Most of you know Alina as your favorite Thai cooking teacher who’s greeted you, and taken you to the market in our Bangkok cooking class. In the nearly 3 years she’s worked with us, we’ve seen her transition from shy rice farmer, to a fiery force in the kitchen.
Here are 10 quick questions to help you get to know this ambitious young woman, who we believe is a natural born leader.
What’s your favorite dish to eat?
Cheeseburgers and tom yum goong, but it depends on the cheese. I like the fake kind!
What’s your favorite dish to make?
Thai curries I think. Because I like making the curry paste from scratch.
What’s the best part of working at Courageous Kitchen?
Teaching tourists how to cook Thai food. It helps me improve my English, meet new people, and gain cool opportunities.
What has been the highlight of your time here?
I met my idol, Chef Ian Kittichai, and cooked Massaman curry with him. I learned new techniques that I use to make my curry now.
What are you most proud of?
I like discovering new recipes and creating cooking videos to teach kids. I can’t believe I can make my own videos, it’s really hard!
When you’re not cooking, what do you like to do?
I like to garden, go out to eat, and love going to the movies!
If you could travel anywhere where would it be?
New York City. I’ve always heard about it, and it looks beautiful.
What do you like to teach?
I like to teach cooking. My passion is cooking so it makes me happy every time I share my recipes.
What is your superpower?
What does courage mean to you?
To be beautiful, to have confidence, and to fight for your life.
A special invite has our US based team hanging out in the Bay area recently, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share how we brought Courageous Kitchen vibes to employees at Airbnb headquarters!
One of the most important ways we raise funds is by hosting tourists for food related experiences in Bangkok and San Diego. Much of this entrepreneurial arm of our charity is possible because of programs like Airbnb Experiences, where Courageous Kitchen is featured as a Social Impact activity. The designation refers to recognized charities who host on the platform to bolster their causes, and has all commission fees waived by Airbnb. Not only is Courageous Kitchen one of only 400 such experiences worldwide, we are the first and only social impact experience in Bangkok.
We’re proud to be working with Airbnb, and most recently Christy was invited to teach a Thai food workshop at their renowned headquarters in San Francisco’s hip SoMa district. Along with longtime volunteer, Beatriz, they taught members of the Airbnb Experiences team how to make traditional Thai iced tea, papaya salad (aka somtam), and a Lao style minced meat salad full of herbs and chilies (aka larb). If you’re unfamiliar with these dishes, lovers of Thai food can tell you that along with some sticky rice, they quickly become one of the most sought after meals you can get in Thailand.
To start off their class, Beatriz showed the group of nearly 30 guests how to make their own Thai tea. She then shared her story of how she became involved with Courageous Kitchen, stemming mostly from her own familial ties to refugees. Her grandparents were spies for the United States Army, and fled Indonesia sometime in the 1950s to avoid being caught by the local government. Next, Christy demonstrated two of her favorite Thai and Lao salads which are staples in her Laotian household. Christy’s background not only provides the cultural context to work with our students, but her own story resonates with theirs deeply. Her parents, who escaped Laos in the early 1980’s lived and worked in a refugee camp in Thailand before resettling to the US where she was born.
The narratives of the people behind the food, are just as important as the food we serve, in helping others understand our mission and vision. By sharing our personal stories with our guests, we realize just how much our own paths are connected with those of our Courageous Kitchen families as well. As Social Impact hosts on Airbnb, we want the customers in our cooking classes and street food tours to understand where their dollars are being spent, and be able to walk away with both satisfied bellies and hearts, knowing they helped a noble cause.
In our short time taking over the jumbo kitchen in Airbnb Headquarters, we attempted to give employees who visited, a mini taste of what we offer each and every guest. That’s a quick serving of friendship paired with cold drinks, spicy bites, and a bold brand of courage that leads us to fight for the most marginalized.
Our team is grateful for the continued support from Airbnb and the entire Experiences community. We’ve met and partnered with some amazing entrepreneurs in California and hope to forge more friendships with likeminded organizations in the future.
We look forward to sharing our story in a kitchen near you!
Special Thanks and hugs to Stephanie H. of Airbnb, for the invite and support every step of the way!
Last December, we had a special guest in the kitchen who has not only made a tremendous impact on our young women, but on many of her peers across the globe. Sixteen year old Lara Cortes, who was traveling Southeast Asia for the first time with her parents, stopped by for a market tour and Thai cooking class!
Holding the 2018 title of Miss Teen Puerto Rico, Lara is an accomplished athlete, artist, and musician. She loves swimming, and is often found snorkeling in her beach hometown of Isabela, PR. Here we ask her what her favorite part of hanging in the Courageous Kitchen was and how she enjoys giving back to her community in Isabela.
CK: Did you have any expectations of Bangkok before your arrival?
LC: Not really, once I found out I was going to Thailand I was just ecstatic to travel and broaden my horizons. I wanted to fill my mind with experiences and stories to learn and tell to others.
CK: How did it live up to that?
LC: Thailand surpassed my expectations, everything was just amazing and so filled with culture, beautiful sights to see and especially amazing, friendly people.
CK: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Courageous Kitchen?
LC: It was an amazing experience meeting the girls who run the class. I believe they are capable of amazing things if they keep working as hard as they do.
I also enjoyed going to the market and learning about the vegetables and fruit we were going to cook with in the class. My favorite dishes to make were Tom Yum and Mango Sticky Rice.
CK: What was your favorite memory from your trip?
LC: My favorite memory of the trip would be when we went to Chiang Mai and spent the whole day at the elephant sanctuary, feeding them, walking with them and of course bathing them.
CK: Any advice for first time young travelers to Bangkok?
LC: The best advice I can give any young traveler like myself is do your research and have fun! Things will inevitably go wrong, but if you’ve done your research, it’s easier to keep your cool and focus on getting past big obstacles young travelers face like homesickness, fatigue, and culture shock.
CK: What’s the best part of holding the ‘Miss Teen Puerto Rico’ title?
LC: The best part of holding the title is being able to use it to inspire others while giving a helping hand to those in need. I give back to my community by visiting children with down syndrome and I encourage other teens like myself to give back by helping the less fortunate.
The best part of holding the title is being able to use it to inspire others while giving a helping hand to those in need…
We want to thank Lara and her parents for taking our cooking class and volunteering with our young women. We appreciate Lara’s courageous spirit, and are confident that if she continues to be so passionate about giving back, great things await in her future!
In addition to the services we provide to marginalized families in Bangkok, co-founder Christy Innouvong has been helping a special new family learn to thrive in San Diego, California. After helping launch our cooking classes in Bangkok in 2017, Christy returned to live in San Diego where she hosts cooking classes to help spread the word of our efforts in Thailand. Although the context for helping refugees in the US is very different, Christy has never forgotten her passion for helping families, and has been making efforts to connect with refugee communities in her area.
Just shy of six months ago she received word that a few families had been granted resettlement and she jumped at the chance to meet the new arrivals. We’re pleased to announce that Christy is now a Family Advocate for a Congolese family of five. The family came from Uganda where they lived in the uncertainty of a large refugee camp for the last 18 years. Needless to say, it has been a long and tiring journey for the courageous new family.
Currently, the three children are all enrolled in school and getting high remarks from their peers and teachers. They have made friends and found a local church with other Congolese families to have fellowship with. Dad, John, a former Pastor in his home country has found work at a furniture manufacturer and makes the two hour bus ride to and from work everyday. It is not an ideal situation, but he takes pride in being able to bring home a steady paycheck for the family. His wife, Alice, is an amazing seamstress and has started ESL classes at a community center. She enjoys being able to see her children attend school full time. Back in Uganda, school was often pushed to the back burner since bills took precedence. Christy is currently assisting them with budget and meal planning, but with the high price of housing in San Diego the family unfortunately still falls short every month. The looming uncertainty to put food on the table is still a reality; something they expected would improve coming to America.
San Diego is home to approximately 85,000 resettled refugees, and one of the highest concentrated cities for resettlement in the US — arriving by the thousands each year. With skyrocketing housing prices, many of the families sent here end up being shuffled to different cities or even states due to the lack of affordability and employment opportunities. There are several agencies who are serving as a launchpad for the new arrivals. Yet most organizations are stretched thin and services are limited. Food stamps and cash aid have been cut due to the government shutdown, and we’re doing our best to ensure the family’s food doesn’t run dry. John’s family, and other new arrivals like them still need our support.
At the moment we’re in need of extra supplies and hands to volunteer their time to mentor and help with English studies. We’re so thankful to the past donors who sponsored school supplies for the children privately, and now we’re others will allow us to continue to support this courageous family with clothing, food, and transportation fees. With Winter months still lingering, heavy coats, umbrellas, and scarves, are also still on the wishlist.
February is an exciting month for Courageous Kitchen! Not only have our weekend classes for at risk youth began again, but there are lots of other food and travel happenings this time of year. Most notably, one of our founders, Dwight Turner, will be speaking at The Seasons press conference this week. The event is hosted by the Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT), and has rounded up a panel of people from varying backgrounds whose businesses or personal passion are impacting Thailand for the better.
Here’s a sneak peek into TAT’s interview with Dwight, where he discusses starting Courageous Kitchen, and connecting his personal passion for food with his mission to feed and educate more children in Bangkok.
How did you start CK and what is your objective?
Courageous Kitchen began because I was looking for a way to give back in my free time, but I didn’t know what to do. When a friend invited me to help teach English in a few poorer communities, I fell in love with it. Gradually I wanted to contribute more and more.
Later when I moved outside of the city center, we had space for a kitchen and I began to combine these two passions. Quickly we learned that the kitchen is a great classroom. Students who were shy about speaking English suddenly had context, an application, and an urgency to speak in the kitchen. As their language skills improved, so did their confidence.
Why do you use food as a medium to help you achieve your goals?
I love to eat and Bangkok is full of food and food enthusiasts. So it’s a great way to get people’s attention and bring them together for a purpose. This is true even when it may seem like we don’t have anything in common. We may speak a different language, have different skin color, but when we sit at the table together, we share and learn about each other.
What do you think of Thai food? What makes Thai cuisine outstanding to you?
I love Thai food because of the diversity of influences on the cuisine. There is such a pronounced Indian influence, the Chinese influence is probably the strongest, and there’s an interesting impact from the hill tribes and neighboring countries in the region as well.
This makes Thai food versatile for different types of people. You may not love chili and chicken feet curry, you may be vegetarian, or have another preference, but there’s likely a Thai dish out there for you.
Why are you interested in helping society, and helping underprivileged kids in Bangkok?
As a Black American I was raised with very strong sense of social justice. That all people are valuable, and that all people should be treated equally. Until this becomes a reality, we have a lot of work to do to create a better future for today’s kids. That’s true all over the world, but trying to solve global problems can seem overwhelming. That’s why it’s best to start by being the change we want to see in our local communities.
As a nonprofit, what do you expect to get in return for you work?
As a nonprofit, my job is challenging and rewarding everyday. There’s a very real challenge to captivate people’s attention long enough to share about people in need, and convince them to take action. However, seeing students, who may have never been in a real restaurant before, imagining themselves as chefs, speaking English more confidently, and becoming leaders in their families is a pretty great reward.
Any upcoming plans for CK?
At the moment we’re looking into ways to grow and strengthen our business. We don’t want to be solely dependent on people’s donations, so we’re looking to offer more to tourists who love food, and are passionate about making a difference with their visit to Thailand.
Is there a place in Thailand that you’re especially impressed by and why?
I recently got married in Langsuan, Chumporn. Each time we visit my wife’s family there I usually spend time in the gardens picking fruit off of the nutmeg, taling pling, and other trees in the yard. We have one cousin with a palm orchard, and another growing durian! I know you may expect me to say mountains or beaches, but it’s hard to beat family and food!
Thank you to TAT for hosting Dwight this week! We look forward to continuing this discussion as Thailand’s responsible tourism scene continues to develop. Other guests on the panel include representatives from Pop Art Bann 36, Immanuel Music School, Tlejourn Shoes, and Thai celebrity Top Pipat Apirakthanakorn.