The kitchen is a special classroom, where students can be given the power to create, collaborate, and thrive! We believe this to the core, we preach it, and try to live by it. But we are also quick to admit the kitchen isn’t the only place children can express themselves, and learn new skills. In a recent Saturday cooking and jam session, our Courageous Kitchen students welcomed children from the Khlong Toey Music Program (KTMP) for a memorable afternoon.
If you’re unfamiliar, the KTMP music program is named for one the most infamous slums in Bangkok, Khlong Toey. Despite the rough surroundings, there’s important work happening in their community, and KTMP is part of the change that’s happening in this overlooked area of Bangkok. With a similar ethos to Courageous Kitchen, KTMP believes children deserve a safe place to learn, especially because of the pernicious nature of the cycle of poverty. Instead of proselytizing the way of the wok and other culinary arts like us, their program teaches guitar, drums, and several other instruments, adding English and other extracurriculars as often as possible. Each time the students have an opportunity to perform, they earn new fans across the city of Bangkok and online!
Still kids, even the ones gaining fans each week through their music on facebook and youtube, get nervous meeting other children. For this reason, we didn’t jump right into learning to play music when our two student groups came together. First we had to get to know each other. So to kick things off, we began the day with fun ice breaking games. The games required the students to interact with one another, learning each other’s names, and teaming up to identify vocabulary words faster than other teams.
The instruments made an appearance after we got to know each other and whoa did it get noisy! The students and teachers dispersed themselves around the room teaching the same melody, with a different instrument in each group. There was an entire section dedicated to our mini percussionists, the singers and ukulele players claimed the center of the room, and the electric and acoustic guitar fans filled the gap on the other side. I’d compare the sound and fury of the activity to having a baby elephant dancing in your kitchen. But despite what it did to our eardrums, looking around at the excitement on all the children’s faces as the instrument workshop began, was incredibly rewarding.
Low thuds, random strings, and excited voices filled the room as the students began to get the hang of the instruments. The KTMP teachers encouraged the children to change groups once they had the melody down, much to the excitement of the girls torn between playing the drums, and switching into guitar hero mode on KTMP’s shiny electric guitars. Knowing the kids would be working up an appetite, our kitchen team was rendering the fat off a kilo of shrimp. They would go on to use the fatty oils from cooking the shrimp, to toss egg noodles before serving.
Days before this event, we held meetings to debate what to serve our new friends at KTMP. On such a fun day, we wanted to serve familiar food that the kids would gobble down, but with a Courageous Kitchen twist. Cooking up ‘mama’ noodles easily won by popular vote. Named for the most popular brand of instant noodles in Thailand, mama noodles are popular in the low key street food stalls all over the country. The noodles are well known as a nostalgic childhood snack. However, instead of making a broth full of the msg filled flavoring packets, we made our own giant pot of creamy tom yum broth to serve our hungry little musicians.
As the scent of shrimp tinged egg noodles, and lemongrass broth began to fill the house, full bars of notes were beginning to tumble out as well. The practice was paying off, and the students were becoming more confident playing the song. Soon they would play it together, Thai, refugee, and migrant kids, all strumming to the same rhythm. For the finale, the KTMP youth performed a few more songs, before everyone agreed it was time to eat. The noodles were ready to eat, but the kids quickly organized into teams, some making spring rolls to eat with their noodles, while the others were ready for a cooling dessert snack.
There’s more you should know about the special students from KTMP. They didn’t just show up for tom yum noodles. They have been hearing about Courageous Kitchen for weeks, selecting us as the charity they most wanted interact with and help. In the lead up to meeting each other, they used the power of their music, performing and spreading awareness to raise money for us. In a few short weeks the students, supported by their tireless teachers, raised and donated nearly 14,000 baht (about $440) to help children in our program!
Exciting news! We’ve been featured in a local online magazine called The Cloud. The publication is in Thai, and includes some great photography, but we wanted to share more about the phenomenal weekend they visited, for supporters who may not read Thai. If you do, you can read the full article about Courageous Kitchen on The Cloud’s website, and help us by sharing with more Thai friends.
Typically when we have an opportunity to work with refugee kids from the communities we serve, it’s only for a few hours at a time. However, during the children’s school break, there’s more flexibility for us to host longer activities, such as our cooking camps. The camps give us a chance to work more closely with each of the students, and teach a wider range of subjects to the kids.
The day the team from The Cloud visited was the last day of our May cooking camp. In this cooking camp we worked with students who had much weaker English skills than the students who participated in the previous camp. If you remember the last cooking camp, in addition to fun Thai dishes, we also had everyone excited about the burgers and pizza we made too. However in the May camp, instead of fully focusing on cooking, our students were doing everything from fancy hat making, to an impossible human knot challenge, and learning to edit their own videos.
The subjects we choose for each camp depend on the ability of the students, and the interest of the participating volunteers. To be better suited for students with weaker English, our last batch of volunteer teachers helped run art therapy exercises, team building sessions, and challenged the students to use the English they’ve learned to make their own recipe videos.
The finale day saw the students putting the finishing touches on each group’s recipe video. While some students filmed and helped behind the scenes, others were challenged to stand in front of the camera and explain the recipes they were making in English. To keep the video editing from being too complicated, the students were assigned to simply explain how to make an herbal tea drink recipe. They made drinks from popular Thai ingredients like butterfly pea, chrysanthemum, and bael fruit, while managing to narrate and film at the same time.
Of course we had to take a break and cook lunch as well. The finale meal was a celebratory plate of banh xeo, a sort of Vietnamese crepe. For this cooking feat, we made an assembly line of students cooking pork belly and spring onion to use as filling for their crepes. Once everything was hot and smelling nice, they moved further along the station with their filling to make their crepe. The action of swirling the thin batter of turmeric tinted rice flour in the light weight, non-stick pans was exciting for everyone.
The challenge, however, was to get the crepe out of the pan without the fragile exterior fracturing into many pieces. While it was easier for some of the smaller students to fold the crepe in the pan, lifting it on to their plates, there’s a better way. The best technique to finish with a beautiful plate of banh xeo, is to dump the entire crepe out on your plate, folding it together as it falls, with a quick motion of the pan. Sound tricky? This is definitely a move inspired by the quick hands of the street food vendors we frequent!
After lunch, we gathered all the students to celebrate their accomplishments and watch their final videos. The students giggled with glee (and some horror) seeing their faces on the big screen. We discussed being brave in front of the camera, and being more conscious of lighting and sound when video making. Finally, everyone shared their biggest challenges and successes from the cooking camp before we said goodbye.
Our entire team had a great time this cooking camp and want to thank everyone who helped donate to sponsor this activity. Getting the students to be proud of their art, video production, and especially their culinary creations can be especially challenging with students overcoming trauma and fear they’ve accumulated over the years. However, this mission wasn’t in vain, and the wonderful article in The Cloud, and all the fun photos from the camp are a testament of what can be accomplished when we really believe courage is contagious.
Wherever you are reading from, and whatever you’re going through — be courageous!
Courageous Kitchen typically provides weekly English and cooking class to students from marginalized communities. This is important work and partially funded by our efforts to host cooking classes and street food tours for tourists visiting Bangkok. However, a few times a year we invite the youth we serve to take part in a multi day cooking camp. We recently hosted the first camp for this year and invite you to watch the following slideshow from the event:
During the camp we have more time to review and drill the English vocabulary the students are usually learning in Saturday classes. Since the kids are usually cooking every meal, they have extra time to develop in the kitchen as well. During the camps we invite teachers from outside the charity to help us expand what we can offer students including specialized cooking, art, drama, and music activities.
We believe all of the classes work well in tandem with our English teaching curricula, by giving the students plenty of opportunity to practice their English in the kitchen, and during other fun activities. The biggest challenge is that the students all come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have participated in our classes since they were very young, with our pre-school teaching being their first organized classroom experience. Others may still be new to our classes, and have only rudimentary knowledge of English. Each camp is special because with more time to spend with the students, we can more easily identify where a student may be excelling, or needing more encouragement and assistance.
If you’ve visited us before, you know our specialty is teaching and cooking Thai cuisine. However, in the slideshow from the most recent camp we were able to offer a variety of dishes, thanks to our volunteer chefs, teaching the kids to make Vietnamese cuisine, and western dishes such as hamburgers and pizza. Since the majority of our students don’t usually have an opportunity to eat in restaurants, they cherish the chance to try new dishes and learn about how people in different cultures eat in other parts of the world.
We are so grateful to everyone involved, especially visiting teachers who braved through Thailand’s summer weather, and all of our sponsors. If you’re interested in to sponsor a future camp, just leave a note when you donate online that the funds are for our cooking camp. As a small organization with no institutional funding, your support is so important to us!
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.
Love Coffee? Us too! Give a gift that gives back this holiday!
We recently partnered with our friends from Solid Roasters to bring you quality coffee delivered right to your doorstep. This is big news just in time for the holidays for our fans living in the US. Now you can support Courageous Kitchen, with a cup of coffee, and when gifting coffee to a loved one. By purchasing a monthly subscription, you’ll receive two fair trade bags of high quality, whole or ground beans AND help us continue to provide food aid and education to marginalized youth.
Our roasters believe that coffee’s cultural pervasiveness has a unique advantage to shine light in dark places. They’ve sourced direct-trade beans from under-funded farmers, addressing the power imbalances typically found in organic growing methods. These ethical sourcing methods incentivize the quality of the beans. Whether bold, blonde, sweet, or rich, the distinct blends focus on the nuance and personality of each bean and region.
Were currently offering three single origin choices:
Light | Ethiopian Coffee
Medium | Colombian Coffee
Dark | Guatemalan Coffee
By purchasing a monthly coffee subscription you’re helping us supply a family with rice, and other supplies that will help combat the ills of malnutrition. Let’s share the beauty of speciality coffee, provide a fair wage to farmers, and spread love to the families in need this holiday!
Christy is the San Diego based Deputy Director of Courageous Kitchen. She strongly believes kitchens are the best classrooms.
It’s that time of year in Bangkok, when the weather drops only 5 degrees and we have our official winter angst! While we await a cooler breeze to arrive, each day we’re inching toward the year end holidays, with lots of happenings around town for both tourists and expats alike. We hope to meet a few of you who’ve escaped winter in our cooking class this month, but here’s a few more places to spot us!
NIST International School’s Festive Coffee Morning
Lush Thailand’s Charity Party (Dec. 16th, Mega Bangna Location)
December 2018’s Edition of Bambi News
If you find us at one of the popular winter markets, be sure to look for our new 120ml bottles of vegan chili jam and pad thai sauce. The new compact packaging will be easier to grab as a gift, or throw in your suitcase for the long journey home. The pad thai sauce jars are enough to cook 3-4 portions of noodles, and the chili jam is a great addition to Asian style soups, salads, and stir frys.
Just be sure to remember all the products are made with no funky additives, so to be sure to refrigerate them after opening. Of course, we have these Thai recipes available if you want to try your hand at making them at home.
We’ll be celebrating at a few ‘winter markets’ around town, and hope you’ll come and find us, grab a bottle of sauce, a Courageous Kitchen apron, and an end of the year photo with us!
All cooking classes and product sales help families in need and fund fun cooking activities for our students!