Samui Wining & Dining
Master Class

February’s Thai cooking class is Anantara Bophut’s ‘Thai Culinary Journey’.

 

2Only a few years ago they were few and far between. But now they’re everywhere! Such is the universal popularity of Thai cuisine that today everyone wants to learn how to make it. And cooking classes seem to have sprung up everywhere – there’s probably even one right where you’re staying. But did you realise that just about every resort is more than happy to see guests from outside? All the classes are different in one way or another and it also makes a great mini-day trip out, but the only problem is knowing where they are and what’s on offer. And so each month I’ve been sitting-in on a different class and reporting back my findings, and this time it’s the turn of Anantara Bophut.

The resort is easy to find; heading on the ring-road from Chaweng in the direction of Nathon brings you to the traffic lights with the right turn leading to Fisherman’s Village. Continue straight on just a little way past the lights and you’ll see it on the right; Anantara Bophut is the first big resort you’ll come across fronting the road.

It’s impressive. With the uniformed gateman and the long avenue of wooden decking that runs between the gigantic mature tropical trees and plants (with no sign of buildings at all!) the layout is practically palatial. But you’ll soon find yourself in the cool and shady reception area and then guided downstairs to meet Don Lawson, the resort’s Executive Chef in the refined surroundings of the Full Moon restaurant.

Like all classes everywhere, you’ll have already booked in advance. The staff need time to prepare for you and assemble the ingredients, plus, of course, you’ll need to let them know what dishes you want to make. Although there’s a set ‘menu’ of dishes on offer, effectively you can select any three of your particular favourites; the arrangements here are quite flexible. The starting time, however, is firmly set at 9:00 am. You’ll find that many other resorts begin at virtually any time between breakfast and dinner, but here the early start is for a good reason: you’re off to the indoor market in Nathon to buy some of your ingredients.

If you’ve never been inside a busy Thai market you’ll be impressed – in more ways than one! You’ll have some tales to tell when you get back home, not the least of which is that it’s right next to Samui’s first 7-11. Only 11 years ago this was the only one on the entire island and now there must be at least one hundred. And then there’s the fact that the market here sells meat, poultry and seafood as well as herbs and vegetables, and you’ll see some strange sights indeed. Your host and chef for the day, Khun Apichai Phasookrit, is an enthusiastic guide and will readily explain what things are. Don’t forget your camera!

Then it’s back to Anantara, but not to the class; you’ll have a short diversion to the herb garden first. The resort is firmly committed to recycling and conservation and this includes organically growing as many of the vegetables and herbs as is practical.

And then it really is time to put on your aprons and roll up your sleeves and get serious with chef Apichai (who’s more chummily known by his nickname of Khun Jar Tong.) There’s a wide spectrum of different locations for classes such as this, but this has to be one of the most attractive anywhere. You’ll find yourself in a cool and shady dell, just outside the restaurant itself, surrounded by a pleasant combination of gigantic tropical greenery and high-tech equipment! Happily the worktops are fitted with induction cookers, easy to use and with an almost instant response. And there’s plenty of space, allowing up to six people to work in comfort.

Most of the ingredients you’ll need for your first dish have been laid out for you in small ceramic bowls. And this is going to sound odd, but Khun Jar Tong will actually teach you how to make each dish. In quite a few similar schools the chef simply demonstrates what to do, a step at a time, and you copy him. But here, Khun Jar Tong identifies the items first and then tests you on what’s what until you’ve remembered them! His entire approach to the whole class is similar; instead of simply showing you, he’ll ask you to take three kaffir lime leaves, or two spoonfuls of palm sugar, or half a bowl of pea eggplants. And you’ll find yourself remembering what you’ve been taught!

He’s a patient teacher and will gently help you if you’re inexperienced, correcting your grip on the pan handle, or re-positioning your fingers so that you don’t inadvertently include your fingertips along with the chicken you’re slicing. And he comes out with a wealth of useful tips, too – don’t stir the prawns as they’ll add a fishy flavour; crush the garlic before you chop it, and so on. This is the sort of hands-on commentary you’ve come here for and something you won’t find in a book.

And having made your first dish, you’re invited to sit and eat it. Some cooking classes do this right at the end and it’s not particularly pleasant eating cold food.

Whilst all this is going on, the cheerful and mischievously-humorous Chef Don will be popping back and forth to see how things are going and to exchange quips and anecdotes (just ask him about his ‘Thai red-ant-egg salad’, for example). It’s relaxed, it’s fun, it’s entertaining and it’s instructive. And it’s exactly how a good Thai cooking class should be!

As I said earlier, the classes here begin at 9:00 am, winding up at around 1:00 pm, and that’s seven days a week. At the end you’ll be presented with your stylish and monogrammed ‘Anantara’ chef’s apron, together with full colour prints-outs of your recipes and a very professional certificate of achievement. And the entire experience will cost you just 2,200 baht each, which is excellent value for money.

There are a great many Thai cooking classes on the island now and sometimes it’s hard to know which one to choose. But at Anantara Bophut all the ‘ingredients’ come together perfectly and, as such, this class comes highly recommended.

 


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