"I really enjoy teaching this class because students are really motivated to learn," he says, adding: "I feel like I'm being an ambassador of my country by exposing these people to wonderful Thai food and Thai culture."
Rojanawon begins his course with a slide presentation covering Thailand's geography and history, the contrast between its urban and rural areas, what its restaurants and traditional cookware are like, and how they make such things as coconut sugar.
"You appreciate it more if you know the culture," he says. "It's very important. I myself like other ethnic food, like Italian and Korean. And I appreciate the dish more when I know where the ingredients come from and the ideas behind the original dish."
While Rojanawon acknowledges that it's a common American belief that curries and other complex, spice-laden Southeast Asian dishes can be difficult to make, he dismisses it as "a misconception."
"People feel intimidated. The ingredients are so exotic, but once you pass that, the cooking itself is very simple and very practical," he explains. "You don't need any special equipment. You don't need special cookware. You can use what you have at home."
Since he began teaching, Rojanawon has seen his students change from mostly middle-aged women to include younger students, international business travelers, and more men than in the past. He attributes some of that diversity to the proliferation of Thai food, which has grown from family-run Thai restaurants to upscale Asian fusion hotspots. However, he notes that the poor economy and the increasing availability of ethnic ingredients have also contributed to a surge in popularity.
Scott, who sees mostly young professionals at BCAE, agrees. "Rather than going out for Thai food, you can learn to cook Thai food at home. . . . It makes it easy," she says. "And you don't have to go to specialty stores to get, say, saffron anymore. You can get it at Stop & Shop."
Now that local adult-education centers and grocers have globalized, there's no excuse for that $20 take-out order.