Learning from the pros at Osha Café’s Cooking School
I did have my reservations about traipsing out under the fierce Bangkok sun and spending an afternoon at Asiatique The Riverfront—what is generally considered Bangkok’s notorious theme park of restaurants—but upon arriving at Osha Thai ‘Cooking Chronicle’ Studio I was impressed at the minimalistic setup, polished equipment, and absolutely divine state-of-the-art air conditioning. The space is wrapped by windows which cleverly open up the narrow room. The frontage looks onto Asiatique’s pathway and, perpendicularly, onto the recently opened Osha Cafe restaurant (Bangkok’s sister outlet to the illustrious Osha Restaurant on Wireless Road, made famous by the original establishment in San Francisco).
For our afternoon cooking lesson we opted for the Leisure and Lifestyle Class, the rookie chef’s choice (there’s a Professional Class for those much less mortar and pestle challenged). Some of the menu items on the four available lesson plans might, to a seasoned expat, appear a little on the feeble side—with Phad Thai, Fried Rice, and Green Curry appearing as usual suspects—so we decided on the more exotic course of Prawn and Pineapple Fried Rice, Tom Kha Gai (spicy coconut chicken soup), and Smoky Duck Breast Curry. Our Chef, Thapakorn ‘Korn’ Lertviriyavit, a young man with clear and comprehensive English, was supervised by Head Chef Niphatchanok Najpinij, an expert in Thai gastronomy, and both proved to be lovely and passionate individuals.
First came the demonstration. The chefs took us through each dish, step by step, and with methodical ease. Along the way, we were exposed to some fascinating local Thai fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices, which we were permitted to study, touch, smell, and taste before the cooking process. But the real coconut cream on top were the folk tales we became privy to—the roots of origin, chronicled recipes, tales of how it all began and evolved to this very day. Also valuable cooking tips such as, ‘don’t add lime in when the pot is hot or it will taste bitter’. If I’d only known that sooner I would have saved a number of Thai dishes and a sizable chunk of my cooking reputation. Suffice to say the produce and ingredients used were of a high quality. After each dish we were able to sample the finished product to determine the definitive taste, so we could ferret off and replicate it for ourselves. This is the most daunting process for somebody (like me) with a heighten sense of taste, but a defective sense of coordination.
But there was nothing to fear and, in fact, it was a lot of fun. Even the spirits of my previously flailing compatriot were lifted (his morning hangover eventually subsiding). A cooking class such as this is surely a great experience to share with loved ones. There’s something about cooking together—or by each other’s side—which bonds us like the sticky to the sticky rice. At one point he and I became playfully competitive, peeking into each other’s pans like cheating school girls. And nevermind that you may scorch a pan, or throw too much cumin in, or allow a spatula wet with curry to fly in the air and splatter across your instructor’s apron (whoops). It’s “Dek Dek” to the rescue! Dek Dek are the adorable, cooking apprentices at Osha who help carry you over the flames, preventing any major culinary disasters from happening (which is really kind of like cheating but who cares?). All I know is that my Tom Kha Gai tasted awesome. Well, it was likely mediocre but the fact I’d made it—yes me!—made it all the more delicious.
The real challenge that lay ahead however was the duck curry paste, Chef Ning’s original recipe with about 1,000 different herbs and spices—or so it felt—needed to be pound from scratch. I felt as though my arm would drop off into the pestle and I had a couple of incidences of “curry eye” (they really should provide goggles). That was about the time I momentarily wished to have picked the Phad Thai or Green Curry lesson plan. But after eventually pulling it off, and completing my delicious duck, all regrets were long gone.
Just don’t expect your meals to taste as fantastic and rich as your instructor’s do, but you can get close enough. And for 2,800++ I think it an excellent way to indulge an otherwise lazy Sunday, or any day really. Osha Cafe hold lessons seven days a week, in the afternoon or evening, plus you get to dine on everything you cooked. And if it’s all too much, Osha’s Dek Dek will put your leftovers in an elaborate takeaway container. Eventually you will walk away into the humbled light of day (or cloak of evening) feeling full and content, and armed with great pots of knowledge… and be three Thai dishes the wiser!
By Samantha Proyrungtong
Osha Thai ‘Cooking Chronicle’ Studio
Osha Cafe, Warehouse 10
Asiatique, 2194 Charoen Krung Rd.
Tel: 02 046 9441
Open daily: 5pm-11:45pm