Dwight Turner had dreamed of doing something like this for years, but it wasn’t until he moved into a house with a kitchen that he could actually turn vision into reality. With spatula in hand, the broad-minded founder of In Search of Sanuk seized the opportunity he had been waiting for and launched The Courageous Kitchen, a project under the umbrella of his well-known not-for-profit organization.
“The actual cooking is the easy part,” says Turner of The Courageous Kitchen, a project that aligns nicely with the self-proclaimed BKK Fatty’s passion: food. “But, of course, there’s more to the story than showing up and turning on the oven. The kids have to plan, prep, clean up, and sometimes even shop for ingredients. Everyone has to work together and think critically. Those skills, coupled with the ability to provide nutrition for their families, will serve them throughout their lives.”
To the unfamiliar, The Courageous Kitchen provides cooking classes for disadvantaged kids and teens. The project’s impact, however, extends beyond cutting board and burners. Turner and a cast of volunteer chefs teach students culinary cunning on one hand, and self-confidence, discipline, and the importance of eating a healthy diet on the other. On top of education, the volunteers deliver basic food supplies to students’ families. Last Thanksgiving, they distributed over 300 kilograms of rice to the needy. In March, they gave out a further 500 kilograms.
Turner and Christy Innouvong, an American of Thai- Lao descent who returned to the Kingdom to explore her culinary roots, teach English, and volunteer. Over time, The Courageous Kitchen has opened its doors to more and more chefs and humanitarians, including Kannika Kongkaew of Taburete and Chawadee Nualkhair, author of The Bangkok Glutton blog and “Thailand’s Best Street Food.” Recently, Chef Jess Barnes of the award-winning Opposite Mess Hall has partnered with Turner. Working together, the two have introduced a spread of new activities to The Courageous Kitchen, even launching a product line.
“We sell items such as olives, pickles, and sauces at the local farmer’s markets and Opposite Mess Hall to spread the word about our project. So far, we’ve had great feedback,” says Turner. “The proceeds help us to continue the initiative, as well.”
On an everyday level, the programme connects eager learners with volunteer teachers who have prepared recipes they want to share. “We try to cover a variety of food types, including Thai and Western, and healthy snacks,” says Turner. “The cooking classes take place in conjunction with an English learning activity or a lesson about a specific ingredient, such as Thai pumpkin, which is ordered or donated by local outlets like Adam’s Organics.” Thanks to the collaboration with Barnes, chefs from Opposite teach kitchen techniques each week, with a focus on nutrition and food safety.
The programme with Opposite gives kids a firsthand look at a bustling kitchen. On the other side of the coin, it lets chefs share a slice of their lives with hungry learners from the rough neighbourhoods around Don Muang, Intamara, and Sukhumvit, areas where In Search of Sanuk already operates. “It’s not uncommon to see the older sibling of a child who participates in our volunteer pre-school, or whose family receives a housing and food stipend from In Search of Sanuk. Cooking and English classes on the weekend were an immediate hit with older students,” says Turner. “Now, the younger ones have taken notice. Even the parents are curious to see and taste what we’re cooking.”
The Courageous Kitchen is evolving by the day, peppering new projects into the initiative. Those interested in learning about the classes, participating in one, or donating to the cause should visit insearchofsanuk.com. Chefs who can give of their time should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.