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So, you’ve discovered the delicious delights of Thai cuisine through your travels, and now you want to learn how to recreate these dishes on your own. Phuket is home to several Thai cookery courses where you can learn the secrets behind those dreamy, creamy curries, spicy salads and tasty stir-fries. Most of the island’s top resorts offer Thai cooking classes, but we were looking for something more low-key and accessible. Asking around led us to a half-day class at the Organic Thai Cooking school.
Held at the home of Thai chef Khun Eng in a peaceful, out-of-the-way residential area near Rawai beach, the three-and-a-half hour class not only covers the preparation of three Thai dishes, but offers tips on how to grow and source organic ingredients.
The price of 1,300 baht includes the instruction, a trip to the local market, all ingredients and supplies, a copy of the recipes and transport from anywhere in Phuket south of Karon beach. Transport from more northern locations may be arranged for an additional charge. A six-dish class for 2,400 baht is also available.
The course starts with a brief tour around the chef’s little garden of Eden, a small area brimming with an array of herbs, spices, vegetables and fruit. Organic gardening in Phuket is a constant battle with the tropical island’s pest population, and to help prevent an insect attack many plants are set in pots and hung from specially made racks – keeping them off the ground helps keep the bugs at bay.
The school has four different set programmes available, but the chef is flexible if there’s a particular dish you’re keen to try that’s not on the menu. If you’re vegetarian just let her know in advance and she’ll modify the class for you. The rice and all the vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices used in the course are organic, but not the meats, which are sadly near impossible to find in Phuket.
Our group tried the Thai Cooking Course 3 programme, which includes green curry with chicken (gang giao wan gai), fried rice with pineapple (khao pad sapparot) and Northern fried chicken salad (laab gai thot).
The course is aimed more at everyday cooking, not gourmet, so if you’re hoping to learn to make curry paste from scratch using a mortar and pestle, for example, you’ll need to arrange for that in advance. Otherwise, the paste is pre-made and purchased from the market.
For all three of the dishes we made, it’s surprising how quickly and easily they came together once the sauces were measured out and the meats and veggies chopped. Preparation, not the cooking, takes up the bulk of the time in making a dish.
The trick in Thai cooking is knowing when to add the fresh herbs and sauces and in finding the ideal balance of sweet, salty and spicy flavours to create the right taste – it’s at this part of preparing the dish that you’ll need to pay especially close attention. Once everything’s in place, it’s a quick session with the wok or cooking pot to finish the meal.
The outdoor kitchen is well arranged to make it easy and comfortable to cook, and stools are provided if you don’t wish to stand through the whole session. Those newly arrived to Phuket may find it uncomfortably hot, since the area is cooled by only a few floor fans – you might want to make sure you’re acclimatised to the tropical climate first before joining the class.
The chef isn’t too chatty throughout, but did an excellent job in demonstrating some of the finer points in making a dish better, such as the optimal way to slice the chicken breast. As well, any questions we asked were answered deftly and thoughtfully. Friendly and unrushed, it feels more like you’re learning your way around the kitchen with a friend or an auntie rather than taking a formal cooking class.
Another highlight of the Organic Thai Cooking course is that it’s limited to a maximum of three students, so you’re guaranteed a lot of personalised instruction. And at the end, tasting the fruits of your labours in the kitchen — we were quite pleased with our laab gai! — makes for a fine finish to an enjoyable, enlightening afternoon.
By Lana Willocks
Last updated on 14th June, 2014.