Life lessons you can eat

FACTBOX

Dwight Turner is a man who wears many hats. Not only is he a familiar face in Thailand's culinary scene (yes, he's the man behind bkkfatty.com and contributes to eatingthaifood.com), but he also spearheads In Search of Sanuk, a charity that provides food, shelter and educational support to survivors of torture and trauma. His love for all things delicious and a passion for education has inspired him to create Courageous Kitchen, a place where cooking skills meet life lessons. Turner and his team of volunteers hold cooking classes for disadvantaged children, teaching them how to make tasty meals, as well as discipline, self-confidence and the importance of healthy eating.

What inspired you to get involved with charity work?

I come from a pretty altruistic family, so part of finding my way in Bangkok was about discovering a place I could invest my talents and energy toward giving back.

If you could teach the kids one lesson they'd never forget, what would it be?

Our motto for Courageous Kitchen is, "Leaders in the kitchen are leaders in the community!" I really believe the kitchen is a microcosm of the world, where at any given moment you're asked to act under pressure, cooperate with others and overcome challenges. Those skills are applicable no matter what your profession. If I can make that connection for the kids and teens we work with, then I'll consider myself successful.

What do the kids learn besides cooking skills?

Cooking is secondary to the confidence I hope to teach. Often, we're working with students who have never had a safe place to fail. The importance of the time in the kitchen is showing them how to respond when things go wrong, cope with miscues and drum up the resolve to persist through adversity.

What's been the best part of cooking with the kids?

Having outsiders affirm what I already know -- that our students are awesome. Every day our kids have to be courageous in the face of circumstances out of their control -- how they look, where they were born and the cycle of poverty. Recognising the obstacles to their success, our volunteer teachers and even guest chefs have all commented on how remarkable their developments in and outside of the kitchen have been.

Is there any particular dish you needed to work up courage to eat?

Durian wasn't love at first sight. Of course, now that it's among my favourite fruits, I'm really glad I didn't give up on it. But I'd say it took nearly a year to get over the initial fart from opening the fruit and begin to smell its sweetness.

What's a kitchen ingredient you can't live without?

The Thai mirepoix of onions, garlic, and chillies.

When is your next event?

Our students cook every weekend, and most recently we've been bringing products produced with the help of chefs from Opposite Mess Hall to sell in local markets. In the past we have sold items such as marinated olives, pica lily relish and tomato jam at the Spring Epicurean Market and K Village.

How can we help?

We're in constant need of monthly sponsors to keep our classes going. People can visit the In Search of Sanuk website (insearchofsanuk.com) to give a donation to sponsor a student or a class activity. We also welcome chefs to get involved by volunteering their time, and hope people will look for the products we're producing to help us make the project more sustainable in the future.

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