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.”
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.”
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.