Interactive cooking workshop with Chef Phongthorn @ Red Zen

Last week HT Cafe had organized a twitter contest and the winners would get a chance to attend an interactive cooking session with Chef Phongthorn Hinracha at the Red Zen, a Pan Asian restaurant at Courtyard by Marriott. Well I wasn’t one of the winners because I wasn’t even aware about this contest. A fellow blogger @DelishDirection participated and won but unfortunately she was out of town so she asked the HT Team if anyone could fill in her place…and they agreed! So the offer for this workshop was up on twitter…and I was the first one who called it and there I was…all set to attend this Thai and Cantonese inspired workshop!  

The restaurant was really well designed…totally in sync with the name “Red Zen”. Peaceful and calming despite the bold colors – red and black. It is adorned with black stone tea pots, chopsticks and beautiful red clay plates (which are pretty heavy). The Head Chef Sushil introduced Chef Phongthorn and the workshop fired up. Chef told us a bit about his background..that he is from Bangkok and mainly cooks dishes influenced by Thai and Chinese cuisines. But in the workshop we set to cook three courses. The appetizer and the mains were made Cantonese style and the dessert was a famous Thai dessert.

In front of us lay beautiful sauces and other ingredients with a perfect open kitchen in the background. I was ready to observe, learn and then EAT! Chef spoke a bit about the Cantonese style of cooking. He said that they do not use a lot of spices unlike Thai and Sichuan styles of cooking. They mainly use condiments such as black pepper, white pepper and garlic widely in their cooking.

We started the appetizer – Spring rolls. As two workshop attendees were vegetarian we had two varieties of spring rolls. First up were the vegetarian spring rolls which were followed by the prawn spring rolls. It was fun for two reasons. Firstly we got to roll out the spring rolls and secondly the non vegetarians got to eat both varieties!

Vegetarian Spring Rolls

The veg spring rolls had were filled with a lightly tossed mix of carrots, garlic, onions, shitake and cabbage. It was nice and crunchy with a perfectly seasoned filling and the best part was the plum sauce that served with it!

Now the prawn spring rolls needed to be fried. The marinade for the prawns was a light but flavorful mix of soy, garlic, chicken broth powder (to get rid of the fishy smell) and coriander roots. Rolling the spring roll sheet for this one was pretty different for the veg one. The tail of the prawn was pointing out of the spring roll!!

Prawn Spring rolls

Perfectly cooked and moist prawns, nice crunch of the coriander roots and the sweet chili sauce to dunk the crisp hot spring rolls…I was in heaven!!

After the spring rolls were wiped off we shifted our attention to the next course – Tofu and vegetables in black pepper sauce for the vegetarians and prawns and vegetables in black pepper sauce for the non vegetarians. Both were going to be served with Jasmine rice.

Tofu and Vegetables in black pepper sauce
Prawns and vegetables in black pepper sauce

The black pepper sauce that Chef made was unlike any black pepper sauce I’ve tasted in other Chinese restaurants. Mostly it does not tend to have a strong hit of black pepper but just the dark brown color thanks to soy sauce. But in these dishes you could seriously taste the pepper and it had a punch of spice to it but in a good way. Both the veg and prawns were made in the same manner but the only difference was the use of oyster sauce in the prawns dish whereas the vegetarian dish had salty brown sauce made with a reduction of vegetable stock (Sorry…I can’t remember the name).

We were well stuffed and it was time for dessert! It was a Thai dessert called Tako. It is basically a made in small cups made of Pandana leaves which are filled with jelly and thickened coconut cream on top. These are frozen to let the jelly and cream set and are served cold. When Chef first described the dish to us we all assumed that he meant Banana and not Pandana. The accent confused us all! Well when it was all cleared Chef started explaining how to make these Pandana cups. It felt like we were all back in school doing origami. But it was too much fun…super easy to make if you just get the trick. Here’s how they look!

Pandana Cups

After the cups came the filling.

An unusual combination of flavors were going to go in these tiny cups – creamed corn , pandana jelly and thickened coconut cream.

Top : Bottom layer of creamed corn
Bottom : Middle layer of Pandana Jelly
Right: Topped with thickened coconut cream

Once set…this is how it looked.

Tako served!

I was a bit skeptical to try this dessert mainly because of the creamed corn at the bottom but it didn’t disappoint. It was cooling and light but I could still do without the corn. The good part about this dessert was that it is pretty versatile. The same ideas could be used to pair so many different flavors. I have searched online and there are recipes using water chestnut and pandana jelly which sounds pretty interesting. Chef also gave us a tasting of another dessert – Steamed pumpkin with egg custard and topped with fried onions.

Steamed pumpkin with egg custard and fried onions

 I had no words to describe the taste…and I’m so not saying this in a good way. It just wasn’t made for our palate.

We parted with A box full of Takos as our giveaways.

There are a few things that I surely will take back from this workshop – a new way of wrapping spring rolls by keeping the prawn tail out! , the art of making pandana cups and the very well-balanced black pepper sauce. It was a great afternoon and Chef Phongthorn made it better. He was calm, organized and taught us really well. 

Thanks again Prachi aka @DelishDirection for giving me a chance to attend this workshop. 🙂

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