We love social validation when we’re shopping. This goes for everything from taking a friend shopping when you’re feeling indecisive, to asking a friend their opinion on the charity you’re choosing to support. That’s why it’s a huge accomplishment that our Courageous Kitchen cooking class for tourists has surpassed 100 reviews on Airbnb Experiences. This is no easy accomplishment, and we’re proud to have garnered so many positives feedback in less than a year on the platform.
What is an Airbnb Social Impact Experience?
This past January we celebrated a year since the launch of our social enterprise offering cooking classes to travelers visiting Bangkok. As a new business, we really struggled during the first year to get new customers. Fortunately, we did have some success as one of the early experiences on the Airbnb marketplace called Airbnb Experiences. Most people know the company as an affordable way to find lodging when traveling, but they have recently begun offering other activities to travelers looking for things to do in new cities, including some with a significant social impact.
Without a doubt it can be hard to choose a cooking class in Bangkok. There are so many classes at different price levels and there are a variety of other online markets as well. This means when customers find our class highly recommended by Airbnb’s customers, they can expect our class is different from the run of the mill cooking classes offered by tour companies. In addition, as a recognized 501c3 in good standing, Airbnb collects no commission on the bookings made on their site. That means more money for buying quality ingredients, equipment, and funding our outreach in Bangkok!
Growing Pains and Negative Reviews
We’ve been teaching children in the marginalized community we serve to thrive in kitchen spaces for 5 years now. However, when we started this fun activity to help pump nutrition into the community, we didn’t expect it to prepare us to later host professional classes. In fact, teaching 30 children to cook at once would seem a lot more intimidating to most people, compared with the stress of teaching a small group of foreigners. However, we’ve had to learn other aspects of running the business beyond the teaching the hard way. For example, pricing can have a big impact on experience. If we’re priced too low, people book in hurry, classes are more crowded, and guests may arrive not knowing much about our organization. On the contrary, if the pricing is too high, we have fewer customers and their expectations for the cooking class are unrealistic.
Everyone who steps into our kitchen is different and we want to have an experience all can enjoy. This presents a unique challenge, however, that is especially difficult when managing different languages and personalities in a group. So while our reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, we have also had negative reviews impact our bookings. When customers are unhappy, we discuss their feedback as a team and consider how to improve the experience in the future. Here are common reasons people don’t enjoy the class, that we’re working to mitigate or have already solved:
Customer doesn’t know the class is charity run
Customer is uncomfortable because of heat, chairs, chili, amount of standing, etc…
Customer does not speak strong English
The most common problem our team has encountered when hosting guests from around the world has been around managing expectations. Since many customers book in a hurry, they often don’t read all of the info about the class. This means customers can arrive expecting to be cooking in a professional kitchen, or in today’s tense political climate, may not know until arriving they have booked a class in support of refugees — often a divisive political issue. All of these issues are exacerbated when customers don’t speak much English or Thai. We won’t be able to solve all of these problems instantly, but we strive to produce a high quality class each session, and want to be transparent about the challenges.
How You Can Help
As people learn about opportunities with Airbnb, it becomes more competitive. We have to work harder at generating more direct bookings, instead of being overly dependent on Airbnb or another third party. We always need help sharing our cooking class with friends visiting Bangkok, and need continued support for the educational support we offer those in need. Finally, if you’ve attended a class, consider leaving a review on our growing Tripadvisor profile as well!
Thank you for following our project, and until the next update stay courageous!
At the end of April, the Courageous Kitchen team took a break from our Thai cooking classes in San Diego, to travel to Northern Cali for our first activity in Sacramento. The occasion was to collaborate with Sacramento State University’s Full Circle Project in celebration of the Asian and Pacific Islander Awareness Festival. The APIA Fest is a yearly event coinciding with Asian Pacific Heritage Month, and we were invited to hold a Thai cooking demo and share our story with students on campus.
The Full Circle Project (FCP) works to mentor and support first generation college students, many of them the children of refugees who resettled in the US. This includes people of Hmong ethnicity, a hill tribe group in South East Asia, that Courageous Kitchen assists in Bangkok. Connections to the refugee experience and the culture and cuisine of South East Asia, made hosting the cooking demo a lot of fun and rewarding for everyone involved. Some students even wore their traditional clothing, sporting Hmong patterns and jewelry unique to their families’ tribes.
On the menu was a vegetarian version of our cooking class favorite ‘Tom Kha’, the Thai coconut soup. In addition to the soup, we taught the students to make a healthier version of the ever popular Thai Tea. The students helped themselves to seconds and thirds, while our volunteers, led by Christy Innouvong Thornton, dished out tips for recreating simple and college budget friendly versions of our recipe at home. The activity culminated with sharing from students who had recently joined Courageous Kitchen efforts in Bangkok, giving first hand testimony of both people in need and the hope we endeavor to provide through our food aid and education programs.
In the future we’d love to do more activities in Sacramento and are grateful to everyone who helped make this event a success. You can enjoy more photos from the activity on our Courageous Kitchen facebook page.
PS – If there are northern California supporters or former volunteers who missed this event, but would be interested to help with another in the future, please reach out!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Pineapple Curry Fried Rice with Seafood
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!
2. Egg Wrapped Pad Thai Noodle with Homemade Tamarind Sauce
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.
3. Stir Fried and Drunken Pad Kee Mow Noodles
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
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.
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!
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!
This past weekend we had a very special activity for our junior chefs, our Courageous kids aged 11-14. This is a special age group because they have been watching their older brothers and sisters in the kitchen for several years now and helping in small ways. In 2018 however, we’re pivoting to focus on this age group more, and really working on building their skills and confidence.
This past weekend we jumped into Thailand’s most famous flower market, the Pak Khlong Market. In the Yodpiman building there, we met friends at a company called Expique who run several different types of cooking classes known as The Market Experience. The fun Thai food they create is not unlike what we cook in a typical Saturday in the Courageous Kitchen, but by pulling these students away, we gave them an opportunity to shine without pressure from their older brothers and sisters. In addition to this freedom, they also had a chance to explore the market, learning about it’s rich history and of course, having a plenty of small treats along the way.
After the students toured the market, the washed up and got ready to get their hands messy in the kitchen. The Expique staff was great with the students, watching carefully as they used adult sized knives, and helping the group prepare their ingredients for three dishes with precision. The excitement was palatable as the students rushed to answer the questions from our hosts, and experienced some new methods of preparing their minced pork larb, green curry with chicken, and shrimp pad thai.
At the end of the class, the students were beyond thankful for the opportunity. They went around the room (not without some prodding), sharing what they enjoyed about they class and expressing their gratitude to Simon, Alyssa, and the whole team of Thai teachers.
The day was a special one as the group was not without it’s kids who have persisted through extraordinary challenges in their lives. One young boy with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in his knee had so much fun, he didn’t notice how long he had been standing. Another girl, who’s family had spent time in immigration, loved the outing and voted with a few of her friends to go swimming during the next school holiday. These are just a few stories of triumph over adversity the kids in the group, and seeing how far they’ve come, made us anxious to see what mountains they will move next!