Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Private Vietnamese Cooking Class in the Garden

Our last morning in Ninh Van Bay started off brilliantly when I had the good fortune of running into Wayne Lunt, the General Manager of Six Senses, who graciously offered to organize a private cooking class for myself and Chef Tinh in the outdoor kitchen of the resort's fabulous Organic Garden. As all guests are provided with an old-fashioned bicycle to make their way around the property, I arrived at my al fresco rendezvous on my two-wheeler, eagerly awaiting my one-on-one class, camera in hand.

I ran into Wayne again en route to my cooking class, as he and a number of sous chefs were reviewing the options for extending the scope of the existing organic gardens and also looking at the possibilities of distilling essential oils from the plentiful vegetation on the property. Even so, he took the time to walk me to the organic garden, where he introduced me to Chef Tinh, who would be my culinary compass for the afternoon. 

Chef Tinh and I began the by walking through the extensive herb and fruit gardens, where a huge selection of traditional Vietnamese herbs were growing, from tangy Chinese Coriander, Morning Glory, and Vietnamese Mustard to Wild Betel, also known as Lot, a fragrant leaf that is used for delicious Thit Bo Nuong, spicy beef rolls which are wrapped in Betel leaves and grilled over an open flame. We ambled through the garden and made our way slowly to the outdoor kitchen that had been set up for the cooking class.

Chef Tinh

Our menu for the afternoon was to be Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls with Tiger Prawns, Tofu and Chicken (Goi Cuon), Hot and Sour Fish Soup (Canh Chua Ca) and finally 'Hideaway' Seafood in Clay-Pot (Hai San Kho To). Chef Tinh's sous chef had already prepared all the time intensive mise-en-place of julienned vegetables and rich fish stock before we started, so cooking was a doddle. I wish I had a sous chef at home who would do all my chopping! We worked together on two cooking stations that had already been set up in the garden, and began to make the fresh spring rolls by first soaking the translucent rice paper in water, than laying it flat on a dampened cloth. A small portion of cooked vermicelli noodle, julienned vegetables, crispy tofu and cooked chicken are placed in the middle of the wrapper, then rolling it up half way, the sliced prawns and chive are added. The spring roll is then wrapped tight. By adding the prawn and chive at the end, they shine through the translucent wrapper and add to the decorative flourish of the finished spring roll. Dipped in a spicy sauce — the spring rolls looked fabulous and tasted delicious. 

Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Tiger Prawns and Tofu

The next two dishes we made featured local seafood caught fresh every day from the many fish farms that dot the coast from Nah Trang to Ninh Van Bay, as well as produce from the Organic Garden, such as Banana Blossoms, fresh pineapple, okra, tamarind and hot red chilis. Using fresh fish stock, the ingredients are cooked quickly in clay pots which hold the heat and lock in all the flavour of the rich seafood and fragrant broth.

Hot and Sour Fish Soup

'Hideaway' Seafood in Clay Pot

The opportunity to learn a little more about Vietnamese cuisine and the unique herbs and ingredients that are used to create the fresh, fragrant dishes that have marked our culinary journey through north, central and south Vietnam, and having the opportunity to spend time with such a charming fellow foodie in such a beautiful location, is a special memory I will take with me forever.

Me and Chef Tinh, in the Outdoor Organic Garden Kitchen

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