Located deep in the industrial recesses of the thriving Brewery Artists Lofts, Hipcooks teaches hands-on cooking classes to the cooking illiterate and hungry for dinner. The class began 10 years ago when Monika Reti's friend told her he wished he could cook the way she did: no recipes, no stress, making a meal out of almost nothing. Reti decided to share that philosophy, crafting at least 50 different classes on everything from paellas to cocktails to knife skills. Add booze and Otis Redding, and Reti had a cooking school drained of cooking school stodginess. Hipcooks has since expanded to West L.A., San Diego, Seattle and Portland, with 8 teachers in the L.A. locations alone.
Here in L.A., Hipcooks' most popular class is called Thai One On. We recently attended Thai Two On at the original Hipcooks East, a class consisting of a three-hour long dinner party and primer in Thai ingredients taught by chef Kyrsten Beidelman, manager of both L.A. locations. The ten attendees helped make dishes, including tom kha gai soup, Chiang Mai sausages, stir-fried pork over a glass noodle salad, Massaman curry, Thai sweet rice with mango and – as is customary in most Hipcooks classes and a possible reason for their popularity – two Thai-inspired cocktails.
Our group was made up of people with a wide range of culinary experience, from a guy who proudly stated, “I made a quesadilla last night!” to a gentleman who simply wafted curry to his nose and proclaimed expressionlessly that it needed more sugar. The group structure of the class was geared towards couples on a date night or a small group of friends. While you might pick up some cooking tips, the roundtable format and easy-going atmosphere was better suited to picking up new friends, or meeting like-minded couples.
Spice was a recurrent theme. “In European cooking, the five different tastes (salty, sweet, bitter, spicy and sour) are combined to create one harmonious flavor,” explained Beidelman. “Whereas, in Thai cooking, each flavor is supposed to hit separately, and strong.” Beidelman emphasized the importance of buying spices in their raw form, as essential oils degrade over time after they've been crushed or dehydrated.
Participants spent time hunched over a massive mortar and pestle, grinding away at explosively fragrant turmeric root and coriander seeds (a food processor or even your homely espresso grinder will also do the trick). The “salty” ingredient usually came in the form of fish sauce; the “sour” came in the form of limes; and the “sweet” came in the form of brown sugar. (Refer to the brown sugar as “Bangkok prison powder” to match the mystique of other ingredients like galangal and tamarind paste. It's only fair.)
By far the best dish was the Chiang Mai sausage skewers, ground pork patties seared into compact, little sausage shapes. Another highlight was the Thai me up! rum cocktail, a bright, creamy concoction of mint, coconut milk, ginger beer and a secret weapon, vanilla bean paste, more raw and flavorful than vanilla extract. The recipe for which follows.
Though Beidelman didn't get measure-crazy using “Martha Stewart eyedroppers” or “shaving off 1/8th of a teaspoon from the bowl,” you can expect a follow up email with recipes in case your ambitions, against all odds and self-sabotaging culinary attempts, triumph and persevere. With an arsenal of fish sauce, coriander and Bangkok prison powder, anything is possible.
Hipcooks classes meet almost every day and run $65 per person. Check the Hipcooks schedule for further information.
Thai Me Up rum cocktail
Makes: 1 drink
5 mint leaves
5 Thai basil leaves (save one for garnish)
1.5 oz rum
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.5 oz coconut milk
freshly grated ginger, to taste
1 squeeze vanilla bean paste
dash simple syrup, to taste
ginger beer or club soda to finish
Thai basil sprig garnish
1. Muddle the herbs in a cocktail glass and combine with rum, lime juice, coconut milk, fresh ginger and vanilla bean paste.
2. Add enough ice to fill the glass and shake. Taste and add simple syrup if you need.
3. Strain and and pour into a glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer or club soda (if desired) and garnish with a Thai basil sprig.