Exploring Culture in Cooking Classes
PHOTO: The Tourism Authority of Thailand is supporting a community based food project outside of Bangkok. (Courtesy of TAT)
Food is culture. It’s the product of people engaging with the flora and fauna and with the very soil and sunlight of their native environment and applying their cultural tastes and biases to the raw material of the land itself. Like art, food happens when materials combine dynamically with craft. The meal illuminates whomever harvests it, cooks it and serves it. The culture, history and rites of a destination arise from its food as surely as aromas do. Travelers who return from their travels knowing how to make dishes from where they’ve traveled have something more than a souvenir to share with friends and to recall their journeys with.
That’s one reason why the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) Discover Thai-ness campaign sees the cooking class as an ideal medium. The TAT is promoting new Thai culinary experiences organized by Concept Cooking and Craft. The cooking class as an element in a vacation was pioneered founded by the late Charlie Amatyakul in 1986 at the Thai Cooking School at Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental.
“These Thai culinary programs in which visitors can learn some of the secrets of Thai cooking are in the spirit of our 2015 Discover Thai-ness tourism campaign, which emphasizes and promotes at least seven unique elements of Thai culture, one of which is our amazing national cuisine,” said Juthaporn Rerngronasa, Acting TAT Governor and TAT’s Deputy Governor for International Marketing (Europe, Africa, Middle East and America).
The TAT also supports a community-based “farm to table” project, the Meal@Farm course, which takes groups between six and 20 to the “The Hidden Valley of Thai Herbs” in Bang Khae, Bangkok in order to explore the origin of Thai ingredients along the “route of salt and coconut” of the Samut Songkram and Samut Sakhon area.
There are many Thai cooking schools for a multitude of travel tastes. The Wellness Kitchen, for instance, offers a half-day culinary class combined with a spa treatment, pool access and/or sauna at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel. Bangkok’s Bo.lan Cooking Classes take no more than 10 students. The turn-pro class is available on the first Friday and their novice class the first Thursday of the month.
Classes at the Naj Thai Cooking School begin in the herb garden where the chef discusses ingredients. That’s followed by a 30 minute theory class, demonstrations and then hands on cooking. The Bai Pai Cooking School offers half-day courses in a Thai home environment, either in the morning or afternoon.
You don’t have to be in Thailand to take a Thai cooking class. Among the classes at Fiji’s Laucala Island are those taught by Thai Chef Piak Sussadeewong, whose career actually took him through the kitchens of the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. His classes teach everything from Thai street food to fine dining. As with all of the foods at Laucala, the ingredients are grown in the resort’s 240-acre hydroponic farm. All of the ingredients one eats or cooks at Laucala are entirely farmed, fished or foraged on the island or in its waters.
Classes with Laucala’s Executive Chef Anthony Healy often begin with a guided tour through the farm. The classes vary depending on guest requests and can range from making pasta from scratch to learning how to prepare a local fish. The classes and demonstrations can be modified to accommodate every guest’s taste or skill level. Each class can also be adapted for young children. There are also classes taught by Pastry Chef Jon Gladson.
Chef Luke Nguyen worked in many Australian restaurants before returning home to Vietnam where he opened Grain, a Vietnamese cooking class in Ho Chi Minh City. Grain teaches the fundamentals of preparation and presentation. According to Nguyen, each dish contains a glimpse into Vietnamese history. The interactive, hands-on approach allows guests to select and choose their own produce, herbs and spices before creating four separate dishes from start to finish. Destination Asia is arranging cooking classes led by Nguyen from July 14 to 17.
In Beijing, Destination Asia offers a full day excursion that begins at a “wet” market, which is followed by brunch at Temple Restaurant, a tour of Qianmen Street (an ancient shopping street) and a hands-on cooking class in a restored hutong courtyard. The day ends with dinner at a fine Peking duck restaurant, Duck De Chine.
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