Last Updated on February 7, 2022
Spicy, fragrant meal to make at home with John Chantasarak
I first encountered A Cook’s Tour in November 2020 when lockdown had me locked into my kitchen. I am delighted to find that since then, A Cook’s Tour with London caterer, Rocket, now enters its second series. Rocket collaborates with chefs to take subscribers on journeys across the globe to explore food destinations and the tastes and cuisines with which many of us might be unfamiliar. The ease of doing so is where A Cook’s Tour excels. Sign up to one of the winter destinations and you will receive a box containing all the ingredients you need to prepare a sumptuous meal while you watch a range of fantastic chefs on a video link. This season hosts a stellar range of chefs from Sabrina Ghayour (Middle East), Ben Tish (Sicily), Tristan Welch (Mustique) to Anna Haugh (Paris). I feel as if my cookbook shelf has come to life in my kitchen.
The season kicks off with Northern Thailand hosted by John Chantarasak who is the owner of AngloThai, a popup that is setting down roots as a restaurant in London in Spring 2022. He is part British, part Thai and trained at Le Cordon Bleu Bangkok before working at the top-rated Asian restaurant, Nahm. He later returned to the UK where his food fuses traditional Thai recipes and flavours with contemporary cooking techniques and British ingredients. As I have very little knowledge of cooking Thai food or the ingredients which have been sourced by A Cook’s Tour, I was excited to learn as much as I could not only about how to prepare the dishes on the menu but also to find out more about Thai cuisine in general.
Wine pairing can be tricky with spicy foods but all decision making in this regard has been taken care of by Desiree Chantarasak who runs AngloThai with John. Desiree has teamed up with Le Caves de Pyrene (link) and chosen three wines to accompany John’s Northern Thai menu. Participants in A Cook’s Tour destinations can choose whether to add on the wine pairing when ordering the food. The live stream – which can also be watched later – kicks off with a wine pairing workshop and is followed by a conversation between Charlie (from Rocket) and John about the cuisine of the region we are about to enjoy. Charlie acts as sous chef and asks questions throughout and keeps a good conversation going about the process of cooking, encouraging John to share his experiences of eating in Northern Thailand, his attitude to cooking, his ingredients, and all manner of tips about preparing Thai food. Being a live stream, participants can write in with questions during the cook-along. Northern Thai cuisine has developed a distinctive personality due to the geographical isolation of the mountainous region. Therefore it is different to what might be expected in Bangkok or other areas of Thailand and has many influences from neighbouring Lao and Myanmar. John describes the food as unfussy, filled with umami and herbal flavours. The menu John teaches on A Cook’s Tour draws from both Northern and North Eastern Thailand (Isaan).
The meal began with a traditional, red curry pork sausage called sai ua which is a herbal sausage from Chiang Mai. This is sold in markets in Chiang Mai where coils of sausage are grilled over charcoal and coconut husks. I can just imagine the fabulous flavour this imparts. John instructs viewers how to cook sai ua in our domestic kitchens as in Thailand it would be done over fire. I simply opened the packet and popped them into a hot oven on a baking tray – these sausages have been prepared by HG Walters, a marvellous London butcher. I order all my meat from them and can vouch for the top quality and service they provide. The sausage was spicy as expected, but I was taken aback by how herby it was. I could see how this could become a bit addictive. It was served with cooling cucumber and pork scratchings just in case anyone needed extra pork.
Fried sweetcorn fritters took me right back to my childhood when I ate these frequently. Well, not quite the same it has to be said. Tort man khao pod are flavoured with coriander and served with Thai sriracha sauce. I used to eat mine with ketchup. These are fritters for grownups. They were very spicy and the sauce added to that heat. I enjoyed the crunch of the sweetcorn and although my fritters looked more like the dog’s breakfast than the elegant ones that John fried, they tasted just as good.
Grilled chicken skewers (gai ping) had a milder coriander and turmeric marinade providing both flavour and colour and were served with a tamarind sauce which is one of my favourite sauces since I love the unmistakable zing of tamarind. This sauce had that great combination of sweet, sour and salty.
The salad of carrot and kohlrabi was another wonderful discovery. I only recently began to cook with kohlrabi when I realised that my local greengrocer stocks it. It is a very versatile vegetable, reminiscent of a green apple and here a julienne of carrot and kohlrabi was served with a sweet-spicy-sour dressing including peanuts and dried shrimp. The dressing was spot on, the salad both fresh and crunchy with little pops of fishiness from the shrimp.
The three small plates and salad were so filling that I decided to cook the salmon and rice the following day. I eat salmon several times a week so was especially keen to learn from John how to cook a red curry salmon, here roasted in a banana leaf. The dish is called aeb pla and was, without doubt, the most exciting salmon dish to have emerged from my kitchen. The salmon fillet, cut into bite-size pieces, was marinated in a seriously spicy red curry sauce – along with green beans – and then wrapped in two layers of banana leaf which is folded into a parcel. This is the Thai version of cooking en papillote and the result was the juiciest salmon I have enjoyed in some time. I must admit that the spiciness was a bit hot for my taste but was offset with a gorgeous herbal note. The Thai basil combined with the Makrut line leaves placed on top of the fish pieces created a wonderful fragrance that filled my kitchen and infused the fish. The salmon was served with sticky rice (khao neow) and John thoughtfully included a steamer basket so that participants on A Cook’s Tour could learn how to prepare this dish using new crop glutinous rice from Thailand.
I thought that the menu for A Cook’s Tour Northern Thailand was well balanced between meat, chicken, fish and vegetables. It was colourful, bursting with spicy, sweet, salty and sour flavours, and great fun to prepare and to eat. It transported me to another part of the world and a cuisine about which I am now keen to learn more. I look forward to the opening of the AngloThai restaurant and will certainly be visiting to eat more of John’s creative cooking.
What I appreciate about A Cook’s Tour is that the hard work is taken care of. The salad vegetables were already prepared so there was no need to finely chop my carrots and kohlrabi or to marinate the chicken skewers. Sauces were complex and comprised of many ingredients. They had been premade by A Cooks Tour and were ready to use. I have tried out many cook-alongs over the past two years and some of these, while presenting wonderful food, were just a bit too much work for the average home cook. A Cook’s Tour gets the balance just right. Punchy flavours, prep done, viewers get right down to cooking and, most importantly, enjoying a novel meal.
Next up is A night in Paris with Anna Haugh. Timed to coincide with Valentine’s weekend – get your place booked for a night of romance and feasting. This, plus the other food destinations, cost £85 for 2 people plus £5.50 delivery. The upcoming destinations can be booked until 9am on the day for last orders as described below.
· Explore the Island of Mustique with Tristan Welch, 24 & 25 February 2022 (so last order21 Feb)
· Sicilia with Ben Tish, 10 & 11 March 2022 (last date to order 7 March)
· Flavours of the Middle East with Sabrina Ghayour, 24 & 25 March 2022 (last date to order 21 March)