With Janejira’s Kitchen, State College Woman Offers Classes Specializing in Authentic Thai Cuisine
Photo via www.janejira.us | By Holly Riddle - March 11, 2021
When Janejira Kalsmith was invited to guest teach one of RE Farm Café’s cooking classes, she initially hesitated. Even with her extensive experience in the restaurant world, Kalsmith says she “doesn’t like to brag about cooking.”
But, after about a year and a half of considering the option, Kalsmith took RE Farm Café up on its offer and taught a class over Zoom last year. The experience was a transformative one for Kalsmith.
“After I taught my class with RE Farm, I fell in love with it,” she says. “I used to teach college-level interior design and I always wanted to go back to teaching, but there was never an opportunity for me like that at Penn State, because they don’t have an interior design department. I woke up the next day after that class and told my husband that I wanted to keep doing this. The joy of seeing those people on my computer screen when they discover real, authentic Thai food with my homegrown herbs — it’s unmatchable.”
In November, Kalsmith launched her new business, Janejira’s Kitchen, and taught her first cooking class.
Janejira’s Kitchen focuses primarily on Thai cuisine. While she was growing up, Kalsmith’s family owned a series of Thai restaurants in Chicago and some of her classes now focus on favorite and signature recipes from those restaurants.
“We were famous for regional, Isan cuisine,” she explains of her family. “Our restaurant was famous for this region’s cuisine and it was voted the best Thai Isan [restaurant] in the Chicagoland area.”
Kalsmith’s classes are held virtually and limited to seven participants each. To ensure each participant has the correct ingredients on hand before the class, Kalsmith also offers meal kits with all the necessary ingredients included. She emphasizes that she focuses on true, authentic Thai cuisine, rather than the cuisine participants might be accustomed to eating at their local, Americanized Thai restaurant.
“Being in a small town, unless you’ve lived in a big city, where there are more choices… unless you’ve had that experience and exposure, you wouldn’t know what Thai food is really like,” she says. “A lot of times, the restaurants here [in the United States] will modify the dish so much that it’s far from the truth. For example, you’ll never find chicken Pudd Thai in Thailand. Pudd Thai is served with fresh shrimp, dried shrimp or without shrimp at all. There’s no exception.”
Janejira’s Kitchen offers an option to get prepackaged meal kits prior to lessons. Photo courtesy Janejira Kalsmith.
As Kalsmith expands her business, she hopes to offer prerecorded classes for those who aren’t able to make the live classes on Sunday evenings, as well as so she can offer classes on more time-consuming dishes.
“I’m married to an Italian, so I have triple citizenship and I cook Italian pretty well, too. Eggplant parmesan takes two hours and when I did that [class]… I said to myself, ‘I can’t keep doing this, because it’s just too long.’ I’m going to prerecord that and also have a prerecorded pizza lesson, because you have to make the pizza dough two days ahead.”
Looking to the future, she adds, “It would be great if I could reach a point where I don’t have to spend so much of my energy on marketing to try to fill up classes. I have a few followers who have taken many classes with me and they’re starting to earn rewards. I would love to spend more time planning new lessons for them.”
Janejira’s Kitchen has offered a class on making laab, a meat salad popular Thailand’s Isan region. Photo courtesy Janejira Kalsmith
The Janejira’s Kitchen reward system thanks returning class participants with free recipes and lessons, private lessons, free food and more.
“I love teaching and empowering people,” Kalsmith sums up. “I feel like, in my own little way, I’m helping people through this COVID time. We’re trapped, we don’t have places to go, we can’t travel, but you can still make delicious, healthy, authentic Thai food at home.”
Learn more about Janejira’s Kitchen and upcoming classes at www.janejira.us.
State College's Janejira's Kitchen Offering Online Thai Cuisine Classes
Photo via www.janejira.us | Tammy Falls
By Renata Daou
If you’re bored at home or in your apartment, State College’s Janejira’s Kitchen might be able to help by offering online cooking classes about Thai culture and cuisine.
Janejira Kalsmith was born in Thailand and grew up in a family restaurant in Chicago that was famous for the Isan region cuisine. About a year and a half ago, she was invited by RE Farm Cafe to teach a cooking class. She was reluctant at first but eventually agreed to teach the class. Quickly, she fell in love with it and decided to go off and continue.
“I am very passionate about teaching, and I am also a designer, so I get to mesh the two passions together,” Kalsmith said.
Now, she runs her own online business, Janejira’s Kitchen, where she teaches people about Thai cuisine, in addition to some Italian dishes. Classes range from Thai chicken basil, tom yum koong, tom kha gai, eggplant parmigiana, and Thai country shrimp salad.
“I like teaching and empowering people about Thai cuisine culture, and the difference between the authentic version versus what is available in the U.S.,” Kalsmith said.
All classes are currently online. The classes are live, but Kalsmith is also working on pre-recorded lessons for recipes that require more than one hour. Live classes take about an hour.
“Usually, the classes run in about an hour because I give the background of the dish,” Kalsmith explained. “An easy recipe may take less than 40 minutes.”
Participants in State College have the option to buy each class’s meal kit, which includes the ingredients needed for the specific class. Out-of-state participants can register for the class online and shop for ingredients at their local grocery store.
“In my meal kit, I choose to support small businesses and farmers,” Kalsmith said. “I try to buy their products, and I grow my own exotic herbs at home, too. This is another thing I am also introducing to State College — the exotic herbs in our cuisine. Once you’ve tried Makrut lime leaves, you’re hooked for life.”
The content of the meal kit depends on the recipe. The ingredients range from rice to exotic herbs and seasoning. The idea behind the kit is to save participants time, avoid frustration, and support local farmers.
“You can spend a lot of time shopping and many people might not be familiar with Asian market shopping,” Kalsmith said. “Some of the dishes in Thai cuisine have a lot of ingredients. In soups, for example, there are about 12 different ingredients.”
Participants that want to become more familiar with shopping in Asian markets can take a class called “Curry in a Hurry” that includes an optional field trip. They meet at the East Asian Market the day before class, and Kalsmith walks through the market, giving participants the opportunity to ask questions about the ingredients.
The classes range from two to seven people. Kalsmith wants to keep the classes small and intimate, so participants have the opportunity to interact with each other.
“I like to keep the classes small because I discovered that when the classes are larger, people are reluctant to ask me to slow down or they are too shy to ask questions,” Kalsmith said. “I have regulars that are getting to know each other (virtually), and they are more comfortable with one another. In the future, I might up that number.”
Most folks are in their mid-thirties and above. Younger audiences tend to cook with their parents, and her youngest participant was 8 years old.
“I had an 8-year-old, a 10-year-old, and two teenagers, and their parents were either school teachers or faculty members,” Kalsmith said. “My classes are designed for single participants, but I always encourage them to invite a loved one — especially the little ones. I learned to cook at a very young age, and I think cooking together is a lot of fun.”
Participants of the class get a digital copy of hand-illustrated, personalized recipe cards. Each recipe is one spirit point, and by collecting spirit points, participants gain rewards. With nine spirit points, for example, the participant receives a private lesson. With 12 spirit points, the participant receives a free class of their choice.
Kalsmith also wants students to take the opportunity to take the classes to connect with their parents when they go home over break.
“It would be nice for students to tell their parents about it,” Kalsmith said. “That way, when they return home to their parents, they can spend a quality evening together and cook up a delicious authentic Thai/Italian meal.”
To learn more about Janejira’s Kitchen, check out her website.