Asian Inspiration Cooking by Shelley Coplen

My love affair with Thai food started a few years ago on a trip to Thailand. My partner and I ate a la carte in the restaurants and a la Thai on the streets and in the many Thai cafes. We tried a wealth of different dishes, with a variety of flavours, strengths and many variations of the same.
Over the years we have tried to replicate our experiences with trips to the various restaurants in the area. I have also given home cooking a bit of a go in the form of prepared pastes and tinned coconut milk. All very edible and enjoyable but nothing has really taken us back to those first inspirational moments in Thailand.
Now as a busy mum, restaurant outings are less and less and the possibility of an imminent trip to Thailand a slimmer possibility. So home cooking seems the way forward. A good friend has just had cooking lessons in Thailand and she raved about the experience. So I thought that sounds a bit of fun, I’ll give it a go.
When looking for a good Thai cookery teacher one would usually think a chef from Thailand would be the obvious choice.
Apparently not so, when I put my feelers out I was informed that the best Thai cook about is French.
A strange combination one might think, but apparently Nathalie is queen cook of all things spice.
I had actually met Nathalie several years ago, our children also now go to the same school, so tracking her down was remarkably easy for me. We met up at a mummies lunch and a cookery date was made. I took my sister as back up and Nathalie said it was ok for me to bring my youngest son. A true sign that her classes are made to measure.
Nathalie hosts her cookery lessons at her home in Sol de Mallorca. She can also do the workshops in the comfort of your home.
She welcomes small groups into her bright home and the set up is remarkably good. Tempting you to get started is the fully laid table in the sunshine, complete with wine glasses to toast a job well done…well that’s the plan.
Nathalie has set us apprentices up on the breakfast bar facing the kitchen with all our necessary utensils, plus some beautifully prepared recipe cards that are yours to make notes on and take home for when the time is right to replicate what you have learnt and woo your family and friends with your new skills.

Whilst we are waiting for everyone to arrive I quiz Nathalie on just how she became a Thai chef supreme.
She tells a story of being an inquisitive traveller. Naturally interested in Asian cooking and eating as she says! She and her husband spent some time travelling Asia and lived in Thailand where she took interest in the techniques, colours and spices that she found in the different provinces she visited. Citing street market food stalls as her biggest influence and where she personally enjoyed eating the most. The fusion of the spices and people being a big part of the atmosphere and enjoyment of the food as a social experience being a big part of what she wants her students to feel in her workshops.

I have noticed that her home is littered with various cook books and I quiz her on whether she uses these when preparing her menus. Surprisingly she says that yes she does still use a cook book on occasion but all of her recipes are what she considers to be improvements on recipes she had tried and collected over the years. She says she cooks things and tries to make them better, the best they can be and the recipes she is teaching us today are just that, traditional recipes made better in her opinion to try and give the diner a truly authentic Thai experience.
Already I am intrigued, and the food stuffs laid out on the counter plus the spices and oils in pride of place in the kitchen have me ready to get stuck in.

Our group is now complete and we are ready to go.
Before Nathalie can even get started we are bombarding her with questions. Many of the ingredients are literally foreign looking to us and we want to know everything about them, not least of all being where to buy them, seeing as we do live in what can be at times a limiting island with no Tesco in town.
Nathalie is very patient and tells us all her trade secrets, outlining back streets in Palma that I can only imagine and patiently giving us directions, street names and parking tips. She then makes us touch, smell, handle, chop and crush the ingredients making sure that we can tell the difference between ginger and galangal, roots and stems and showing us some pretty nifty gadgets to get our chopping just right. What strikes me most is the fact that Nathalie has designed the courses for women just like me. She knows the limits of just what a mum has time for, there are the options for if you have time for the fish market but she also has the perfect solution for the frozen fish counter at the local supermarket. She knows that a foray to Palma for lemongrass will be fun the first time but a chore when combining it with the school run so has alternative ideas, she even sells little packs of the rarer herbs to get you on your way and to ease the initial expenses.
She has thought it all through to make the lessons really fun but the food something you will actually make again. The recipe cards are well written and I actually feel like I might stand half a chance of getting it right when I try it again.
She has hot tips that I’ll be using in my kitchen not just for Thai food and she steers the class in the direction that the students seem to take it with the questions they ask making it a very personal experience.
The fact that we are involved in the cooking every step of the way goes a long way to making everyone feel confident that we know what we are doing in a way that simply following a recipe cannot.
Half way through the class and the mouth watering aroma in the kitchen is almost too much to bear. The walls literally shake from the shout of “me” when a taster is required.
As we are nearing the finish, Nathalie speaks to us about presentation and how to make our dishes look restaurant quality when we serve them, by now we just want her to fill our plates!
The wine is poured and we finally toast ourselves a job well done and a class enjoyed.

Nathalie invites us to sit and she brings us our first course and the feast begins.
My mouth is on fire! Yet I want to eat more, Nathalie knows just how to make the dish to your own personal spice level and there are cunning tricks to diminish the spice level if you find a dish a little on the hot side.

We try everything we have cooked, all made with the homemade Red Thai Curry Paste that we did. Tom Kha Gai,(Coconut, chicken and galangal soup), Red Thai fish cakes, Phad Thai Gai and King Prawns in Thai Red curry sauce. We eat until we can eat no more and then Nathalie produces a desert! Well it would be rude not to and we have the recipe card for that too, a traditional Thai mango sorbet.

Whilst we nurse our now full bellies and enjoy a second glass of wine, Nathalie talks to us about her other courses. She runs an alternative Thai menu to the one we have cooked, a Sushi & Tempura workshop and also an Indian food workshop. These can also be tailored to suit individual needs, so a vegetarian option for example is completely possible. All workshops cost €35, this includes all the ingredients, recipe cards and of course the actual cooking, plus you get to eat a scrumptious lunch with wine and take home portions to share…or not!!

Nathalie is also really excited about her biggest venture which is a full catering and takeaway Thai menu. She has prepared fabulous menus that she can either cook at your home or prepare ready for you to collect to host your own stress free dinner parties. Nathalie is able to arrange everything for your evening down to the waitress service of the food if that’s what you’d like, or be sneaky and tell all those guests you whipped it up yourself!! Whatever you decide the Asian Catering Experience will guarantee you a fabulous mouth watering evening all in the comfort of your own home.

To get further information on any of the workshops or the catering packages and Take away menu see the Asian Inspiration Cooking website, Facebook page or contact Nathalie direct on 691 995 888 or 971 131 445

by Shelley Ann Coplen

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