Each lesson was unique in both cuisine and execution. While at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to take a class at the property’s highly rated and exclusive Oriental Thai Cooking School.
The Cooking School is located across the Chao Phraya River from the main property. Early Saturday morning, Tom and I hopped aboard one of the Oriental’s shuttle boats bound for one of the hotel’s antique Thai houses that accommodates the school. Located adjacent to the Spa, the setting is tranquil and lush with surrounding tropical gardens. And an important side note: we did not have breakfast, and that is a crucial point! We sampled food throughout the morning class and feasted on our dishes in the early afternoon. We wouldn’t have appreciated it on a full stomach!
Although cooking schools is now a favorite activity for tourists to partake during a visit to Thailand, the Oriental’s school opened its’ doors 1986, well ahead of this “trendy” curve. The cooking school typically hosts 5-6 guests for each class. However, it can accommodate as few as a single participant, up to as many as 30. But don’t worry! An anything more than 12 student constitutes a private class for groups such as a family reunion or a company’s team building session.
In addition to us, our class consisted of a single Thai lady and an expat couple. When we entered, we realized we were the last to arrive. Oops! Tom and I sat in the first row. However, every seat in the house has a fantastic view. There are four rows of bench desk-like seats. A mirror was positioned above the cooking demonstration table, allowing students to see from above as well as from the front. Each student was presented with a folder complete with the day’s recipes, as well as several sheets illustrating the typical Thai cooking ingredients, spices, herbs, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Perfect for reference at home!
After a quick introduction, we went on a field trip with a local food market with the Cooking School’s instructor, Chef Narain Kiattiyotcharoen. Our group was transported to the market on one of the hotel’s boats. The market we visited was small, and many vendors were packing up for the day (it was only 9 AM)! However, it functioned as a significant ingredient learning experience. Chef Narain pointed out different the different foods that the local cooks were preparing. He also talked about different ingredients and purchased some items that we would use during our class experience.
Back at the Cooking School, we were treated to a cold, lemongrass scented washcloth and ice water. And then the class commenced! Chef Narain reappeared, changed out of street clothes and into his crisp chef whites! Chef explained the menu and his philosophy about teaching. The menu was, thankfully, unlike the “typical” Thai cooking school that teaches the “typical” dishes such as pad Thai. On this day, we were learning four dishes (3 savories and one sweet) that I have never prepared before. Yay! Chef Narain also said that first, he would demonstrate, and then we would taste, and finally, we get to cook the dishes ourselves.
Before class even started, Chef Narain had us all sample a trio of Thai sweets. With a cup of coffee, it was the perfect way to grab our attention. Then Chef dove into his instruction of our dessert: Khanom Thuay (Thai Steamed Cup Pudding). We prepared the dessert first as it takes time for the pudding to steam. While at the market, Chef Narain purchased a long stiff green leaf herb called “pandan.” The chef demonstrated how to extract the juice from this leaf to add a lovely green color to the pudding. Chef Narain joked that some Thai chefs are lazy and add green food coloring…but that’s cheating! Chef Narain also explained the difference between coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut water, young coconut, and mature coconut as most are used in this dessert. He also demonstrated with different tools how to get all of these “ingredients” directly from the source. A fresh coconut! Rather than the processed version we all buy from the local grocery store.
And then it was our time to give it a go! After washing our hands outside by the school’s herb garden, we dove in and prepared this deceptively easy dessert. One caveat: we did not do the steaming. Chef Narain’s assistants took our cups of pudding to the back kitchen for steaming.
Next, Chef Narain taught us how to prepare Miang Lao (Pork Wrapped in Pickled Mustard Green with Rice Crackers). During his instructions, we learned about (and sampled) palm sugar. Chef Narain showed us how to fry up puffy rice crackers, and then had us do it at his demonstration station! After preparing the filling, I’m sure he saw us salivating, so he had us all taste the yummy pork concoction. Then it was back to our stations to prepare the dish!
The next dish, Gaeng Thepho (Red Curry of Pork and Water Spinach) was Tom’s favorite. We learned from Chef Narain how to quickly prepare curry paste from scratch. As we learned during our SE Asia adventure, homemade curry paste is SO much tastier than the canned variation. Using a beautiful copper wok (which Tom wants so badly…maybe it’ll be a birthday present for him!), we learned handy hints on how to prepare curry. We learned to let the coconut cream and water cook off a bit before adding the meat. And once the meat is added, they are to “swim” and not be disturbed (although I constantly want to stir)! We had fun preparing this dish!
The final course was Yam Khai Dao (Fried Egg Salad with Prawns). This was my favorite! This is a great dish that combines hot and cold temperatures, along with the typical Thai flavors of salty, sweet, spicy, and sour. The “trickiest” part of the dish was Chef Narain’s technique of frying the egg. Instead of a little oil in a frying pan, there was a lot of oil in a wok. My dad fries eggs and French toast this way, so I was familiar with the technique but never tried it myself. Once the oil gets hot, the cracked egg is dropped into the oil, and we quickly used a spatula to pour the hot oil on top of the egg. This way, the egg gets super crispy, very quickly, and the yolk remains soft.
After our cooking class was finished, we were all presented with culinary academy certificates, a new Mandarin Oriental Cooking School apron, and a beautiful bag with 12 essential Thai spices to take home. And then, we were escorted across the path to the Oriental’s traditional Thai Restaurant, Sala Rim Naam, where we feasted on the fruits of our labor. Over a leisurely lunch, we dined with fellow students and enjoyed each other’s company. It was the perfect way to end a fabulous cooking class experience! Tom and I have taken several cooking classes in SE Asia, and the Oriental Thai Cooking School was the most thorough and informative of them all. We wholeheartedly recommend anyone interested in Thai cooking, whether you are a beginner like me, or a pro like Tom, to take Chef Narain’s class. Cooks of all levels will be delighted with the experience!
Booking your Stay at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok with us, you will receive the following exclusive benefits:
Virtuoso Amenities for your stay
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in-room guests in Verandah restaurant
- One complimentary Thai Buffet Lunch for up to two persons at Sala Rim Naam, once during stay (excluding beverages )
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
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