Anyone who knows Moneta resident Mantana Heim knows she’s passionate about cooking, especially Thai dishes. Through her SML International Cooking School, Heim is not only teaching classes, but she’s also launched a food box business that offers complete Thai meals that can feed a family of four.
“It will come ready to cook,” Heim said of her newly launched business Thai Style. “It’s food from start to finish in probably less than 30 minutes on the table.”
For $40 a meal, Heim purchases the ingredients, makes the sauce, packages everything — including step-by-step instructions — and delivers it to designated locations around the lake for pickup. A different Thai dish is offered each time, and food boxes are available on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
“After you prep your ingredients, it takes only five to six minutes to get to eat it,” Heim said. “Gourmet food starts at home.”
Buying the freshest, locally produced ingredients available is Heim’s main focus, and it’s what she imparts to her students in her cooking classes.
“I am really into the local growers,” she said.
But this self-professed “foodie” wasn’t always into Thai food or cooking, for that matter. The sixth of 10 children born to a police chief and his wife, Heim’s primary focus growing up in Thailand was on getting an education. “As a child, my main job was to go to school,” she recalled.
Because her father was a police chief, the family had to move every two years to stave off corruption. Although she wasn’t allowed to cook, moving often helped expose Heim to foods and flavors from other regions. “I had a chance to eat at different places,” she recalled. “But I didn’t know how to make anything.”
When Heim was in her mid-30s, she moved to the U.S. While she loved American food, she also found herself craving dishes from her homeland. “I was yearning and wanting to eat Thai food,” she said.
She bought a Thai cookbook written by a California woman who had lived in Thailand. “She really knew her stuff, and that was how I learned,” Heim said.
Friends and family swooned over Heim’s cooking.
“‘Mantana,’ they said, ‘we really like this; teach us how to make it,’” Heim recalled.
After she and husband Gus moved to the lake from Florida more than a decade ago, Heim decided she wanted to open her SML International Cooking School and share her love of Thai cooking with others. However, knowing she needed to perfect her skills, Heim took off to Thailand for three months to study traditional cooking techniques.
She enrolled in the culinary arts program at Chaing Mai Technical College. Classes regularly consisted of making a main dish and a dessert from a recipe provided by the instructor using only basic tools in traditional Thai cooking. Initially, there were eight students, but at the end of the three-month course, attendance dwindled because the work was so labor-intensive.
“Doing this from scratch, our class only had four [students] left,” Heim said.
After she returned to the U.S., Heim got set up to teach cooking classes in the colorful, well-appointed kitchen of her Moneta home. On the second Saturday of each month, she hosts classes (at $30 per person) for anyone who may be interested in learning how to cook Thai food.
“Even if I have one student, or five or six, people come to learn how to do it,” she said. “Six is probably the maximum because I want everyone to learn.”
Upcoming classes will include massaman curry chicken, laab gai (a low-calorie chicken salad), fresh spring rolls, lo mein with Asian vegetables, drunken noodles, ham and pineapple fried rice with won ton soup, among others.
“I can also do an appetizer class of Satay, a peanut sauce class or Thai egg rolls and fresh spring rolls,” Heim said. Similarly, the food box meals feature dishes such as pad Thai with pork tenderloin, chicken with sweet basil stir-fry, and red curry with fish or chicken and jasmine rice.
Heim said future meals offered through her food box business will depend on what ingredients she can get locally when they’re at their freshest. “My customers will know ahead of time so they can make a decision at least two weeks ahead,” she said.
Brimming with as many ideas as there are Thai dishes, Heim wants to host an open house and reception to provide samples of her dishes for a nominal fee.
Also in the works is a class on bread making for those who may feel like they don’t have time to make it. Heim makes healthy grain bread that includes carrots, raisins, sunflower seeds and wheat germ. “You would not feel guilty because you’re eating something that’s good for your body.”
Healthy, clean eating is what Heim wants to emphasize with her cooking. “I try to stay away from chemicals,” she said. “We’ll teach you how to eat healthy and quickly and be good to your body.”
To see a list of events offered by Heim, visit the SML International Cooking School page on Facebook.