Getting Our Hands Dirty at Cooking Class


Thai Street Food at The Cutting Edge Classroom

April 1, 2019

The trepidation began to take hold about halfway to the industrial oven, hands gripping an oversized baking sheet holding 48 chicken wings drenched in Thai spices. Slipping up in the kitchen while cooking for two is a bummer; dumping an entire tray of wings destined for the stomachs of a dozen hungry couples is disaster.

Plus, these sweet and spicy wings smelled really, really good.

This must be what the competitors on Iron Chef feel

Fortunately, the tray made it into the oven, and 40 minutes later, everyone at The Cutting Edge Classroom—our version of Kitchen Stadium for a night—was happily chomping on the wings, one of six Thai-inspired dishes made by the 12 couples that gathered at the West Knoxville commercial kitchen for some expertise, excitement and most definitely some good eating.

We were one of those 12 couples, cashing in on a creative Valentine’s Day gift to learn how to cook Thai street food on a perfectly unique date night—J getting her hands dirty mixing the sweet and spicy wing mixture, T trying to not cut himself with the chef-sharp knives, or dump a tray of wings.

Chef John Alunni, a veteran chef and our instructor, is gregarious and no-nonsense, an homage to his northeastern roots.

He begins the session with a few tips, most prominently: wash your hands a lot, and be careful of the knives. And he says he’ll let us know when we can dip into our wine and six-packs dotting the shelves of the refrigerators (pro tip: you can bring your own booze). But he promises that by the time we’re done, we’ll have created six tasty Thai dishes worthy of a restaurant.

 He isn’t wrong.

Twelve couples were split up into six groups and share cooking stations. For us, that meant we shared a mixing bowl and knives with another younger couple. Twelve is the maximum number of couples that can fit into the space, but Alunni said The Cutting Edge is actively looking for a larger space. Recipes awaited us at the cooking stations, and ingredients were already portioned out and ready in the refrigerators.

Our quartet was tasked with cooking Thai-style chicken wings, which meant we had to break down garlic, pouring honey and soy sauce and Thai chilies and other flavors, and mixing the gooey goodness together with the chicken wings. After 30 to 45 minutes marinating, they were into the oven for 45 minutes, flipped once halfway through, and the result—even baked—was a tender yet mildly crisp wing glazed with the perfect amount of sweetness and spice. 

J is a fantastic home cook, but we’d never made wings before; the thought of making them at home was daunting considering it might involve deep frying, but there was very little difference between our baked versions and more conventionally fried counterparts, and the flavor wasn’t overwhelmed by any extra oiliness. The ease of the recipe definitely makes it something we’ll try at home.

Slideshow of our dishes:

We shared our wings with everyone else in the class, parceling them out like servers, and they did the same with their dishes: fresh summer rolls with barbeque chicken and shrimp, an immensely flavorful hot and sour soup, a chicken curry dish, pad thai, and a coconut and mango sticky rice dessert that was a perfect capper to the meal.

Chef John was there in the kitchen the entire time, offering tips and instruction, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone’s dish came out well—we’d definitely put our meal up with one you’d have at any Thai restaurant around town.

But it was pretty clear which dish reigned supreme: the barbeque wings.