Trawling Thailand’s best cooking schools

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an accomplished cook or a novice in the kitchen, after a few days cooking at one of the many recreational cooking schools in Thailand’s cities and regional areas, you’ll feel confident in creating authentic Thai dishes at home.

Thailand is a country of many regional cuisines: fiery curries hold sway in the south, while milder food features in the cooler climes of Chiang Mai in the north.

But while Thailand’s neighbours – China, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and India – have all contributed to the country’s flavoursome cuisine, Thai cooking has its own exotic and distinctive character based on its abundance of herbs and spices, a culinary thread that weaves throughout the country.

A rustic century-old building on the banks of the Chao Phraya River is the venue for cooking classes run by Bangkok's grandest hotel, the Mandarin Oriental.

The Oriental Thai Cooking School, situated across the river from the hotel, opened in 1986, and since then has offered demonstrations by chef-lecturers, followed by some hands-on participation by students, of some of Thailand's most exquisite cuisine.

I'm staying at the magnificent hotel, and take a boat across the Chao Phraya to join a class.

As you would expect from the Grand Dame of Bangkok's five-star hotels, cooking classes use the finest ingredients. Much of the prep work is done beforehand by kitchen staff, which can be a bit frustrating for those of us itching to chop and dice.

The morning class includes a background on Thai cooking, its predominant herbs, spices and pastes, different cooking techniques, and menu preparation.

We students share tasks for the hands-on part of the class, keenly supervised by instructor Chef Nairan we make Grathong Thawng (pastry shells with chicken filling), Khao Haw Bai Bua (steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf), followed by spicy herbed soup with beef and shrimp paste, and for dessert sweet southern-style dumplings in coconut sauce.

Chef Nairan joins us as we lunch our delicious feast, seated at table with crisp linen tablecloths and waited on by attentive staff, in very Mandarin Oriental style.

A counterpoint to the formality of a hotel cooking school is Thai House, a residential cooking school 20 kilometres north of Bangkok. Classes are conducted under the watchful eye of tutor Pip Fargrajang.

Pip has been teaching the art of Thai cooking at her family property, set amid a lush orchard on the banks of a slowly flowing khlong – river canal - for more than 20 years.
While Pip offers one-day cooking classes, part of the charm of a two or three-day course is the opportunity to stay at Thai House, where after a few days you almost feel like part of the family.

Fact file

  • Oriental Thai cooking classes are held from Monday to Saturday, from 9 am to 1 pm. One cooking class is 4,000 Baht (AUD$132) per person, 20,000 Baht ($657) per person for six consecutive classes.

  • Mandarin Oriental's luxury cooking school packages, which include a five night/six day gastronomic program that includes limo transfer from the airport, one-hour jet lag massage, dinner, four mornings of cooking classes, five nights’ accommodation, and buffet breakfasts. 
    For more information go to mandarinoriental.com.
  • Thai House is situated at Tambol Bangmaung, Nonthaburi Province. Prices start from 3,800 Baht (AUD$126) for one-day cooking class, 8,950 Baht ($296) for two-day, two-night course, and 16,650 Baht ($551) for three-day, three-night course. The two and three-day courses include khlong journey from Bangkok, trip to the local market, meals, classes and accommodation. 
    For further information visit thaihouse.co.th.

Note: currency converted on Oanda on 30 May, 2014.

Thai Cooking Schools in and around Bangkok

Siam Hotel

Four traditional Thai teak houses facing the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok’s upmarket royal Dusit district form part of stylish low-rise boutique getaway, the Siam Hotel. Chef hosts private daily classes on request, which start with a tour of the local fresh produce market.

Manohra Thai Cooking Class

The master chef and crew greet guests at the Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort and Spa Pier, where they board the Manohra Cruise and set sail along the Chao Phraya River for a cooking school with a difference.

Baipai Thai Cooking School

Baipai Thai Cooking School offers a half-day home-style Thai cooking experience that start with an introduction to Thai cuisine then moves to herbs and spices before you cook four different dishes for lunch.

Silom Thai Cooking School

Silom Thai Cooking School is conducted in a traditional Thai setting where you can learn to cook Thai dishes in a relaxed environment with small classes in an open Thai-style kitchen. Each class starts with a trip to the local market to buy fresh ingredients.

Blue Elephant Bangkok Cooking School

Located in the heart of Bangkok, the Blue Elephant offers hands-on cooking classes commencing with a visit to the morning market where students learn to select and buy Thai ingredients for their personal cooking lesson, followed by a meal. Private cooking classes can be arranged for professional chefs.

Amita Thai Cooking Class
Learn traditional Thai cooking techniques within the homely environment of a century-old house. Amita Thai Cooking Classes include a trip to the herb garden, recipes and instruction for four authentic Thai dishes.

UFM Baking and Cooking School

UFM offers ten-day bi-monthly Thai cooking courses. Classes take place from 8.30 am until noon, and recipes range from the simple to the sophisticated, regional specialities and Thai favourites. Five-day vegetable carving courses are available on alternate months.

For further information on visiting Thailand see the Tourism Authority of Thailand website at thailand.net.au.