Samui Wining & Dining
Master Class

April’s ‘Thai Cooking Class of The Month’ takes us to Impiana Resort at Chaweng Noi.

 

2Quick! The boss is coming – look serious!” No we weren’t sharing a smutty joke. Nor had we stumbled across a dubious website. In fact, at that precise moment, we were each wearing a very serious chef’s hat and apron. We were also each holding a hot frying pan and trying to do something simple. Well it looked simple. It looked really easy when Khun Sak did it. It was just a quick flick of the wrist. A quick flick and all the sizzling ingredients popped up into the air an inch and fell back into the pan to carry on cooking. Except that at my co-student’s first flick about a quarter of her pan ended up down the front of her apron. Which was really funny. But I stopped chuckling when my attempt missed by a mile and ended up on my shoes. At which point ‘the boss’ turned up to see how it was all going and everybody did their best to look really serious.

 

Learning how to cook Thai food is a serious business. And it’s now so popular that just about every hotel and resort has its own class. Because of this, every month I check out a different class and report back with my findings. This time it was the turn of Impiana Resort Chaweng Noi. ‘Khun Sak’ (more formally known as Khun Adisak Seapoo) is the resort’s Executive Sous Chef. And the resident Executive Chef is the experienced and laid-back Philippe L’Obry – less formally known by the kitchen brigade as ‘The Boss’!

 

But before I go into detail, I want to tell you a secret. There are three things that make a good cooking class a great one. Firstly, no matter how much you learn, if it’s not fun then it’s not good: nobody wants grim memories to take home. Secondly, the location needs to be attractive. And, finally, if you really get to learn something too, something that’s useful and that you’ll remember, then that makes it all even better still! And my fellow student and I both agreed afterwards that all these three aspects were firmly in place at Impiana, making it a session to remember.

 

She, by the way, was Judith Paschal from Paris, on holiday here with her family. Having individually booked our places on the course the day before (as you are required to do everywhere) we met up for the first time just before 11:00 am, with time to say our ‘hellos’ and enjoy a coffee before Khun Sak guided us to the waiting minibus in which we headed off to the market.

 

Some classes don’t include a market visit. But, if you’re not familiar with the sights and sounds (and smells!) of them, it’s an absolute must! Khun Sak is jolly and outgoing, speaks excellent English, and had us giggling at some of his witty comments and observations. Not only did we learn a lot about herbs and spices but we also picked up some very solid tips on how to haggle and bargain; a lesson worth learning in its own right.

 

‘Impiana’ has two restaurants, one above the other in the form of a two-floor block, open at the sides and overlooking the sea. The lower floor is Sabai Beach Restaurant, with the top floor, Tamarind Bar & Lounge, having a bar, a sports lounge with a pool table and pub games, and a cool and breezy separate outer dining-terrace. And it was on this elevated terrace, facing an impressive seascape, that we returned to find our ‘cooking stations’ ready and waiting.

 

A big table had been attractively decorated and laid-out with two gas burners and chopping boards, and with most of the ingredients already prepared and waiting in small ceramic bowls. We donned our hats and aprons and Khun Sak went over the ingredients with us, identifying each one and explaining its purpose. He’s a natural teacher: instinctively patient and thoughtful, but with the talent to somehow laugh and joke at the same time! (It’s when you’re with someone like this that you understand why Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles’.)

 

So far everything had been utterly enjoyable, and that continued throughout. But now we really started to learn something, too. Khun Sak is an encyclopaedia of accumulated knowledge and experience and he was continually passing on invaluable hints and tips. Did you realise that there is a wrong way to tear-off kaffir-lime leaves? Peel each of them off away from the stalk: their aroma is noticeably reduced if you hold the tip of the leaf to do this. And did you know that garlic can be made more, or less, pungent depending on whether you crush it or slice it? Or that chilies have not only ‘heat’ but also flavour? And that you can keep all the flavour but tune the degree of spiciness to your liking by simply by removing the seeds? Another tip is to always add the lemon last. The same applies to seafood – in both cases their taste and odour will be less invasive and will maintain a harmonious balance. These are gems of wisdom that you simply cannot get from a recipe book or online video and no doubt the main reason that you wanted to do a cooking class in the first place!

 

At Impiana, you’ll end up making four different dishes, one soup, two ‘mains’ and a dessert that come straight from the restaurant’s Thai cuisine menu. But if you’re yearning to learn how to make something special that’s not listed, all you need to do is ask.

 

After Judith and I had sat down to enjoy the meals we had made we were formally presented with a CD of photos of our class (quickly and professionally produced), a beautifully-printed colour booklet of Thai recipes and a certificate of achievement: most impressive. Judith had already told me that she had never really taken Thai cooking seriously, “But now I can’t wait to get home and have a Thai dinner party,” she enthused. “I’m all excited and have learned so much. It was great fun and I’m now far more confident!

 

And with a trip to the market, four different dishes, a terrific teacher and a great view, all-inclusive at an impressively-reasonable 1,250 baht, Thai cooking classes on Samui don’t offer much better value-for-money than here.

 

Rob De Wet

 


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