Cooking up a storm… from roses to radishes

Writer Gertrude Stein wrote “a rose is a rose is a rose’. I agree and I certainly have my doubts about a radish that should have ended up in a vegetable bouquet display looking like a rose.


My rosy red radish should have had the elegance of that floral beauty, but instead my artistic endeavor was a pitiful failure. The veggie certainly didn’t carve up the way Kim’s did. Hers had glorious petals, flaring as they should. How come it looked so easy when she demonstrated this craft at the vegetable carving class I was taking at the famed Oriental Hotel in Bangkok?

This was my first cooking class and perhaps I should have avoided the carving class choosing instead salad making! However, many more cuisine experiences were to follow where my prowess with pots, pans and local produce was much improved.

Across Bangkok’s inner city Chao Phrya River, from the famed over130 year old Oriental Hotel, where the world’s luminaries have lingered, a state of the art cooking complex offers an experience that more and more travellers are requesting. There are classes for almost every Thai dish. Held Monday to Saturday from 9AM-12.30PM, the timing leaves the afternoon free to wander about this vibrant city of contradictions which boasts of markets and soaring skyscrapers.


A year later I was back in Bangkok and this time tempted culinary fate at the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel and Towers, also located on the Chao Phrya River. The convenient Siphaya stop, a local express water taxi, is only a few minutes away. My intention was to avoid perhaps the world’s worst travel juggernaut.

I arrived at the produce market at 7.30AM with Chef Charoensri who pointed out his favourite stalls and vendors. Here was a plethora of unusual fruits and veggies. These included lemon grass, Kaffir eggplants (tiny green balls) dragon fruit, galangal (that looks like ginger) All negotiations with the stall owners were a prelude to my pre- arranged Thai cooking class at the hotel known for their fine restaurants. Every utensil from pots, pans and a small stove to dishes filled with spiced and herbs, arrived on a mobile table to the Thara Thong (Golden River) Restaurant.

The staff seemed tentative, not sure of my kitchen ability, seemingly dubious about my kitchen prowess. So they wrapped a serious looking apron about my waist and as far up to my neck as possible.

We started with soup and continued through an entire meal at this hands-on session. After each course had been cooked. we shared our culinary triumphs. Tom Yum Goong Yai (hot and sour prawn soup) was the starter. Ingredients were large prawns, lemon grass, galangal, lime juice, chilies (very hot) crushed with a pestle together before I added kaffir leaves. Kaeng Kiew Wan Gai (green chicken curry) gave me the opportunity to cut the chicken into long thin slices, squeeze one cup of coconut cream, add green curry paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, horapha (basil leaves) and mandatory chilies. Finally we get to the Pad Thai Sai Kai (fried small rice noodles) a Thai favourite. Bean sprouts, chopped picked white radish, soybean curd, peanuts, garlic, tamarind juice and ground dried chilies, was much easier than I expected. Now, with my hands gloved, I mixed the finale, Yam Wun Sen (spicy mung bean noodle salad). All a great way to learn and eat at the same time.



Perhaps one of the most impressive and also most unusual cooking classes was more like The Flintstone’s version. On the very blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, in the Tuamotu Islands. is one of the most beautiful hotels at which I’ve stayed The over the water cabins had removable glass table tops so guests can feed the fish from their room – a good reason to stay in-cabin except that I was scheduled to go snorkeling and hand fishing with the hotel’s guide, Kana. Little did I know that hand fishing meant holding a large piece of carved wood with dozens of metres of fishing wire wrap around. When the hi speed boat dropped anchor we dropped the so-called fishing rod after tuna was added to the hook. Very soon, I had caught a mali mali, red snapper and a grouper. One of my fishing mates actually hooked a smallish shark which was thrown back. These were soon to be our lunch. Kana has arranged for these tours, a small motu (island) where he has built an open sided structure with benches and tables, and all the necessary accoutrements. The BBQue was quickly heated and soon the noon meal was grilling and sizzling. During the cooking time, Kana actually climbed a coconut tree and dropped a few down to the ground. Very soon he had us grating the coconut then straining it for the ‘milk’ which we mixed into poisson cru (raw tuna and various veggies) with coconut the milk. Our fabulous lunch was served with not even a morsel left to throw to the waiting colourful fish. This repast in the sun in the middle of the South Pacific was a great lesson of how to grill the catch of the day.

Tel 689 50 84 53



Not too long ago in Auckland New Zealand, I found myself spending the day with one of the most flamboyant, colourful and talented ladies. Peta Mathias is one the most noted TV cooking host, author and teacher at the Auckland Fish Market. First she demonstrates and then in the next room the ingredients have been prepped and the students cook the recipes. Then they all sit down at a long table to eat their way through their cooked meal, often to the singing of Peta where “I make everyone cry and then they go home”.

She shows-off her culinary skills “with whatever has recently influenced moi”. My last class was a mixture of French and Moroccan”.

Fortunate students can attend her classes each summer in her spiritual home in Frances. ‘Fete Accomplie’ sits among the lavender and wild thyme in Mas, St. Victor des Oules near Uzes. These classes are not structured and are a gastronomic adventure. She mixes the food as she does her tours – with great diversity. The provisional itinerary from May 31-June 7 (2008) starts with a pick up at Nimes train station. There’s a soupcon of cooking touring markets, visiting a goat farm, eating at top restaurants, taking a French class. At Nimes train station at the farewell, it seems even the most steel hearted bursts into tears. Ditto with her classes in Marrakesh. Scheduled from October 4-10. Mohammed the gardener gives a tour of his property, there’s horse trek with Les Cavaliers de l’Atlas, stir in some casual cooking class where Peta demonstrates warks (Moroccan pastry) and trid (chicken and warka dish). Off to the souk and more cooking and touring and knowing Peta, the unexpected is to be expected.

For more information, email


The spacious and majestic Villa Buonvisi in Lucca, Tuscany, casts a magical spell on all its guests. However, there’s a quirky side to this elegant villa and it’s as much fun being there as the food is delicious. How can you conceive of Italy without thinking pizza? Well here Chef Lucullus starts his class by telling the history of the pizza and the most memorable was Pizza Margherita. Not only is it named after the Queen of Italy but also features the colours of the Italian flag; loyal and delicious with red tomato sauce, white cheese and green basil. The grand finale is a nutella pizza, what a sweet and unexpected ending to a pizza making class.



The very elegant Curtain Bluff Hotel in Antigua seems like an unlikely place to have guests in the kitchen. But some one is in the kitchen with Chef Christophe Blatz, who has been there 14 seasons, and its visiting gourmets from around the world. In fact, realizing that not only do travellers want tans and fun in the sun and sand, they also want experiences, this one is about cuisine. The Alsatian born chef, with the ooh so-o sexy French accent holds classes with a minimum of six and maximum of 20. The latter is broken up into small classes where the sous and pastry chefs get involved. It’s a 2 hour hands-on class always with Blatz’s own tropical creations and you get to eat your own cooking. The demand is growing for these lessons in this eco friendly, well established hotel so Chef is increasing his time at his workshop cum kitchen.

Tel 268 462 8400


When a restaurant has a Gault & Millau rating of 18 points and wins Chef of the Year in 2007, it doesn’t take too much grey matter to know the on-site cooking school is a winner. Fletschhornn Hotel in Switzeralnd is known for their irresistible sauces and the secret is out now that Chef Markus Neff opened the door to his kitchen and invited guests to partake in a two day cooking course. Loaded down with recipes, ideas and tips, you just may need an extra piece of luggage. This rustic hotel of contrasts may be filled with modern art but if you think they are abstract it may be due to the fact that you’ve tasted one of their 20,000 bottles of wine from their cellar. Waldhotel Fletschhorn. Cheers

Tel.41 -2 795 72131



When I lived in Hong Kong, not far from my apartment in Pokfulam is the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute. From 10AM -2PM from Monday to Friday, the class includes a brief introduction to the history and culture of Chinese cuisines and the various cooking methods of the many regions. I regret that I learned about this well known establishment just as I was about to leave Hong Kong but my friends had only praise for the emphasis on teaching. The minimum in each class is ten and the price in CDN is about $100.

7/F Pokfulam Training Centre Complex, 145 Pokfulam, 852 2538 2200


If you’re not up to crossing the pond and don’t want to stray too far, well the nation’s capital, Ottawa, may be the solution. Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute is a great weekend getaway. Since 1895, the school has been the culinary faculty of choice. A friend’s daughter went to Paris for a several week course, returned home with a portfolio of recipes, new chutzpa in the kitchen and a with her diploma, an apron and a knife set. Now you can’t get this 20 something enthusiast away from the stove.


Once a hotel chain knows it’s on to a good thing, they tend to feature it at most of their hotels. Amanresorts, a five star resort chain if ever there was one, saw the raising popularity in cookery as a favoured experience for their guests.

Many want to know how to cook authentic recipes and they can always count on one on one session with the chefs. However, as these classes become more popular, the instructions are becoming more structured.

In India (Ranthambhore, Rajasthan) for example, Am1n-i-Khas doesn’t not have a set menu but the chef talks with each guest and plans their menu during their stay. For instance, if a guest wants have hands- on classes, they go off to the organic vegetable gardens to select the veggies and herbs. This is followed by kitchen duties such as roasting and grinding spices for their own fresh Marsala curry. Indian food is slowly cooked and then served for dinner.


And if you can’t get enough of the Aman experience in Java the focus is on authentic Indonesian dishes with each class lasting 2 hours and limited to only 4 people. A good beginning is a freshly brewed cup of Java and an introduction to fresh and dried spices, often with medicinal properties. Chef then demonstrates three dishes which the lucky guests have for lunch. Soufflés, are also demonstrated in the Pastry Kitchen and these mouth watering chocolate joys may be naughty but oh so nice.

While you’re in the area, why not stop on the Island of the Gods, Bali. The tailored program starts at sunrise at the Amankila’s market. On the guided tours of Klungkung, the local market, the potential cooks even participate in purchasing the fresh ingredients. Often this visit includes a trip to the traditional cake factory to watch how Palm Sugar is made before heading back for the half day lesson.


One of my splendid travel memories was in Sien Reap (Cambodia). The classes begin in the pasa cha (old market) not too far from the astonishing Angkor Wat. We left Amansara at 7.30AM and once we reached the marketplace, we were guided through the labyrinth of tunnel-like passages, one market area leading into another. We had been given a shopping list and riels (the local currency), to purchase a few essentials for the day’s menu. On our return, the Khmer chef taught us the preparation of Khmer dishes easily duplicated at home.


Closer to home in the US is Amagani in Wyoming; the demonstration is right in their kitchen. They can accommodate 10 students. Each received a paring knife and a chef’s hat, not that these would make them any better at carving than I was with my radish but this experience has a curriculum that includes wild game, duck proscuitto with caramelized pears, grilled venison chop and rabbit sausage.


Never one to sit on its laurels, Hong Kong’s renowned 75 year old glamourous Peninsula Hotel has a Peninsula Academy. There are two types of classes which are available- a Private Culinary Experience with a one-on-one cooking class headed by one of the hotel’s top chefs and followed by lunch. The other, a Dim Sum Making class, is held in the Chinese restaurant’s, Spring Moon, kitchen. Make all gone after the class and perhaps look into taking the pastry course. Located in Kowloon.



Gwendolyn Maureen Tonge is an 84 year old Antiguan treasure. This lady is a treat. Not only is the Caribbean woman a Dame, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II a former Senator in Antigua’s parliament, a cook book author and among her many university degrees, she is a graduate from University of Guelph in Home Economics. Auntie Gwyn is also a famous TV celebrity with weekly on- air cooking classes, Cooking Magic, is one of the most watched shows with little pretense since it’s shot in her modest kitchen. And the recipes are so fast and easy that she doesn’t feel the need to give classes since “my show is a classroom” .So when you’re in Dominica, Leeward Islands, Barbuda and of course, Antigua, look for her well ‘attended’ TV cooking lesson and learn about stuffed plantains and Bread Fruit to guava jam, stewed conchs and okra soup.