THERE'S no mistaking that Pheeraya Hill is the real deal when it comes to Thai cooking - and if you want to know anything about Thai food or Thai vegetables you can ask her.

But if you do you had better make sure you have some time to spare because another thing that is immediately obvious about Pheeraya - or Nid as she is known to her friends - is her boundless enthusiasm for both food and gardening.

Which is just as well as she spends her all her time either cooking two meals a day for her husband, teaching cookery classes, demonstrating cooking or experimenting with growing exotic Thai vegetables in her garden, greenhouse and polytunnel.

She learnt first from her mother in Thailand and then was sent to live with her aunt who sold food on a market stall. It was Nid's job to ride the motorbike to get the raw ingredients and she spent many grinding hours with a pestle and mortar making curry paste. School work was done in the evenings.

Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would end up passing on that knowledge in a country the other side of the world.

When she left her home in the north she went to Bangkok as a clerk and studied in the evenings for a marketing diploma. Then she met and married an Englishman 16 years ago and the course of her life changed dramatically.

When she got here what she found was that people might have liked to talk about Thai food but really they knew nothing about the real thing.

"People just think Thai food is about coconut milk but it is not true. There are four parts to Thailand, north, south, east and west, and the food is different everywhere. I want people to know real Thai cooking, there is much more to it and always I want to let them know they can cook Thai food in the UK.

"Some ingredients will have to be substituted - if you can't find galangal you can use ginger. Now you can find lemongrass anywhere and Kaffir lime leaves you can get dry. I can't see why it is difficult - you can buy local chillies in Dorset!"

She knows because for the past six years Nid has been working with chilli king Michael Michaud from West Bexington and together they are planning a series of grow and cook' gardening courses for exotic cooking.

They have already undertaken cooking demonstrations together at River Cottage and the Eden Project. Nid has also been involved in the Bridport Food Festival, including at this year's event over the weekend.

They are also collaborating on a recipe book and Nid already has 60 to 70 recipes for it.

They will be combining the recipes with a bit about growing Thai vegetables and herbs.

There is a friendly rivalry between the two - and both are very keen and knowledgeable gardeners.

Nid's greenhouse and polytunnel are a testament to just what exotic and edible plants can be grown in this climate - and bringing back seeds from her mum's garden in Thailand may just give her an edge!

It's great fun to take a taste tour around her polytunnel, trying her Thai parsley, Vietnamese coriander, numerous greens with Thai names it would be foolhardy of me to try to spell, growing under glass in old baths, apparently all popular in stir fries, as dipping vegetables or with soupy noodles.

She has a wonderful peppery Thai radish plant growing rampant, innumerable pots full of lemon grass, a shiny Kaffir lime plant, curry leaves, Thai aubergines, Morning Glory, sweet potatoes where you eat the leaves, Thai cucumber, even hot Thai basil, lotus leaves, which apparently make a healthy if bitter sweet drink, Thai ivy (like spinach) taro leaves, bitter gourd, som poi that has no name in English but is a tamarind substitute.

Then there are the bamboo and banana plants but so far no galangal.

"It is hard to grow galangal. I have tried many, many times but I am going to try again. I want to be the first lady to grow galangal, that's my dream."

Although something may have been lost in the translation, it sounds like her way of growing lemon grass is getting it to sprout in water first - and that owes something to the family tradition of a footbath at the bottom of the stairs!

Now Nid is branching out and is offering cooking classes at Marsh Barn in Bridport on July 30 and August 13, both traditional Thai cooking, with one for non-meat Thai food.

Nid hit on the idea of teaching several years ago.

She said: "I never thought I'd do teaching or cooking demonstrations but I do it every day anyway so I asked Yeovil College if they were interested in Thai cooking classes."

The answer was yes and they have been run successfully for a number of years - but this being England Nid has had to struggle with a teaching qualification and that's a test even for native English speakers!

"It was horrible. I was crying and crying. I wanted to give up but the students in the class were very helpful and my father-in-law was a teacher so he was helpful. It was very, very hard."

She and her husband often spend weekends checking out Thai restaurants in the name of research (such a hard life!) and seeing how other cooks solve the dilemma of the compromise between real Thai food and western ideas of it.

It is a dilemma she faces in her cookery classes and the ones that run at Yeovil College work their way up from a sort of beginners' introduction to Thai food and end up with the real hardcore enthusiasts learning exactly what Thai people eat in their own homes.

She also cannot help herself - whenever she goes back to Thailand or to another country like Singapore she is always watching other cooks, always tasting food, working out the ingredients if she cannot get the chef to co-operate and tell her.

Anyone interested in either her Marsh Barn classes or the cook and grow course with Michael Michaud can contact her on 01460 76391 or email pheeraya62 The grow and cook day courses include What's Hot, What's Not; Fusion Thai and Asian cookery (with Nabeela Khan) and they are being run throughout the summer at Sea Spring Farm in West Bexington from July to September.

Full details on www or from Mr Michaud on 01308 897766 or email Beef Waterfall (Nua Nam Tok) serves 2-4 Sirloin or rump steak about 300 gm Shallots peeled and finely sliced two small (or one medium onion peeled finely sliced) Lemongrass finely sliced 1-2 tablespoons Dried chilli flakes roasted1 tsp Roasted ground rice 1 tbsp Lime or lemon juice 2 tbsp Fish sauce or soy sauce 2 tbsp Herbs to garnish such as: mint leaves, coriander leaves and spring onions.

To make the roasted ground rice put the rice (about 3-4 tablespoons) into a dry wok or pan on low heat and roast, stirring until the rice starts turn to yellow.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then pound in a mortar or food processor (or coffee grinder) until you have a coarse powder.

To make roasted chilli flakes put the chilli flakes into a pan or wok and stir fry dry on low heat for about one minute or until they start turn to brown. Remove from the heat. Grill or preferably barbecue the steak on medium or high heat until cooked to your preference, and then cut into thin slices about to 1 cm wide.

Put shallots, lemongrass, lime juice, fish sauce, chilli, ground rice and beef into a large bowl and mix well, then garnish with plenty of herbs and serve with a variety of raw vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, basil, or French beans.

Serve with sticky rice or steamed rice.