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Thai Cooking: A Taste of the Far East in the Middle East

Al Qasimi Foundation
August 21, 2014

This June, the Al Qasimi Foundation’s Community Gathering series organized “Thai Cooking For Everyone,” which was held on-site at Banyan Tree Al Wadi’s signature Thai restaurant, Safran. With the help of Executive Chef Nugraha and his sous chef, eighteen participants learned to create a mouth-watering Thai meal while getting to know their neighbors in Ras Al Khaimah.

“The event was great,” says Ms. Helen Undy, “I like cooking, and I gained confidence in the kitchen. It was also nice to meet new people from Ras Al Khaimah.”

While the United Arab Emirates serves as an international crossroads, the Middle East is not typically renowned for its East Asian fare. Chef Nugraha’s skills, however, suggest that Ras Al Khaimah’s culinary scene has more to offer the northern emirates than one might expect, in terms of both taste and experience.

Anyone who has dined at Safran is familiar with the multi-dimensional tastes associated with Thai food, but Community Gathering participants were given exclusive insight into the process of melding the spices and fresh ingredients that characterize the regional cuisine.

“We wanted to host an event with Banyan Tree Al Wadi's Executive Chef Nugraha because we find his approach to food so compelling. He crafts each dish with thoughtfulness and brings a farm-to-table approach to cooking in a desert region,” explains Dr. Natasha Ridge, the Foundation’s Executive Director.

The resort grows many ingredients for its foods in an organic garden nestled at the bottom of a sand dune and just outside the resort's main restaurant, Al Waha. 

The cooking class's participants were able to use some of these fresh herbs and vegetables to make a full-course meal that included shrimp and vegetable popiah (fish rice paper roll), tom yum goong (hot and sour prawn soup), Thai chicken green curry, and—for dessert—exotic fruits marinated in a lemongrass syrup.

“I used the ingredients I had never seen before, was shown new techniques, and learned to cook and present dishes I had never previously attempted,” says Mr. Kevin Burnett, who learned his way around a Thai kitchen at the Community Gathering.

The participants’ enthusiasm was complemented by Chef Nugraha’s approach to cooking, as he welcomed his guest chefs with this advice: “In a cooking class we learn from each other. Make sure that you come with a ‘want-to-learn attitude’ and have fun.”

In order to foster these attitudes among guests, the chef turned the event into a competition among four cooking teams, even awarding prizes to the teams who could best master Thai cooking techniques and presentation.

One of the particular keys to Thai cooking that participants experimented with was balance, playing with herbs and spices to achieve a harmony among the flavors.

“What stood out to me during the class was that the food tasted both delicate and rich and how some ingredients would bring out surprising flavors in others,” commented Ms. Gretchen Flores, Events Coordinator at the Foundation.

Although cooking classes are not a standard offering at the Banyan Tree, the Al Qasimi Foundation’s Events Department worked with the Banyan’s Tree’s Chef Nugraha and Events Manager Janytte Siega to create this distinctive opportunity.

The Community Gathering series was created to provide people living and working in Ras Al Khaimah with opportunities to meet new people and engage a variety of cultures, and the experience of Mr. Brian Chung provides a good example of the impact that these events can have on community members.

Mr. Chung has been attending university in Abu Dhabi for a few years was based in Ras Al Khaimah for the summer, in order to intern with the Al Qasimi Foundation, and it was here that he was able to learn more about preparingThai food.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Thai food, and I had been meaning to try it in my own cooking as well, but living abroad in places like the UAE meant that I didn’t have easy access to quality Thai ingredients,” Mr. Chung explains, “so this event was an excellent opportunity to cook with the help of professional chefs and top-notch ingredients! It was my cooking dream-come-true!”