Samui Wining & Dining
Master Class
This month’s Thai cooking class goes ecological, at The Tongsai Bay.


Master ClassYou could use a cookbook. Or perhaps hunt for on-line streaming videos. There must be a dozen ways that you can find new recipes or discover different dishes, particularly when it comes to the very-popular Thai cuisine. And many of them can be good. But there’s no substitute for the ‘real thing’. This is Thailand, you’re surrounded by Thai cooks and Thai food and you’ll find cooking classes everywhere. Nowadays, every resort seems to offer one, although all of them differ in one way or another. But one of the more interesting ones that you’ll come across is held at The Tongsai Bay resort, just to the north of Choeng Mon Bay.


The Tongsai Bay is one of the island’s most respected resorts, not only being the first 5-star establishment built here but also one of the largest. Right from the start it was unique in that it was constructed around the natural features: not a tree or rock was disturbed and all the construction-work was planned to fit-in with the natural landscape. There are actually 83 luxurious suites, villas and cottages knitted into the wooded slopes although you’ll be hard-pressed to see more than a fraction of these at a time. It’s a refined yet laid-back resort and one that’s been at the forefront of Samui’s ‘Green Movement’ for many years. There’s a solidly-established policy of recycling and conservation that runs throughout, and this awareness also extends to the three on-site restaurants, and in particular to the airy Chef Chom’s Thai Restaurant, where the cooking classes are held.


As with all classes everywhere, you’ll need to have booked your place at least 24 hours beforehand. The sessions here are thorough and detailed, and this means that the starting time is fixed at 12 noon. You’ll be greeted with a cool drink and a cold napkin before being welcomed by the resort’s Executive Chef, Mark Krueger. He’s highly-experienced, easy going and relaxed, and an absolute fount of knowledge when it comes to both matters of ecology and cooking. Plus he’s also a gifted and natural teacher, as you’ll soon discover.


And then it’s into the mini-bus to go to pick the vegetables, herbs and spices that you’ll be using in the class. The resort maintains a huge kitchen garden that’s a few minutes away and is often referred to by the staff as ‘the farm’. And this is because it’s much more than just a ‘garden’, as it’s also where the recycling and production of the Effective Micro-organisms (EM) solution (that’s used as a disinfectant and a fertiliser) is carried out – and you’ll learn all about this as an integral part of the class. Mark will take you through the grounds, identifying some of the more unusual plants, and encouraging you to sample the aromas of the leaves, such as kaffir lime, fresh from the trees as you go.


Thank heavens for those cold rolled napkins! They’ll be waiting for you again on your return and, after a pause for refreshment, Mark will guide you to the upper balcony of the extensive Chef Tom’s where everything will be in readiness. This is a purposeful class, born of experience, and everything about it is thoughtful: even something as simple as having a reverse cooking station layout if you’re left-handed – few classes offer this degree of simple awareness. There’s a long table prepared with all the ingredients you’re going to need, gas-powered burners, cutting boards, utensils and also Khun Kuk (Khun Jaturan Ounhasuwan), the resort’s overall Sous Chef and Head Chef of Chef Tom’s, who’s the Thai teacher for the class.


Two teachers? Yes. Because both Mark and Khun Kuk work in tandem; an excellent arrangement. The practical session kicks off with Mark going over some interesting basics that are mainly about the functions of the different knives and how best to use them. Nearly all the ingredients in Thai cuisine are diced, sliced or chopped and the right tool for each job is essential. And then, whilst Khun Kuk demonstrates each step, Mark spends time watching you and helping and advising as needed, smilingly correcting your technique or explaining an aspect in detail.

But where a class like this really comes into its own is in the dozens of tips and tricks that you’ll pick up along the way. Every now and then, with a nod of assent from Khun Kuk, Mark will interject another useful gem of local knowledge. Tasting a scalding soup or stock, for instance, isn’t wise as our taste-buds be burnt by the heat; so you’re taught to do what the Thai cooks do and take a sample with a big spoon first. And then use a teaspoon to test the, by now, cooling sample. Want your curry less spicy? Remove some of the seeds from the chilies. Suffering from a burning mouth afterwards? Eat a chunk of dark chocolate! The cocoa negates the chili-burn almost instantly. This is a class that’s just packed with useful information and ideas.


The classes are held on just two days of the week, Tuesday and Friday, and there’s a different 5-course ‘menu’ for each day. These cover most of the popular Thai dishes. But this is flexible and if you have a particular favourite that’s not on the list, then that’ll be made available for you. Having tried a variety of approaches and formats, Mark’s realised that a maximum number of three students at a time is optimum, allowing plenty of time for one-to-one contact and reducing the chances of any confusion. It’s a leisurely but thorough session and it won’t be until around 3:00 pm that you’ll get to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour.


And there’s still more to come. Because you’ll then be presented with a very professional-looking certificate of achievement, together with your chef’s souvenir apron and hat, complete with The Tongsai Bay logo. Plus a CD photo-record of your whole session that’s been surreptitiously burned onto disk whilst you’ve been eating. And the cost? A very reasonable 2,500 baht per head.


There must be a hundred-and-one Thai cooking classes now being held around the island each day but this is undoubtedly one of the more-comprehensive of them. Add to this the superb setting and the integrated environmental awareness and it has to be said that this class at The Tongsai Bay comes highly recommended.


Rob De Wet


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