For many of us novices, learning Thai cooking, in all its glorious messiness, is its own reward. There are plenty of accidents along the way, and much of it is a chance thing anyway. But out of all of this, given enough determination, we can make something that’s truly tasty, and gradually improve on it over time. But all this takes patience and dedication – months, if not years. Is there a way to wield the wooden spoon and proceed to make a few great dishes that we can savour before our calendar, if not our patience, runs out?
Happily there is, and better still, it’s possible to learn while on holiday, at a steady pace. And this is something that many holidaymakers now do. Thousands of people come to Thailand every year not simply to visit beaches and beauty spots, but also to learn the art of cooking Thai food. Some courses are for professionals only, and can stretch out over days and weeks. But if you would just like to be able to make excellent Thai dishes for your friends and family, then a cooking class will probably be just right for you.
If you drop into Nora Beach Resort round 1:00 pm, any day of the week, you’ll see one of the island’s most professional cooking classes getting underway. The first thing you’ll notice is how relaxed the ambience is. There’s always a sense of fun and a lot of laughter; people are cooking dishes they’ve never attempted before, and doing it with what looks like joy rather than gritted teeth. The proof of the pudding is literally in the eating, and when they sit down to eat what they’ve made, they’re wowed by the results. The food’s good enough to be eaten in a restaurant. This is no exaggeration. So how is it that complete novices can produce such professional-tasting fare?
It’s all thanks to the cooks who teach them, and the way the classes are set up. At Nora Beach, once you arrive, you’re in the hands of Khun Sittichai, the resort’s executive chef, or Khun Walai Tubtavee, more affectionately known as Khun Paula, who is his sous-chef. Both, naturally, are great cooks themselves – they run a top quality restaurant, after all. But they’re really good at teaching, too, and have all the requisite talents; they’re patient, can explain complicated concepts in simple terms, and last but not least, they’re able to put everything across in clear English.
To enrol in a class is very easy. Just reserve your place by telephone. Classes are run daily, and are deliberately kept small. The minimum number of people? Just one. So, yes, you could end up having one-on-one training with a professional chef! But no worries if you don’t. With just a few other participants, the class won’t feel anonymous in the least. The maximum is usually six participants. However, Nora can also hold bigger classes, should you decide to come in large numbers. In this case, the format’s different, with classes broken into different teams headed by an individual chef. That way, the teaching always remains personal.
Once you arrive, you’ll be taken down to the restaurant, Prasuthon, where you’ll find your own individual cooking station. And it’s not in the back room of the kitchen, but is in a special outdoor spot overlooking the sea. You might be a little distracted at first by such amazing surroundings, but you’ll find that the classes are extremely captivating. The chef doesn’t simply keep talking about how things are done, she actually shows you while she gives you the instructions; the idea is that you copy her as closely as you can. It’s a method that works very well and is very easy to follow.
You’ll find that you have all the ingredients right in front of you, completely ready; everything’s carefully arranged so there’s no wasted time while you wash, chop and prepare. You concentrate instead on the job at hand, preparing highly tasty dishes. Flavours, aromas and tastes are soon the topic of conversation as you and your group learn how a professional goes about her work.
The cooking class has a different menu for each day of the week, but the staff are happy to make changes when possible. Each class runs along the same lines, and you’re taught how to make an appetizer, a soup and a main course. The appetizer could be salmon with mango salad, chicken satay, or sumptuous dish of scallops, prawns and crab. Then you might whip up a soup of chicken in coconut, or make a classical tom yum. And for mains, there are favourites such as pad Thai, or chicken massaman or chicken penang. The dishes are then all eaten, making this a very convivial experience. At the end of your course, you’ll also be presented with a chef’s hat, certificate and wooden spoon.
As we’ve said, Thai cooking isn’t as exact as western cuisine is; here, it’s all about combining tastes to get the very best in flavours. It’s really up to you to seek what suits your palate. There are all sorts of variations possible, with the most obvious being fieriness. As we know, some people love chillies, whereas others look askance if there’s more than a smidgen in the dish. All these factors are taken into consideration during the course; the real question we face is not just what, but also how we’re going to cook, and a lot of cook books never really take this approach into consideration. This isn’t the case at Nora and instead they’ll teach you the way to balance the recipes according to your own preferences.
It’s a great way to learn cooking and once you get home, you’ll be a star when your friends and family know that you can cook Thai. And where exactly did you learn it, they’ll ask? ‘Oh, from a Thai professional chef,’ you’ll reply coolly. Though short, your training at Nora Beach Resort & Spa will stand you in good stead for years to come.
For reservations or further information, telephone 0 7742 9400.