New TV Show Celebrates Culinary Accomplishments of Refugee Chefs!

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“Food is the ultimate equalizer… at the end of the day, everybody has to eat.” – Chef Yia Vang

Typically, you won’t find the Courageous Kitchen team giving you advice on which riveting television shows you should be watching. However, that may be able to change with the exciting new arrival of a show called, “Refugee Chef”. In six episodes the show will poignantly examine the challenging origins and immense contributions refugee chefs are making on the culinary scene all over the world. This includes Chef Yia Vang, a friend of Courageous Kitchen, who we were proud to feature in last year’s Courageous Family Dinner.

Watch the trailer for “Refugee Chef” on Channel NewsAsia:

Here’s the full list of chefs to be featured on Refugee Chef:

Episode 1: Queen of Nordic Vietnamese
Featuring: Anh Le
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Origin: Chef Ang Le and her family arrived in Denmark after escaping Vietnam by boat.

Episode 2: Hmong and Here
Featuring: Yia Vang
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Origin: Chef Yia was born in a Thai refugee camp after his parents escaped Laos during the Vietnam war.

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Episode 3: Afghan at Last
Featuring: Javed Ghaderi
Location: Wollongong, Australia
Origin: Chef Javad escaped Afghanistan and would be deported three times, and spend his life savings before being resettled to Australia.

Episode 4: Beyond Bali
Featuring: Anita Saborn
Location: Paris, France
Origin: Anita’s family fled Indonesia to China where they traveled on fake passports to Paris, where they were granted political asylum.

Episode 5: Redefining Shangri-La
Featuring: Lobsang Dorjee Tsering
Location: Washington, DC
Origin: Dorjee was born to nomadic parents in Tibet, and had been a monk for 18 years before fleeing his homeland.

Episode 6: Aleppo Supper Club
Featuring: Ahmad Abo Aziz
Location: London, UK
Origin: The war in Syria brought danger and great tragedy to Ahmad and his family, and they left the city the loved looking for safety.

“People don’t see us refugees but we are there.” – Chef Anh Le

In today’s political climate, giving anything a refugee label is to condemn it to controversy and scandal. This show, however, bucks the trend and takes the weighty topic head on. In doing so the show humanizes the refugee situation in a way not always possible in today’s news headlines and sensational political commentary. We’re challenged to take a look into the lives of each of the chefs and to have a sampling of the obstacles they overcame to achieve success whether with their restaurants, efforts to challenge or their efforts to help others.

The show airs on Saturday, February 24th on Channel NewsAsia at 7:30pm Bangkok time. You can also stream the episodes on demand for free, here.

Our Crazy, Courageous Goals for 2018

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Thank you for being here and following along our journey! 2017 was a big year for Courageous Kitchen because we launched our social enterprise doing Thai cooking tutorials in Bangkok and San Diego. Although we have been cooking with kids for more than four years now, developing a business model and implementing it successfully was our biggest and most rewarding challenge of the past year. Well we’re not stopping there! With your help and a big boost of confidence from a successful 2017, we’re outlining 5 crazy and courageous goals we hope to strive for in 2018!

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1) Specialized Cooking Classes for Young Adults and Teens

In 2017 we held our first cooking camp for pre-teens, hosting 11 children for a full three days of cooking. The activities were a blast! We had help from a visiting volunteer chef, all the way from New Zealand, and the students tried their hand at everything from Japanese food, to spicy Thai dishes, to baking. The time with the pre-teens helped us realize both how bright and capable they are, and the need to have more specialized instruction dedicated to them. So this year we will be focusing on them in more activities, both to build up their English language skills, and confidence in the kitchen. The group includes many students who overcome incredible odds every time they show up cook in the Courageous Kitchen!

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The older brothers and sisters in our young adults group, on the other hand, are so skilled in the kitchen that they tend to overshadow their younger siblings. We are bringing them new challenges in the kitchen this year, with lessons that build on each other, challenge them to create entire meals, and provide more vocational opportunities so they can get real world experience doing what they love. The student’s English speaking skills have grown leaps and bounds, but they must continue to develop their abilities to read and memorize recipes, work independently, and adapt to unexpected challenges.

Keep in mind these are students who may not have imagined before that they could aspire to be more than street food vendors and construction workers. But with your support and warm invitations from local businesses, we’ve taken many of them to make their first visits to real restaurants and even commercial kitchens. These opportunities give the students something to aspire to, and help them better understand the big picture of our transformation mission in their community.

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2) Build Stronger Teams to Serve Our Students and Families

Early in the life of our young organization we needed support for material items. We needed rice and cooking equipment, and food for families in need. We didn’t just have them on our wishlist, we needed those things urgently! After success in improving the conditions in the community and carving out a space where we can teach comfortably, we are turning our attention away from material needs, toward building stronger teams. This means adding paid staff to the Courageous Kitchen team who can really lay the foundation for the work that our volunteers arrive to do. Since many grants and other sources of funding do not allow us to allocate funds towards staffing needs, our ability to do this in the past has suffered. However, the income the charity generates through our cooking classes and street food tours, should help us expand our team this year. Then with stronger team cohesion we can also better keep our donors updated, by more regularly telling the stories of lives being changed with your support.

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3) Offer More Unique Cooking Classes and Products

There are plenty of options for cooking classes in Bangkok. In such a competitive business, we’re always adapting our classes to make the more local, personalized, and unique. This helps attract different types of customers and makes each of the classes more interesting to teach for us. For example, while you may only be able to cook standard Thai dishes in a typical cooking class, our small class size allows us to offer more unique dishes, such as this pineapple and seafood curry. If you’re planning to cook with us in 2018, be sure to also ask about our special menus featuring harder to find hilltribe dishes and spicy food from the Thai countryside!

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We’re not only increasing types of dishes we make with our guests, but the types of classes we offer too. We’re now offering an evening cooking class for families with children in Bangkok. During the class we will do interactive cooking demos with our guests, especially for the children attendance. This class was developed because feedback from guests indicated there is a shortage of family oriented activities, including less demanding cooking classes in Bangkok. While the morning class may be too intense, this new class gets everyone active rolling summer rolls, sticky rice dumplings, and other fun, edible treats. Parents and other kitchen weary visitors can also relax while we prepare the rest of dinner for you!

If you’re curious about the storm we’re cooking up with our guests in our usual morning market class, see our last post entitled, 5 Stunning Thai Dishes to Request in Our Bangkok Cooking Class!

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4) Secure More Long Term Partnerships

At our last class for 2017, there was a special surprise waiting for each of the students a full week before Christmas. Disguised in black trash bags, friends from Bangkok Patana School delivered over 70 presents to give away. Instead of giving indiscriminately the gifts, which came from the Year 6 students at Bangkok Patana’s primary school, were tailored to the age and gender of our kids. For our older students, for instance, many of the gift boxes were filled not only with fun, educational items, but with much needed toiletries too. In 2018 we hope to develop more long term partnerships with other schools, religious organizations, and businesses. The long term oriented relationships give time for outsiders to better understand the work we’re doing and the needs we’re addressing for families at risk in urban Bangkok.

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5) Be Kind to the Environment and Grow More of Our Own Food

Our last courageous challenge for 2018, is one we’re always working towards! We’re upping the ante this year, and began in January by offering our guests straws made with the hollow stem of the morning glory plant. The eco friendly alternative also looks great in our glasses of herbal butterfly and lemongrass teas. We have also been using more interesting plating thanks to a local company producing plates from the wood of betel nut palms.

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The material is biodegradable and a natural alternative to plastic plates or styrofoams used too often to serve and store food. The plates appear occasionally in our cooking classes, but are especially convenient on our Street Food 101 Tour. The tour takes guests off the beaten path to eat street food, which is often doled out in overly generous amounts into plastic bags or styrofoam plates. The feedback from guests and even many of the vendors we visit has been overwhelmingly positive, and we hope to continue to be more environmentally conscious in our endeavors in the future too!

5 Stunning Thai Dishes to Request in Our Bangkok Cooking Class!

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The hallmark of our cooking class is that when you attend one of our small morning classes in Bangkok (with usually no more than 6 people), you will have an opportunity to request dishes you love. After you book your class, we’ll email you with a few options to help narrow down the style of Thai cooking you would most prefer. Then we meet you in Bangkok, take you to the local market for a fun wander around, and finally back to our home to teach you the dishes you’ve requested.

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We do often have guests who may be new to Thai food, or need some inspiration to help you decide what to request. Although we’re happy to pick for you (just let us know what allergies you have and your preferred spice level), we though we’d share photos from recent classes where guests have been really please with both the taste and presentation of our Thai dishes. So here’s a few dishes for you to feast your eyes on from our classes, enjoy and we hope to be cooking them with more of you in 2018!

  1. Pineapple Curry Fried Rice with Seafood

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A few months back we published a spicy red curry with pineapple recipe, after making it as a special request for guests! If you enjoy red curry, you’ll love the fried rice version which isn’t too difficult to make. Our version of red curry fried rice gains sourness and punchiness from the fresh pineapple, but in our cooking class in Bangkok, you will serve it in the pineapple you’ve carved out yourself. We can’t think of a better serving bowl to represent this tropical, full flavored, and hearty fried rice!

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2. Egg Wrapped Pad Thai Noodle with Homemade Tamarind Sauce

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In the West, Thailand’s most famous dish is undoubtedly stir fried pad thai noodles. While it’s a starter Thai dish to many, often guests have more fun cooking a cuisine when they have a familiar dish like pad thai on the menu. So to keep this interesting for everyone, you’ll notice that in the Courageous Kitchen classes we put a local spin on the version of pad thai we make. While we can make the more typical presentation, where your egg is fried in the noodles, we love to teach guests to enshrine their pad thai in a fresh egg wrapper. This isn’t only super tasty, it’s more eye catching too! When you serve it, we’re sure your friends and family will wonder what deliciousness hides in this well garnished egg package.

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3. Stir Fried and Drunken Pad Kee Mow Noodles

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This dish isn’t for everyone, but has been popular with visiting spice lovers. While many people complain the food in Thailand is too spicy, there are still folks arriving who want all the chili filled food they can handle during their stay in Thailand. So if you’re a chili enthusiast, or love someone who is— then you’ve got to make them a smoking hot plate of pad kee mow. While the name of the dish sounds foreign, you may literally translate it as “a drunk’s noodles”, or more commonly, “drunken noodles.” Why is this dish well loved by Thailand’s hedonists? Because the mix of hot chilis with numbing spice from the handfuls of finger-root and fresh peppercorn are intense enough to bring you back to life after a big night out!

4. Shrimp Filled Tom Yum Goong Soup

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While pad thai reigns in the West, in Asia Thailand’s most famous culinary export is tom yum soup. The dish has headlined in famous movies domestically and internationally, and generous portions of seafood included in the soup make it hard to overlook! So seafood lovers get those spoons ready and prepare to tilt a bowl of easy to make tom yum soup up, to get all the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, and galangal flavors from the broth. If you’re curious about how we teach this dish to students in our project, and visiting tourists, check out our recent video recipe for tom yum with chicken.

5. Sticky Rice Bua Loy Dumplings in Warm, Fragrant Coconut Milk

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Finally, here’s a dish for your sweet-tooth that is more than capable of cooling you off after eating too much spice. To make this traditional dessert, we spend some time together first squeezing and kneading the dough together. In seperate batches we’ll add an all natural food coloring such as pandan leaf (green), pumpkin (orange), or butterfly pea (blue), to give a vibrant color to the dough. Finally, before boiling the dumplings we do the painstaking work of rolling them in to pea sized balls, which is more difficult than it looks or sounds. Making this dish is especially popular in our new evening cooking class in Bangkok. This new class is aimed at families who prefer to make recipes that their kids can get involved with too!

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We hope these photos and descriptions give you an idea of what we’re up to in our cooking class in Bangkok! Our class is officially a year old and we’ve had so much fun teaching you these dishes and learning from your feedback. All of our students are provided a digital cook book after the class, so we hope you can make our most popular recipes at home. Every cooking class is unique though, so we’re also hoping to create a larger cook book to share with everyone later in the year.

Thank you for following and supporting Courageous Kitchen this past year, happy eating!

Note: Are you may know, we are a nonprofit project and not a cooking school. While we try to honor all requests made for our class, the guests who book in advance have the best chance of cooking dishes they want to make!