“Yeah, that could definitely use a little more galangal,” says Kathryn Joel, owner of Get Cooking, as she places what must have been her 20th tasting spoon in the to-be-washed pile.
Bustling around a kitchen packed with mostly couples, Joel, who has been operating the cooking space and café inside of the MacEwan University residence for the past year, directs us through a Thai cooking class. A group resembling one gigantic family crowds around an equally gigantic kitchen island, sipping wine and bumping elbows.
Joel, a London-trained chef and former investment banker with a degree in English literature, has been operating her business since 2011. After moving to Edmonton in 2009, she established her cooking classes from home, but the business quickly expanded to the point of needing a much larger space.
“MacEwan found me. I didn’t find them,” she says over the piano music coming through the kitchen’s speakers.
Originally, however, Joel turned down the offer from the university. “This is supposed to be an exclusive experience,” she says. “I don’t think [my clients] are going to have a great experience walking into residence and having to sign in at the front desk.”
After working out some of the kinks, however, Joel said yes. Since last September, she has been using the space to teach people about a variety of different cuisines. She offers a multitude of classes, ranging from Indian to Italian. On this particular Wednesday night, we chose to dedicate four hours to touching raw fish and extinguishing our flaming taste buds — also know as: making Thai food.
We start with fish cakes, simple-looking rubbery patties that take a surprising amount of effort and skill to create. “Not everybody nails it on their first try,” says one of the assistant chefs, laughing and pointedly looking at the deformed fish cake that sits in my palm.
It seems that cooking Thai food (or cooking in general, really) is an unexpectedly nuanced process that requires patience, an understanding of the ingredients being used, and a good tolerance for spice. The women beside me giggle upon coming to this same realization, as they learn that an extra splash of fish oil does, in fact, make a huge difference to the taste of Pad Thai.
As knives scrape across cutting boards, food talk continues, wine keeps flowing, and the food keeps getting spicier — in the form of a salad, of all things. Joel’s classes feature dishes that showcase the variety of food choices associated with different types of cuisines. In just one class, we make and eat four dishes: fish cakes with a pickle salad, green mango salad, Pad Thai, and a curry — all of which quickly disappear from our plates.
For students, making meals as extravagant as those that we created that Wednesday evening would be a dream. Bringing these recipes to fruition might also be unrealistic for most people, as they require a host of expensive ingredients and the necessity of actually knowing what you’re doing in the kitchen.
Joel, who has a son in university, explains that cooking as a student can be difficult due to budget and time constraints, but it’s certainly not impossible to make relatively cheap, healthy meals. Between folding up dishtowels, receiving a shipment of fish from Iceland, and assisting people as they pick up their community-supported agriculture boxes, Joel throws out a variety of recipe ideas that would be suitable for students.
“I would recommend buying cheaper cuts of meat, like brisket, round steak — stuff that you can braze,” she says. She also recommends hosting cooking parties and making large batches of soup, stew, chili, and pasta. In the near future, she is going to introduce classes that will be more suitable for students. For those who, like me, barely know how to turn on an oven, the option to take skills-based classes will be available.
For those who just can’t be bothered to pick up a spatula, there will be an improved café service. Collaborating with the Mercury Room (an events-based space in Edmonton), the Get Cooking Café will have extended hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as well as a variety of new and more affordable items for the convenience of staff and students on campus. Continuing the trend of bringing local, sustainable, healthy and delicious food to campus, Joel hopes to see a higher influx of customers experiencing the food that Get Cooking has to offer.
As we finish off the cooking class at 10:30 p.m., it seems quite apparent that a lot of passion goes into running the various facets of this business, from teaching people how to make slimy fish cakes, to providing students with better food options.
While a belly full of Thai food can certainly put you in a good mood, creating something with your own hands might be an even better way to start or end the day — with a feeling of accomplishment and food-induced contentment.
Photos by Madison Kerr.