From street vendor to cooking school and cookbooks. An NGO helped her, now she helps others in need.
Photo above of popular Klong Toey Thai cooking school entrepreneur Saiyuud Diwong demonstrating how to cook som tam in her compact kitchen, in front of a group of foreign enthusiasts. Despite the tiny kitchen, everyone gets a chance to display their cooking skills. The popular som tam is even tastier when you cook it yourself. For more photos see the original article here.
Click button to listen to Klong Toey Cooking School and rightclick to download
Now she's cooking, A helping hand from a charity group has turned a street vendor into a popular teacher and jet-setting celebrity by Sirinya Wattanasukchai and Yingyong Un-Anongrak
'Europe people don't eat prawn head; I take out for you. Europe people don't eat chicken skin, fat; I take out for you," cooking instructor Saiyuud "Poo" Diwong told a group of European and Australian students as she handed out a box of peeled prawns and sliced chicken.
The boxes were passed around the class; and pieces of meats were added to boiling water, followed by fish sauce, sliced galangal, shredded kaffir lime leaves, chilli paste and lemon juice. The next minute, the students were tasting their own version of tom yam kung.
Saiyuud, a 38-year-old who grew up in a densely populated 70-rai community in Klong Toey district, has never attended a Cordon Bleu school, nor has she ever worked at a Michelin-star restaurant. Her English is far from perfect - but she definitely knows how to cook and communicate with foreigners.
She has taught hundreds of expats and foreign tourists to cook Thai dishes at her "Cooking with Poo" school in the Klong Toey community for the past few years. She also offers a catering service.
Before "Cooking with Poo" was set up in 2008, Saiyuud was a regular food vendor who stood in front of a stove from 5am-9pm, catering to individual customer's orders. All that hard work left her with just 100 baht in the pocket each day.
But her life took a turn for the better when she met a social worker named Anji Barker, who helped her set up her cooking school for foreigners.
"How could I communicate if I only knew 'yes', 'no', 'OK' and 'thank you'?" Saiyuud recalled, with a laugh. But the cooking classes eventually took off, with Barker, who acted as an interpreter, explaining the food ingredients to the students - over the phone.
In the beginning, Saiyuud was given 60,000 baht to buy new pots and pans for her cooking class. Forget impressions of a shiny stainless-steel cooking station with a slanted mirror hanging from the ceiling, reflecting the cooking demonstration, and an instructor wearing a chef's uniform. Her 25-square metre kitchen has a small fridge, with four portable gas stoves placed on top of two laminated worktops.
The class started small, her old stove with just three students, and then moved to a larger kitchen that could accommodate up to eight students at a time. Each student is charged 1,000 baht per session, which includes three dishes selected by the students.
But the students are impressed by the unpretentious setting of Poo's kitchen. Her energetic character and her simple cooking skills have made Helping Hands Thai Cooking School one of the Bangkok experiences most recommended by tourists on the website tripadvisor.com.
After Saiyuud picks the students up at a meeting point near The Emporium, the session usually begins with a guided tour of Klong Toey market. Then they head off to her kitchen to begin the cooking session, which lasts about two hours.
The school is meant to lift the lives of the people in this poor community.
''I couldn't understand why these people would want to work long hours for little money - without holidays and social security until the last day of their life,'' said Barker, adding that Saiyuud always had the potential to be successful.
Via the Helping Hands project organised by a group of Christians, Barker wanted to improve the quality of life for those living in this poor community, beginning with a small amount of money to help them start a business. Barker has lived with her husband - also a social worker - and two children in Klong Toey for the past 10 years.
''It's the culture of poverty, distrust of authority and limited knowledge shared by people living in urban slums around the world that keep them stuck in their own poor community,'' explained Barker.
The Helping Hand School means not only a handsome income - several thousand baht for half a day's work, which Saiyuud shares with her two full-time staff, and a few more part time staff - but also some awesome experiences.
Last April, Saiyuud exchanged cooking tips with Italian Michelin-star chef Igor Macchia from Piedmont. She taught him how to cook larb gai mod daeng and kung ten (rare Northeastern spicy dishes with raw ants' eggs and raw shrimp salad), while he taught her how to make lasagne and pizza.
''My life has completely changed,'' said Saiyuud, who is moving her kitchen to a different venue nearby in order to accommodate up to 10 students at a time. She even recently launched her own cookbook, titled Cooking with Poo Saiyuud Diwong, at a chic restaurant in central Bangkok.
There have been changes to her lifestyle, too.
Three years ago, Saiyuud would have never ventured outside the community alone. She always needed company, even for a short trip, like to Silom, just 3 kilometres away.
She said she didn't know how to take public transport.
But by the time you read this story, the Klong Toey slum native will be on some road somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne. She and her team - her husband, plus a few close neighbours - are on a four-week tour of Australia for the book launch, and will be giving a cooking demonstration at La Manna Essendon Fields at the old Essendon airport.
It's the first time she has flown, let alone travelled overseas.
Saiyuud now rewards herself with a 13,000 baht salary - much more than she used to earn back when she was standing behind a gas stove cooking station - taking a day off every Sunday and regular holidays with her family to the outer provinces.
But she hasn't stopped at her own success. She not only encourages others in the community to start up their own businesses, to change their lives, but also provides financial support to them. This amazing woman voluntarily donates roughly 10% of her net profit to the Helping Hand Group, which then gives it to anyone wishing to change their life by running a small business - such as sushi delivery or a pork satay or kanom krok (Thai dessert) stall.
She now also travels outside of her own small world. ''Now I know how to take the Skytrain. Just tell me where you want me to meet you,'' Saiyuud chuckled.
(Source: Bangkok Post, Now she's cooking, A helping hand from a charity group has turned a street vendor into a popular teacher and jet-setting celebrity, 28/06/2011, Sirinya Wattanasukchai and Yingyong Un-Anongrak, link)
Helping Hands Cooking School - the cooking school discussed in the article (See Facebook and tripadvisor.com)
Restaurant Business Vocabulary
street vendor - someone who sells something, but not in a shop พ่อค้าแม่ค้าแผงลอย
stall - a large table or a small building that is open at the front, used for selling things (or for giving people information) รถ หรือแผงขายของ
chef - a trained professional cook in a restaurant (See Wikipedia)
chef's uniform - the official work uniform of a chef (worn while working in a restaurant)
Cordon Bleu school - the world's largest hospitality education institution, with 35 schools on five continents serving 20,000 students annually (French meaning: The Blue Ribbon) (See Wikipedia)
Michelin-star restaurant - the most famous system of restaurant ratings for gourmet restaurants, one to three stars are given to excellent restaurants (See Wikipedia)
restaurant rating - a score, number or ranking of restaurants based on their quality and/or cleanliness (See Wikipedia)
gourmet food - very special food made with special recipes and ingredients (See Wikipedia)
catering service (noun) - the business of organising the food and drinks for an event such as a party or meeting การจัดเลี้ยง the business of providing food service at remote sites (See Wikipedia)
catering to (verb) - giving people the things that they needs, satisfying needs
demonstration - showing something and explaining how it works การสาธิต
cooking demonstration - when a person shows people how to cook some food
instructor - teacher
venue - the place where an activity or event happens สถานที่ที่จัดงาน
launched - began เริ่ม started เริ่มต้นดำเนินการ
book launch - an event to start the sale of a new book (and let the public know about it)
meeting point - an easy to find place where people agree to meet
guided tour - when a person who knows an area (a guide) brings a group of people around an area to show the area to them
ingredients - foods that are used with other foods in the preparation of a particular dish ส่วนประกอบ
peel - to remove the skin from a fruit, vegetable or the shell from a prawn ปอก, ปอกเปลือก
prawn - a seafood in a soft shell, a large shrimp กุ้ง
peel a prawn - take the shell off a prawn before eating it
slice - cut into pieces ตัดเป็นแผ่นบาง
galangal - a plant in Thai and other Southeast Asian food (Thai: ข่า "kha" in tom yum, tom kha gai), "in its raw form, galangal has a citrusy, piney, earthy aroma, with hints of cedar and soap (saponins) in the flavor; its flavor is a complement to its relative ginger, but galangal has little of the peppery heat that raw ginger has ... A mixture of galangal and lime juice is used as a tonic in parts of Southeast Asia," related to ginger but does not taste the same (See Wikipedia and Google Images)
slice the galangal
shred - cut into very small narrow pieces ตัดหรือฉีกเป็นชิ้นๆ
kaffir lime - "a lime native to ... Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand ... used in Southeast Asian cuisine" (See Wikipedia and Google Images)
shred some kaffir lime
chilli paste - chili peppers ground until it is almost liquid น้ำพริก
raw - not cooked
fridge - refrigerator, box to keep food cold, a piece of kitchen equipment which uses electricity to preserve food at a cold temperature ตู้เย็น
portable - can carry with you and take anywhere
portable gas stove - for heating and cooking food (small so you can take it anywhere)
laminated - several thin layers stuck together
worktop - a kitchen counter, a flat surface that you can do cooking work on top of (cut, slice, shred, etc)
laminated worktop - a special flat surface for preparing food
chic - fashionable and sophisticated
lifestyle - the living conditions and things people do everyday (fashion, home decoration, pets, cooking, music, tv, movies, garden, etc) รูปแบบการดำเนินชีวิต
tasty - delicious
even tastier - more delicious than others
recommended - people say it is good (so you should buy it, choose it, use it )
now she's cooking - working hard and moving ahead (advancing, making progress)
charity - involving giving money or help to people who are poor or ill, or who need advice and support การกุศล
jet-set - an international group of rich people who socialize together, in places like the French Riviera and the Swiss Alps (See Wikipedia)
jet-setting - regularly travelling widely when you want for long periods of time for pleasure, using the wealth and free time that you have
celebrity - a famous person (especially a movie star, singer or professional athlete)
compact - small and taking up little space
enthusiast - a person who loves to do some activity in their free time, hobbiest
version - one of a set of different forms ฉบับ, เวอร์ชั่น
densely populated - when many people live in one small area
community - local people, all the people who live in a local area or place ชุมชน
communicate - make a person understand your thoughts feeling, feelings or information (usually done with language, spoken and written) การติดต่อสื่อสาร
expats - people who live outside their own country for long periods of time (for work or retirement, for example)
individual - relating to or involving a single, separate person or thing แต่ละบุคคล
took a turn for the better - a bad situation improved
social worker - a person trained to help people with problems in their life (poverty, health, family problems, etc) (See Wikipedia)
recalled - remembered นึกทบทวน จำได้
eventually - at the end of a period of time or at the end of a process ในที่สุด
took off - became successful (example: the business eventually took off and we made a lot of money)
interpreter - someone who changes what someone else is saying into another language ล่าม
over the phone - tell someone by calling them and talking to them (not meeting them "face to face" and talking to them
impression - an opinion or feeling that you have about something that you do not know too well
slanted - at an angle that is not 90 degrees
ceiling - the surface that is above you in a room
mirror reflecting Y - people can see image Y in the mirror
accommodate - to provide a place for someone ให้ที่พักพิง
session - a meeting for a period of time การชุมนุม ประชุม
impressed - admiring someone or something very much because of an unusually good quality or achievement ประทับใจ
pretentious - trying hard to impress people (make them admire and think well of you) and acting in a false way to do this
unpretentious - acting naturally, not changing the way you act to impress people (or win their favour)
energetic - having or involving a lot of energy กระตือรือร้น, กระฉับกระเฉง
energetic character - is a person who usually puts a lot of energy into the things she does
simple - easy to understand; not complicated ง่าย,ไม่ยุ่งยาก, ไม่ซับซ้อน
skills - a type of work or task requiring special training and knowledge ทักษะ ความสามารถเฉพาะทาง
pick up - go to a place with a car (or other vehicle) to get people and bring them to some other place
head off to - start going to a place (start a trip)
lift - something that makes you feel better or more confident ทำให้เบาใจ
holidays - official government holidays (when people who work at big companies don't have to go to work)
social security - government program to pay money to workers who have problems and their families (illness, injury, retirement, disability, death), employer and employees put money in from their pay checks
potential - the possibility of success ที่มีศักยภาพ ที่เป็นไปได้
chance - what happens when you don't control events (example: gambling = games of chance)
everyone gets a chance - everyone gets an opprtunity (everyone able to try to do what they want to)
improve - to make better ทำให้ดีขึ้น
quality of life - enjoyment of life, being happy and healthy (not just having lots of money)
poverty - the condition of being extremely poor ความจน
distrust - a feeling that you cannot trust someone or something ไม่ไว้วางใจ ไม่เชื่อใจ
authority - power อำนาจ อำนาจในการสั่งการ
culture of poverty, distrust of authority and limited knowledge
urban - of or in a city or town ในเมือง เขตเมือง
slum - a poor area of a city or town (with houses, roads, etc in bad condition)
stuck - caught or held in one place or position (cannot leave, cannot get out of)
income - money that people receive from work or some other source, used for household consumption and savings
handsome income - a large income (attractive to you and others)
staff - workers, employees พนักงาน
full-time - a job for a full 40 hours per week (8 hours per day)
part time - a job for only part of the day (example: 4 hours per day, 20 hours per week)
awesome - extremely good ดีเยี่ยม
rare - not often seen or found หาได้ยาก
ventured outside the community alone - go outside of the small area that she lives in (without other people, by herself)
transport - to move people or things from one place to another ขนส่ง
public transport - buses, subways, vans, etc that carry people from one place to another place
native - someone who was born in a particular place ชาวพื้นเมือง
launch - an event to celebrate or introduce something new การเริ่มปฏิบัติการ, การออกตัวของสินค้า
book launch - an event to start the sale of a new book (and draw the attention of interested readers to the new book)
salary - a fixed amount of money that you earn each month or year from your job เงินเดือน
encourage - give people hope, confidence and strength in some activity
support - help สนับสนุน
financial support - help by giving money
voluntarily - done because you choose to do it rather than because you have to ด้วยความสมัครใจ
profit - money that you make from selling goods and services after all your costs have been paid กำไร
chuckle - laugh in a friendly way
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