Samui Wining & Dining
Master Class

The confessionas of a Thasi cooktinge class hunter.

23When I first began to review Thai cooking classes I unthinkingly imagined that they’d all be pretty-much the same. Wrong! Remember being back at school and how some teachers were terrific? Yes – two or three. And then some of the rooms themselves were brilliant but others were depressing and dull? Now I think of it, the parallel continues. Teachers can be experienced, relaxed, humorous, sensitive to your needs and well-prepared. Or not. So try this: imagine being back at school again but on Samui. Plus you’ve been able to choose what subjects you’re being taught; in this case Thai cooking. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

    Let’s start by considering two opposites. Scene 1 opens with the camera panning slowly across a picture-postcard seascape, complete with fluffy clouds on a blazing blue sky, little fishing boats and islands in the distance. It slowly swings round to include a sweep of hot, white sand fringed with palms, and comes to rest on a snowy-clothed table, laden with fruit and flowers. The only thing missing is the side view of Meryl Streep’s face murmuring about another day in paradise. But this is Out of Thailand, not Africa, and so this scene comes complete with a jolly Thai chef wearing an apron and a big white hat, waiting to welcome you.

    Scene 2: it’s noisy it’s hot, it’s dark and sweaty and clouds of steam squirt across the screen like the boiler room in a Mad Max movie. Busy chefs clank and scurry their way through narrow aisles between towering racks of pans. The camera cuts from one shot to the next like a hip-hop video and finally comes to rest on two people, crouched over a blazing burner with their faces against the wall, being shown how to cook Thai food.

     Take your pick, because both these scenes actually exist. Naturally Samui Wining & Dining only deals with the best places, but I’ve heard of classes being held inside a resort’s kitchen dungeon while the cooks were rushing about making lunches. So don’t unthinkingly assume that the location of your class will be perfect. And this is a really important point to consider, as a dreamy backdrop will give you memories to treasure . . . photos, too.


Probably the best option is
found in those resorts where
the chef offers you his
restaurant’s menu and invites
you to pick out which items
you fancy having a go at.


      Remember the teacher at school who was miserably grim? Well try to imagine one like that but who only speaks to you in an indecipherable language. Or, in this case, Thai. You’d be amazed how many classes I’ve been told about where the chef couldn’t speak English. Happily, this doesn’t seem to happen so often nowadays. But I once did a class where the chef never smiled once, and it wasn’t pleasant. And that’s what doing these classes is all about. It has to be fun. Memorable, enjoyable, fun. And the place where you spent half your time giggling at the chef’s offbeat sense of humour will remain forever fondly in mind.

      You’ll be able to spot right away if the event is organised and the chef knows what it’s all about. You’ll see the ingredients ready and prepared for you, waiting in covered bowls. And another clue is the nong. That’s the Thai expression for junior staff, and all good classes come with at least one of these built-in. It’s their job to make the used utensils or pots vanish and to immediately replace them. And also to know enough about what’s happening to go and get the next set of ingredients without being told. The effects of a 'nongless' class might not be immediately apparent but, if you were able to make comparisons (as I’m privileged to be able to do) then you’ll notice the mess of dirty pots and dishes and spoons and knives that build up around the edge of the landscape as you progress through the courses.

      Ah – right: courses. I’ll offer you two extremes on this one, and I’m told that both of them actually exist! On the one hand a chef who can’t speak English, holds his class indoors facing a brick wall (complete with artistically-coiled fire hose), offers one dish only and charges half the cost of the air fare to Hong Kong for it. But at the other end of the scale there are those classes which include a trip to a market first to buy your ingredients – an experience in its own right. And such awareness is usually accompanied by a wide choice of dishes on offer, in addition to a lovely location. Probably the best option is found in those resorts where the chef offers you his restaurant’s menu and invites you to pick out which items you fancy having a go at. Now that’s what I call confidence! But be aware that the way resorts select and offer the dishes for their classes varies widely.

      OK – I’ll admit that it’s not all that much like it was at school. The essential difference is that here you’re out to enjoy yourself, an option which my school, for one, never provided. But somewhere down the line you’ll be expecting to be taught something too; it’s a cooking class after all.

      Although that connects directly with your ability to learn! I confess that, even after all the classes I’ve attended, if you were to put me in a Thai kitchen today I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m quite proud of the fact that I can now recognise most of the ingredients – except for the different basils, of which there are several and they all look the same to me! But, you see, I’ve never actually tried to learn. I never went in with this intention, or took a pad and pencil and made notes, or bothered asking intelligent questions as we progressed. Yes, I wrote down a ton of stuff, but it was all about the ambiance, the location or how good the chef was. That’s why I was there; unlike you.

      But you now not only have a huge advantage (having become a party to the secret confessions of a professional cooking class attendee) but there’s another thing, too. You’re fortunate enough to be reading Samui Wining & Dining. And we only select the best resorts and review the most-professional cooking classes. It’s not possible to tell you here about all the ones we’ve looked at, but that’s where the internet comes in. And with a bit of digging you can find them all in our archives at Lucky you – and happy cooking!




Rob De Wet


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