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mshafran

Thailand Cooking Schools

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Hi all. I'm off to Thailand for 2.5 weeks and am looking for an above-average cooking school to hit while I'm there. I'll be going to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and down towards Krabi and Kho Lanta in the south. I'm looking at several, including Time For Lime in Kho Lanta and the Baan Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai, but don't have much to judge them by.

I'm looking for a quality school that can both teach me traditional Thai cooking, but also has a creative approach, so that I'll learn more than just Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong and the standard green curry. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated.

-Michael

---

Michael Shafran

delicious. magazine

Sydney, Australia

www.deliciousmagazine.com.au


Edited by mshafran (log)

---

Michael Shafran

delicious. magazine

Sydney, Australia

www.deliciousmagazine.com.au

Magazine of the Year - 2003/04

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You might have a look at Blue Elephant (restaurant and cooking school) in Bangkok. The upscale restaurant serves standards as well as more "creative" dishes. While I generally prefer more typically Thai (ie. focus on food over atmosphere) food experiences while in Bangkok, the one meal I have had there was pretty good. A memorable salmon laab.

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Many people may recommend Chiang Mai Cookery School (also recommended by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and other travel guides) but I would stay away from it. I went for the curry paste class and I found their recipes to be a bit...Westernized in their flavours. I'm not just talking about the lack of heat, but I didn't find the same complexities in flavour that I would find in my dad's cooking or friends' cooking. Their foods were typically quite mild in flavour and even boring. However, if you're not so much for "authenticity", then it would be fine. It is supposed to be the best of the bunch in Chiang Mai and if I found their recipes to be not-so-good, I imagine the others might be worse. They do have several days of classes to choose from, so you can choose which menu you wish you make. They have a website, too, so you can see which classes are held on which days.

I looked at Blue Elephant's website before I went but I thought their food seemed a bit too fusion-y. I had wanted to take lessons at Benjarong, a restaurant at the Dusit Thani, because they tout their food as "royal" and that was my dad's style of cooking but I was unable to. And there's always the Oriental Hotel. Their cooking classes are certainly "above average" in price, though I cannot say if the recipes are, as well.

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I'm not one for Thai (or any Asian) fusion either, but the OP was looking for a school with a "creative" approach .... fusion fans in BKK really seem to like Blue Elephant (as an aside, the chef was one of 3 Bangkok chefs featured in a recent Saveur article on new cooking in the Thai capital, and he is supposed to be skilled in traditional as well as "new" Thai).

The Oriental's school is very oriented to western tastes, I understand. The restaurant is in a lovely setting, but the food is pretty much just OK.

Michael, this may be worth checking out: Thai House in Nonthaburi (a suburb of Bangkok). Accomodations in traditional Thai houses and cooking classes too. Tel 02-903-9611. I haven't checked to see if they have a website.

Good luck.

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hmm , keep the cooking school info coming. I had hoped to do something like that for while, depending on price and the length of time required. The mention of learning thai cuisine that is non-westernized sounds very appealing. I'd love to know where to get that kind of learning experience,,..

Joel

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Chiang Mai is sort of the tourist educational center of thailand. I'm guessing the chiang mai thai cookery school is part of what started it, in addition to many cooking schools there are classes in thai massage, meditation, language, whatever.

Anyway, there is a huge number of people there willing to teach, so you can set up anything you want. for example, i took a class by myself at Kanjana Thai Food Restaurant, and while they have a standard course available they're more than happy to teach you any dish you want. (It's on Ratchadamnoen Road soi 5, (053) 418 368). This may sound odd, but try the kung pao chicken.

Classes can often be set up with very little notice, so I'd try eating at a few places and going from there.

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If you are not a novice, your best bet would be to work in any restaurant that will have you.

I convinced a off the main road Pattaya restaurant owner to let me work in his kitchen and picked up the ropes like no School would ever be able to teach.


I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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Episure... That sounds amazing.

I'd love to do something like that. My experience comes only from a one year culinary program. I have done a stage at a fine french restaurant, but have not started work anywhere since I'm still tied to the electronics industry. I know, quite odd. Would you consider this feasible? I honestly cannot imagine just picking up and working in one of these places where my food skills are really untested and I'm doing it in a foreign language to begin with!

How long did you do this for? I'd love to hear more.

Joel

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Hmm the Chiang Mai touristy stuff I'd prefer to avoid. Maybe that's also because I got the impression that it was overly expensive and designed to be similar to the local restaurants in north america. Maybe this is incorrect. I don't know, but I'd love to hear more.

I'm looking to spend up to a month learning the food in Thailand..

But then again I hope to take home the same level of knowledge from a month in Vietname/Laos/Malaysia etc..

So much food.. and quite a bit of time on my hands...!!

Joel

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It's not that difficult if you are slightly audacious :biggrin:

I also used to be in the electronics industry and some more. It was my Granite biz that used to take me to Thailand's interiors, places that no tourist would ever see. After finishing a few days work and some good authentic food I would land up at Pattaya for a few days R & R. Once thai cuisine has gone to your blood, it stays. I 'd already made up my mind that the only way to get guaranteed supplies of Thai cuisine back in Bombay, would be that I'd have to make it myself. I'm was not a food pro but I'd been cooking since for friends & family for years and would watch every food show on TV.

I located a restaurant which had the custom of the locals and decided to 'stake' out the place. After a few days of regularly dining there I'd made friends with the owner and started by being permitted to watch the chefs at work, the rest followed. It was quite funny, I would sit and dine like any customer and as soon as the peak hour pressure had eased off I would change and join the kitchen brigade.

Subsequently I've done refresher spells wherever possible. The Thais are very friendly people and it's not difficult to become close to them. All the places where I managed to get apprenticeship were off the main road places where authentic stuff is churned.

Even if you do not manage to 'study' in these small eating houses and are left with no choice but to do it the touristy way, go ahead and get the basics, and then experience the taste of the local's food. You have to go 'native'.


I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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If you know nothing about thai cooking, I'd go for a one day tourist course at first--they are targetted at people who don't know what they're in for, typically include a trip to the market to show you things. The most expensive classes in chaing mai is about $25/day--obscene for the locals, but cheap for you.

Then after that, definately try to get in with the locals. Language will be the most difficult thing, but you'll be surprised how easy it is to find some people who can speak english in Cambodia and Laos. Though the infrastructure (and sometimes the food supply) there is much poorer.

BTW, if you care about authenticity, some places are quite honest about it--they'll tell you what they'd do and what they've found farang to like.

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I was just in Chiang Mai and Bangkok for a week. We went to the Kao Hom Cookery school. Kaohom.com. It doesn't teach about Thai cooking in general. But guides you though a menu that is displayed on the website. The classes tend to be small 2-5, my group was the only one who booked for the day so we had a private lesson after paying the non-private price. The teacher is also very sweet, and she can modify the dinner if there is something you are very interested in learning how to make.

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I recently had to go to the Blue Elephant to take photos for a piece I was writing and was very impressed by their setup. The owner and her daughter were copiously friendly, said hello, and invited me to take a look around the school. Although I haven't yet taken their course, everything looked quite professional and well organized, and there's a real positive, friendly aura there.

Austin

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Resurrecting an old thread here... I recently did the 5 week intensive program at RTSCA (www.gourmetthailand.com). The school as presented on their website, and in my correspondence with them, is rather different than the reality.

This was a good school at one time. Before I signed up, I talked to an Exec Chef who had attended RTSCA as a student several years ago, and he recommended it. But now the school appears to be falling apart, both literally and figuratively. The restaurant at the school is empty most of the time. The school itself (which is just the kitchen of the restaurant - there's no classroom) is just hanging on, and has a long list of problems I don't want to detail here.

I was the only student when I was there, and I met the immediate previous student, who was also the only student when he was there. Both of us had attended professional culinary schools overseas, and both of us had worked in the industry. And we agreed that if we had visited RTSCA first, we wouldn't have signed up, and further that we couldn't recommend this place to anyone.

If you're thinking about attending, I suggest you visit and take a look at a class before you send any money; and if you decide to go, insist on paying week-by-week.


Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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I vaguely remeber this being discussed before, but I could not find it on the boards. I am going to Thailand and Vietnam for my honeymoon in October and wanted to book a cooking class while in Bangkok. I know that Blue Elephant is the overwhelming response you get when you ask people about Bangkok cooking schools and I wanted to see if anyone has been there recently and what they thought of it. I found a review of it from last year on tastingmenu , along with some nice photos . I have the same concerns that the author of the review had, that it would be a tourist trap, but he sounded fairly positive about the experience. I am just looking for the most authentic cooking school I can attend.

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I was at the Blue Elephant several months ago, although in the capacity of a journalist (I was taking photos for a magazine article), and was really impressed with the place. I was given a short, informal tour of the place, and greeted by the extremely friendly Thai owner and her equally friendly daughter, who is apparently also a cooking teacher. The facilities and equipment all looked very, very nice, and I was genuinely impressed with how friendly everybody seemed. I would very much like to go back and do a class, as they offered. I think the Blue Elephant has a bad rep here, but in my limited experience, seemed very nice, and the lunch I had that day featured some excellent Thai dishes.

I have been fortunate enough to take part in the Oriental Hotel's Thai cooking school (for a different magazine article!). Again, as I wasn't actually a student at the Blue Elephant, I can't really compare, but to me the Oriental's seemed a bit more "intimate". Their classes are held in a beautiful old wooden house across the river from the hotel, and are taught by a personable and knowledgeable Thai man who used to be an English teacher! We made four or five dishes, which apparently change on a daily basis. My gripe as an avid cook would be that the ingredients were already chopped for you, leaving you just to mix and steam or fry or whatever.

And lastly, I have also taken part in one of Bangkok's newest cooking schools, the Epicurean Kitchen Thai Cooking School (http://www.thaikitchen.com/cookingschool.html). Again, I can't really judge this seeing as I was, again there for free (article) and also that the school had JUST started up when we visited and were probably still working out some kinks. We were given a fun briefing by the host of a Thai cooking show in the US, although I'm not sure if this is a regular feature. And again, the ingredients were largely prepared in advance, and the teachers a bit inexperience and unorganized, although this may have changed by now. The article and photos from this experience can be seen here at my blog.

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I've done a couple of Four Season's classes up at Mae Rim. The facilities and the setting are excellent, and the teaching is top quality, but if you're on a budget, they're kind of over-the-top.

Friends of mine had been to one place called Somkid's (I think), and they were happy with the overall quality.

In Bangkok, a number of people I know have used Blue Elephant. One fellow here just came back from four days of private classes, and has all sorts of new tricks. Again, though, it's not for the budget conscious.

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I've done a couple of Four Season's classes up at Mae Rim.  The facilities and the setting are excellent, and the teaching is top quality, but if you're on a budget, they're kind of over-the-top.

Friends of mine had been to one place called Somkid's (I think), and they were happy with the overall quality.

In Bangkok, a number of people I know have used Blue Elephant.  One fellow here just came back from four days of private classes, and has all sorts of new tricks.  Again, though, it's not for the budget conscious.

I dont really have a budget, was the private classes from the Blue Elephant, only herd good things about that place..

But i only got 8 days to use, so i think it's best if i only go one place this time.


Best regards,

Gilbert

Food blog - www.floss.dk

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Avoid this one like the plague: http://www.gourmetthailand.com/

Or at very least check it out in person before you send them any money. What they show on their website is very different than the current reality.


Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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In September, I took 3 full days of classes at the Chiang Mai School of Thai Cookery plus a 2 hour private class in vegetable/fruit carving. I thought the classes were excellent. 2 of the 3 days, we had less than 10 people with 3 instructors available at all times. $22/day including transportation.

I know they offer private classes as well. If I had the chance to take a private class from a guy named Ollie, I'd jump at it. I liked his style and he was very good. Ollie has a terrific attention to detail and flavor. He's also lived both in the UK and US so his English was flawless.

If you check the website, the classes vary each day. I'd highly recommend taking one of the classes that start with the discussion about Thai ingredients. It was very through and although I had cooked Thai food before and have easy access to the ingredients where I live, I still learned a lot.

On the grounds at "the house" location, they also grow their own green pepercorns, pandan, galangal, etc. If you go, ask them to show you the plants.

I regularly take classes at home (4-5 times a month...or more) and I thought the Chiang Mai School was great. It exceeded my expectations.


Edited by scarlett (log)

Traca

Seattle, WA

blog: Seattle Tall Poppy

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Hello,

This is my first post here. It's a nice forum with lots of info.

I am interested in doing a Thai course. I have been looking at the www.gourmetthailand.com course. I am glad I visited here before taking the plunge. Does anybody else have any experience or knowledge of them? I see from their web site that they havn't updated their schedule for the 2007 year. I wonder if they are still operating. Anyway, I met this guy on-line whose wife had taken a course at http://www.wandeethaicooking.com/ He said that it was a very good course - but his wife is Thai so she would have no problems with communication. I have tried to contact them but they won't reply to my e-mails (yet). I telephoned on Saturday and the line was so bad and the lady I chatted with just couldn't speak English very well. Anybody have any experience of them? This guy told me that the course which his wife took was more industrial as opposed to home cooking.....which is what I am looking for. Does anybody have any other recommendations or suggestions? Thanks.

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Hello,

I am interested in doing a Thai course.  I have been looking at the www.gourmetthailand.com course.  I am glad I visited here before taking the plunge.  Does anybody else have any experience or knowledge of them?  I see from their web site that they havn't updated their schedule for the 2007 year.  I wonder if they are still operating. 

I took a gourmetthailand.course, and I don't recommend it at all. It's overpriced; the so-called 'school' is a crumbling wreck; the 'classroom' is the kitchen of an always-empty restaurant run out of someone's house. I saw the chef/owner (who has nothing to do with the school, other than that he spends a lot of time propping up the bar, answers the e-mail and pockets the cash) in the kitchen for maybe 15 minutes in the entire 5 weeks I was there. The recipes are repetitive and the whole course could be 1/2 as long without missing much.

I've attended real culinary school before, but this place is nothing of the kind. The website is, to be kind, rather misleading. When I was there, I was working on cracked cutting boards with rags as kitchen towels. Half the kitchen equipment didn't work. The chef's wife had disconnected the walk-in freezer by getting someone to remove the compressor (without asking the chef) because they couldn't afford the electricity, while the chef bought a Paco-Jet, maybe the only one in Thailand, that he didn't need and didn't use. He was so worried about it being stolen that he kept it in his office; the ever-rotating staff of illegal Burmese or Laotian (not sure, but they weren't Thai and they weren't legal so they weren't talking) workers there were energetically plundering the kitchens of anything they could steal .

At the same time, the place didn't have a functioning blender. Or food processor. Or dishwasher. The dishwasher had obviously been broken for months, if not years; despite this I was told the repair guy would be coming to fix it 'soon'.

You'll find you're the only student. I was the only student while I was there; and the student before me was the only student while he was there. He was a Cordon Bleu chef, and he thought the place was a complete fraud. If you want another opinion, PM me and I can put you in touch with him.

I know chefs that attended this place several years ago and they spoke highly of it back then (which is why I went there), but that was then and this is now. Maybe this was a real school and restaurant at some point. But the previous instructors are long gone, the place is falling apart and the chef/owner seems more interested in the next bottle of '100 Pipers' whiskey than anything to do with cooking or teaching.


Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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OK HKDave....thanks for that. Do you know of one which you would recommend? Thanks.

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