Cooking classes in paradise: play, cook, eat and play some more...
Many hotels in Thailand offer a Thai cooking class on the premises which effectively consists of a chef demonstrating 3-4 dishes. Priding itself on providing “an authentic, indigenous experience,” with Thai food central to the experience, The Anantara Hua Hin presents their deep and strong commitment to the cuisine. The Anantara Hua Hin provides a beautiful dedicated gazebo with cooking stations and an experienced cooking instructor to teach you one-on-one as you learn through doing.
As soon as our car pulls into Anantara, Hua Hin, a popular coastal town 3 hours outside of Bangkok, I know I am in for a treat. Lush trees, bushes and flowers cover the ground. 20 foot high stone walls, massive bas-relief elephants and huge posts originally for holding elephants, line the drive. The drive opens to a combination of modern and traditional Thai style buildings, packed with Thai art and antiques. As we get out of the car, serenity pervades.
Chef Bongkosh picks us up and introduces herself as one of the chefs and the cooking instructor. Easy going, soft spoken and cheerful, the chef has taught over 2000 people, beginners to experienced chefs, to cook Thai food over 4 years. Prior to joining Anantara, she was a cooking instructor at Sofitel Centara, Hua Hin.
Cooking School without Walls
What appears to be just a beautiful pavillion (sala) overhanging a lily pond turns out to be built specifically for teaching cooking classes, with 4 cooking stations, a sink and plenty of work room. What a commitment to teaching cooking on the part of Anantara! Next to the sala is a Thai herb and vegetable garden with some core Thai ingredients: mint, Thai basil, hot chili, eggplant, kaffir lime, lemongrass, coriander and squash. I can’t think of a better place to cook and relax.
To Market, To Market
We’re starting off the morning with a visit to Cha-am Market, a large market in the next town. The market is larger than Chatchai Market in Hua Hin, but less chaotic. Chef Bongkosh walks around and picks up different ingredients explaining the name and how they are used in Thai cooking. There are more mounds of curry pastes than types of curry available in Thai restaurants outside of Thailand. A good selection of southern ingredients abound because Hua Hin is a gateway to the South. Fresh seafood is still kicking in large containers. This bodes well because fresh means sweet.
We learned five popular Thai dishes: green curry, tom yum goong, chicken stir fried with cashew nuts, chili sauce with fresh vegetables and papaya salad. The pots and pans, cooking utensils, tasting spoons and apron are at the ready for you. The class is hands-on: Chef Bongkosh describes a dish and then has you do all the cooking under her close supervision. You then move on to the next dish, which she describes and you cook. Like many Thai cooks, she didn’t emphasize in following the recipe but tasting. At the end of class you receive a booklet with the recipes and information on ingredients. You also get a cooking class certificate to show friends and family at home. What you come to realize very quickly is that once you get the ingredients assembled, prepped and ready, cooking the dishes is actually surprisingly easy. Perhaps it’s a testament to Chef’s instruction, but the biggest challenge for most western trained cooks is that you need to trust your tongue as you’re putting a dish together, to guide you in balancing out the various flavors. There are some specific techniques taught, like how the curry should look when it’s cooking and when to add certain ingredients, but the class makes cooking good tasting Thai food very accessible.
‘I’m destined to cook.’
As we got to know Chef Bongkosh, we enjoyed hearing how she got to learn her craft. Upon hearing a fortune teller predicted that she would be a cooking instructor one day, she decided to stay far away from culinary school and major in English. After graduation, she started as hotel front desk receptionist. One day it just hit her, she would rather be in the kitchen. Chef Bongkosh decided to take a low paid, menial kitchen job to get rid of her cooking bug. ‘I got paid 200 baht a day’, Chef Bongkosh said. It was quite a jump to take the kitchen position where her pay was equivalent to a day laborer. ‘But, I had a degree!’, she said to herself, unsure of her decision. Chef Bongkosh stuck with it and worked her way up with Chef Anak as a mentor. Now she believes in destiny and happily teaches cooking classes. ‘I’m destined to cook’, said Chef Bongkosh.
Further One’s Knowledge at the Temple
Temples had long been a part of Thai education system, where people sent children to learn how to read and write from the monks. A temple is also a center of a community; people congregate and discuss the local happenings, especially old timers. Chef Bongkosh’s choice of vacation is hanging out with these ladies, learning old recipes and local cuisine at various temples around the country.
What does a chef eat?
Chef Bongkosh’s favorite go-to dish is Kai Jiew or fried scrambled egg. After cooking so many elaborate and time consuming Thai dishes, a simple fried scrambled egg is a treat.
Anantara Hua Hin’s choice of offering a cooking school with a committed, experienced instructor and providing a beautifully designed and positioned dedicated structure shows that they care deeply about teaching authentic Thai cooking. Chef Bongkosh has the background and personality to give you a piece of Thai cuisine that you can take home. The cooking class is a perfect vacation treat for a foodie and novice cook; when the kitchen gets too hot, jump in the pool and follow up with a massage, just steps away.