On Tuesday I found myself at The Walpole Arms in Itteringham (read: in the middle of nowhere) rolling my own spring rolls under the tuition of Thai chef Praewrat Donaldson.

This came about thanks to the generosity of my friends, who banded together to get me a special 30th birthday present – namely, being taught Authentic Thai Cooking at the David Adlard Cookery School. It was entirely unexpected but very welcome – while I am in no way a cook, I do enjoy cooking. The only problem is that I only know how to make about 4 dishes and tend to repeat them ad nauseum.

So it was with much excitement and a little trepidation that I showed up at the rather plush country inn where the course was hosted (after first taking a wrong turning on a dark lane and ending up at a house at the end of a very long, tree-lined driveway overlooking a dark, marshy lake that would be an excellent location for a horror film…and reversing out again very quickly). There were four other people there for the  course, three from the same family, all there courtesy of birthday gifts.

Turned out the teacher that was supposed to be there couldn’t make it due to a nasty eye infection, so instead we had Praewat Donaldson (aka Chris), who was actually Thai and therefore even more authentic.

First up we had spring rolls…a favourite of mine and something I’d never even considered making myself. It’s surprisingly simple, as long as you roll them correctly, and you can even have them fresh rather than deep fried, which is an entirely different flavour and texture altogether. I’m planning on practising making these again ASAP!

Then we simultaneously cooked and prepped a Thai green chicken curry and tom yum goon soup (vegetables and prawns). My soup tasted delicious but I didn’t quite boil the vegetables enough, which ended up being a bit hard, while conversely overcooking the prawns – still very pleasant though and I look forward to trying it again with a few tweaks.

Everybody’s green curry turned out quite different, as a big part of the lesson was how there’s no right or wrong way to do things and you should always customise Thai dishes according to your personal taste – recipes are only starting points. I was fairly cautious with the green curry paste and ended up with a creamy but not too wet curry that was – if I may say so – rather superb. It even looked great! Terry, my fellow student across the table, accidentally put in two giant spoonfuls of curry paste and nearly blew the top of his head apart with the first bite.

All the way through it was about continuously tasting and testing the food, something I’ve never really done. It certainly helped, although my sense of taste is so untrained that I can barely tell the difference between sweet, sour and salty, let alone know what to do to counter and balance it all.

It was a superb evening, with both the staff at the Walpole Arms and the other ‘students’ being friendly and warm and interesting to chat to around the dinner table (after we’d cooked out masterpieces we sat down with some wine and enjoyed ourselves). I had absolutely no idea what to expect going in (and slightly feared some kind of Gordon Ramsay nightmare) but would gladly do it again if I get the chance. At the very least I hope to go back to the Walpole soon for lunch – perhaps cooked by their trained chefs this time.

A massive thanks to Chris, Jen, Wayne, Neil, James, Lu, Mike, Rachel and, of course, Nadia, without whom I’d never have done anything like this. It was the perfect finale to an epic 30th birthday that spanned the beer festival, the Kings Head at Bawburgh with my folks and a hilarious murder mystery party here.

All I have to do now is get my head around the fact that I’m in my fourth decade. It’s a bit weird, you know.


Axel Wilkinson · November 5, 2010 at 1:14 am

Sounds awesome, and like loads of fun. Did they send you home with recipes for these dishes then? If so, I want ’em. Any chance you could shoot them over at some point?

Simon Jones · November 5, 2010 at 7:40 am

I do indeed have the recipes! I will attempt to scan/photograph them for you this weekend. 😀

Simon Jones · November 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm

As a quick follow-up….I made Pad Thai tonight, which was the final dish we looked at on Tuesday. We didn’t have time to make it ourselves but Chris did show us how it worked and we got to take some ingredients home with us.

I’m pleased to say that it turned out really rather good! Tasted genuinely delicious. A couple of areas to improve on still (slightly too oily, noodles needed a bit longer) but otherwise I’m rather proud. 😀

Axel Wilkinson · November 7, 2010 at 8:27 pm

That would be fantastic.

And on a related note, the pics of the That dinner you made today looked superb. Made me want some spring rolls, in fact.

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