What to buy a girl who buys everything? I'm sure this is the question Marc faced when it was my birthday a couple of months back. As my present, he organised something I wouldn't have thought of doing myself: a trip to Coolum with a cooking class at none other than Spirit House!!! I'd heard only great things about Spirit House so I was shrill with excitement and just couldn't wait.
We were staying at Coolum Beach and although I wouldn't say it was a huge journey to get there, the road did get progressively less 'developed' and windy. Spirit House was tucked away to one side of the road and we nearly missed the turn off. On the plus side, there was ample parking outside.
The buildings were very tranquil and tastefully shrouded in greenery. I had never been to the Spirit House restaurant before but I saw the restaurant building from a distance. The cooking school was in a separate area.
When we entered, the place felt very different to other cooking classes I'd been to. I've actually only been to Thai cooking classes to date (I should be an expert in Thai cuisine!) but there's usually more of a kitchen or homely vibe. Spirit House Cooking School on first impression almost felt like a holistic body retreat. The sun was just going down and everyone was gathering in the deck where there were 2 long tables set up. Coffee and tea was available to help pass the time as we waited for everyone to show up.
We were all given recipe books and aprons and I had a leaf through the dish descriptions getting progressively more and more excited. Soon, our instructor arrived and started explaining the afternoon's schedule.
Our menu comprised of several Thai dishes, including starters, sides, mains and dessert. An extra dish of whole fried snapper was added to our cookbooks, which was a pleasant surprise. Our instructor correctly guessed that a few of us were starting to few daunted by just how much preparation there would be. He assured us that with a group of 16 people, everything gets completed very speedily.
We were then directed to the kitchen, which contained a long preparation bench and a cooking area. After a few demonstrations, we started getting busy with the chopping, slicing, peeling and so on. As promised, all the preparation took hardly any time at all.
Getting our hands dirty
We stopped our cooking process about 3/4 way through to nibble on starters and sip some wine. This was welcome break because all the cooking was making me very hungry!
Sweet potato and ginger noodle balls with szechwan pepper glaze
Our starters were the sweet potato and noodle balls, one of the reasons why Marc chose this particular class above others. He knows all about my love for sweet potato. These balls were very tasty, especially when paired with the szechwan glaze. The noodly bits had flared out in the deep frier to a golden crunch and the glaze was sticky, sweet and very delicious (also very easy to make). We got to try some of the Spirit House sweet chili sauce made by another class too.
After our break, we returned to the kitchen to complete the mains. A couple of the guys helped out deepfrying the whole fish but I was happy to just watch. Not long after that, our dinner was ready.
A thing of beauty
During our cooking process, the deck had been transformed with salt candles into a lovely, ambient dining environment. Add to that the gorgeous plates heaped with food we had prepared and it was definitely a sight to make the heart sing.
Crispy fried fish with tamarind chili sauce
I pretty much loved everything I ate and I'm sure it's not just bias because I helped to make it. The fish was probably my favorite dish. It was just so tender on the inside and lightly crispy with a wonderful sauce poured over the top. Marc had been amused by the cooking process, probably because it's strange for someone who normally buys fillets to see such a large creature get fried whole, and he thought the end result was delicious.
Red curry of duck with pineapple and snake beans
Our duck curry was refreshingly different from the coconut cream-ladden dishes that many Thai restaurants offer. The duck pieces were very tender too. Marc would have preferred more heat here but that's because generally, the dishes were kept mild to cater for the majority.
Lemon grass prawn salad with chili and lime
I was perhaps least enthralled by the salad only because there were so many other dishes to grab my attention. I did love the crispy shallots that dressed the salad, especially after tasting the difference between home fried and store bought, it's impossible to go back to the latter.
Coconut rice with coriander and crispy shallots
Even the coconut rice was notably awesome. It was perfectly fluffy (I've had too many gluggy coconut rices recently) and lightly infused with fragrant lemongrass. I could happily sit down to an entire bowl of this.
It was great to taste our dishes and bond with some of our classmates over wine and Thai beer (a nice touch).
Once our meal was finished, we were brought back into the kitchen for another chat and dessert. The dessert was a coconut slice, which I wasn't that keen on when I read it. By the time we'd devoured our mains though, I was aching for something sweet.
Coconut slice with Spirit House ice-cream
The coconut slice was very different to what I pictured (pink, solidified condensed milk like what they have at school fares) and had an almost custard flavor to it. I actually really enjoyed it and it was great with the Spirit House ice-cream.
I had a great time at Spirit House. As a dentist, I have to attend workshops as part of a continuing professional development policy. I have a motto that if I learn at least one useful piece of information at any of these courses, then it was worth it. I learnt multiple useful tidbits at Spirit House so it was definitely worth it on that account. Moreover, it was just a great experience to learn how to cook in a wonderfully professional but unintimidating environment. We didn't have to worry about cleaning because our wondeful kitchenhand took care of it all. The instructor was knowledgeable and approachable. Best of all, the payoff was delicious and filling. I'd definitely recommend this class to others.