Samui Wining & Dining
Master Class

This month’s Thai cooking class takes us to Nora Chaweng Hotel.



Hmm. Now what shall it be today? Not pad Thai; had that last time. What about a nice, sweet yellow curry with chicken and fried rice? And, having decided, you lay out all the vegetables, herbs and spices you’re going to need and dig around in the cupboard for the fish and oyster sauces, and start chopping. And this is the hardest part because once you’ve prepared everything you’re going to need it usually only takes four or five minutes to cook it all up. Always assuming that you know how to do this, of course.


And it’s not that difficult, either. But you’ll need to have a lesson or two (or three!) to know how it’s all put together. And you’re in just the right place to join a Thai cooking class! Just about every resort and hotel on Samui now has its own class, and visitors from outside are more than welcome. But the big problem here is knowing where these classes are and what they involve. They’re all different: some longer than others and even some with trips out to the market to buy your ingredients beforehand. That’s why every month I sit-in on a different class and report back my findings. And this time it’s the turn of Nora Chaweng Hotel, on the northern strip of Chaweng Beach Road.


The Nora Group of hotels is something of a Samui success story. Starting out with the extensive beachside resort of Nora Beach Resort & Spa, they’ve gone from one achievement to another, culminating with the palatial Nora Buri Resort & Spa which opened last year. Nora Chaweng Hotel came onto the scene at the end of 2008 and immediately proved itself a success; at the beginning of the high season; just four months after its opening, it was booked solid!


It’s very much a no-frills kind of place, with lots of plate glass and natural textures and with solid-but-elegant furniture. The reception area opens onto the air-conditioned space of The Poolside Restaurant & Bar, separated by another wall of glass. It’s light, airy and cool, and you’ll quickly realise how it came by its name when you enter. There’s yet more glass at the far end, but this time leading to the swimming pool which has a broad terrace of tables set along its nearest edge – handy for the smokers amongst you!


As with any class of this kind you will need to have booked your session at least one day in advance. And the most effective way of going about this is to pop in beforehand for a snack or a drink and cast your eyes over the ‘menu’ of dishes that you can make. There are 11 of them in a booklet but, in effect, this is only a guide to help you. If you have an urge to make something else, a particular favourite perhaps, then just ask. The dinner menu is a good guide as to what’s available, with a wide range of Thai cuisine, salads, soups, noodle dishes and all the usual curries. It’s also worth noting that there are several spicy north-eastern Thai dishes available, such as laab nue yang or laab moo. And if you’ve a particular interest in food from the Issan region in general, then this is an aspect you can pursue further.


Khun Kwanchai Sapprapai is the resort’s outgoing Director of Food and Beverages and the chances are that he’ll be on hand to help with your enquiries. But he’s a busy man with two resorts to take care of and you’re more likely to sit down with the Sous Chef, Khun Teerachat Thongkua. Indeed, it will be Khun Teerachat who’ll be your teacher when you take the class. And he’ll be assisted by the cheerful Commis Chef, Khun Pornsri Kranjana.


The format here is that you’ll be making just one dish (but more, if you prefer; that’s your prerogative). And when you arrive, nearly all of the hard work will have been already done for you, as the ingredients will be peeled sliced or diced already and laid out in small ceramic dishes. Khun Teerachat spends time here identifying each of these and what their function is in this particular dish, and inviting you to taste each one or to sample its aroma.


Whilst this is happening, Khun Pornsri is preparing the cooking pan(s) and bringing the hot oil up to temperature. Most ‘students’ tend to come as a couple and the cooking station is equipped with double gas burners. Which means that Khun Teerachat works alongside you on his own burner making it easy to see and follow as he takes you through each step.


And that is just what happens: he picks out each ingredient in turn and demonstrates how to add and cook it, shaking, stirring or tossing the items in the pan as he goes. You follow suit, step-by-step, tasting as you go and adding more flavouring to adjust the overall dish to your particular liking. That’s one of the best things about Thai cuisine; there’s no precisely-defined approach and each Thai cook will end up with slightly differing results.


Thai cooking has become hugely popular and there are dozens of online or streaming videos to help you. But there is really no substitute for standing next to a Thai chef in Thailand and picking up all those hints and tips straight from ‘the horse’s mouth’, as it were! Plus there’s also the added benefit of being able to make notes about it all as you go.


And then there’s the pleasure of being able to sit together and enjoy the meals that you’ve just made! One problem with making three or four dishes at a time is that when you finally sit to eat them, the first one is already cold. But here you’ll find an immaculately-set table awaiting you – either by the pool or inside where it’s air-conditioned – and you can literally enjoy the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labours whilst they’re still piping hot. And then for the icing on the cooking-class cake, you’ll be presented with a very professionally-produced certificate of achievement. Just the job for placing prominently on your kitchen wall when you get back home!


Rob De Wet


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