Samui Wining & Dining
Master Class

This month we go ‘hands on’ with the Thai cooking classes at Mercure Samui Buri Resort.

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    I bet that your resort offers a Thai cooking class! Nowadays, such is the popularity of Thai cooking that just about everywhere seems to be holding one. And for a while now I’ve been checking out these classes and reporting back. But one of the first things I discovered was that all these classes are different. Most last for about two hours and cover three set dishes. Others run for most of the day and offer a wider choice of dishes, and some even include a trip to the market first. Some classes are fun, others, less so. And the approach of each chef varies, as does the cost of it all. And this month I went along to Mae Nam to see what the classes are like at Mercure Samui Buri Resort.

Unlike the majority of the island’s resorts, the ‘Mercure’ in Mae Nam (there’s a second one in Lamai) is out of sight and tucked away down the side roads towards the most western edge of the bay. Probably the easiest way to get there is to continue through the long straight of Mae Nam (in the direction of Nathon) until you see the sharp left turn (into Ban Tai). On the right, directly on the elbow of the bend, there’s an archway leading towards the Wat Na Phra Lan (temple) and the Lomprayah Ferry. Turn onto this narrow road and take the first concrete turning to the right. After a few minutes you’ll see the gilded complexities of the roofs at Mercure, and this path leads directly to it.

As with all cooking classes, you’ll need to make arrangements in advance. At least 24 hours notice is needed in this case and you can do this via telephone or email. But, as soon as you begin to schedule your session, you’ll find that this class is unusual. Normally, you’ll be presented with a ready-prepared ‘menu’ of 15 or 20 dishes to choose from. Often these are arranged in sets – a starter, a main dish and a dessert – and you select which set of three you most like the sound of and would like to learn how to cook. Some resorts are more flexible than others on this point, allowing you to exchange one of the items for something you’d rather try instead. But Mercure has no set menu at all! Instead, you’ll be given a lavishly-illustrated cook-book of Thai recipes. It’s completely your choice which three of these you select – it could even be three different curry dishes if that’s what lights your burners. It’s entirely ‘up to you’, as they like to say over here!

When you arrive on the allocated day you’ll be met by the suave and smiling figure of Nicolas Jousset, the resort’s very capable Food and Beverage Manager, and guided though the maze of side paths towards the resort’s beachside signature restaurant, L’escale, where you’ll find everything set up in readiness for you. The class is not actually held in the restaurant itself, but right next to it in a small sala (open-sided thatched house) in the pleasantly manicured tropical garden. This is quite idyllic; shady and cool with a great sea view, and this is also where you’ll be introduced to your teacher, L’escale’s Executive Chef, Khun Suraporn Munyuen.

Having sat-in on classes that made me feel like I was back at school again, let me say that a cheerful and relaxed teacher with a good sense of humour makes all the difference. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in Khun Suraporn as the class gets under way. He’s light-hearted and cheerful and will joke along with you when your noodles droop or you spill the beans. Needless to say, he’s also full of useful hints and tips and quickly becomes aware of what level you’re at and how much he needs to guide you. Despite numerous cooking classes, I’m still a farmer’s boy at heart and Khun Suraporn quickly adjusted his approach and moved to stand next to me to demonstrate the steps (it’s so much easier to follow when you don’t see the mirror image of your teacher opposite).

And having made my massaman curry (I just love the mild sweetness and the peanuts), along came another pleasant surprise – I was allowed to eat it! Of course, you’ll get to eat what you make – eventually! But there’s nothing worse than making two dishes and then seeing them quietly congealing on the table whilst you begin on the third! Here, very sensibly, you get to enjoy your food, piping hot, as soon as you’ve cooked it.

This approach – the informal step-by-step demonstrating, with my copying his motions, was consistent for all the dishes and was most effective. We worked from the big illustrated recipe book that I’d chosen my dishes from, with Khun Suraporn identifying the ingredients for each dish (ready-prepared in ceramic bowls) and supplementing the cook-book directions with further explanations and advice. Everything was beautifully presented and thoughtfully laid-out; it was not only a lovely location but obviously the result of lots of practical experience, too.

On this occasion, being by myself, I was attended by just one teacher. But if you come as a couple, or in a group, then you can expect to benefit from the attentions of yet another expert. Khun Chamnong Boonta, the resort’s baker and experienced Patisserie Chef, will double up with Khun Suraporn to provide more individual attention.

Value-for-money indeed! But there’s more. As well as an excellent three-course meal (!) you’ll be presented with the same illustrated Thai cook-book that you’ve been referring to, plus a high-quality chef’s apron with the Mercure logo embroidered on it. And also an extremely professional-looking certificate of achievement that you can proudly display when you return home. And the grand total for all of this is more than reasonable 1,500 baht each, and that’s including VAT and tax.

There are lots of different classes around Samui, some even right on your doorstep. But this one’s a touch out of the ordinary and well worth the enjoyable trip-out to get to it. The Thai cooking classes at Mercure Samui Buri Resort therefore comes highly recommended!

 


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