mission accomplished.
I learned so much from these professionals about cookbook writing that my head is spinning, but their vast experience in making other cookbooks made the process easy.
This Dutch team has many other publications and shared lots of ideas on how I could better write, teach and publish about Thai food. I sincerely thank Peter, Jaap, Elena and Bella for their great spirit, professionalism and many great meals and jokes. You can see their website at www.werkportfolio.nl. I’ll look forward with pride to seeing the book when it is published later in the year.