She took command of the pots and pans and mixed, stirred and sautéed the ingredients in quick succession. Before we knew it, our small cooking class had three Thai dishes already cooked and ready to savor: a cold appetizer of prawns with strips of green mangoes, wisps of lemongrass, shallots and finely cut coriander leaves in a chili lime sauce; chicken and mushrooms in a thick, warm coconut milk soup laced with chili paste; and tenderloin of beef in red curry paste and coconut milk.
The dishes were all perfectly balanced, such that there was no dominant taste or flavor, neither sour, nor sweet, salty nor spicy, but all these at the same time in every delicious spoonful.
Just as impressive was how chef Siriluck Lekkwan did it all in a flash. It was as if she had been cooking these dishes all her life.
And maybe she has.
Chef Lekkwan learned to cook as a child from her beloved grandmother who was a renowned chef herself. Her grandmother had cooked for no less than King Rama V in the royal palace.
“I learned everything from my grandmother and although I went to cooking school after I left home, it is my grandmother who has set the standards for me,” says Lekkwan.
Known affectionately as chef Mum for her motherly warmth, she has been preparing the dishes for a Taste of Thai, the Hyatt Regency Manila’s latest culinary promotion, which is ongoing until Sept. 22.
The dishes, all part of The Café’s dinner buffet and Sunday brunch, are classic Thai, including deep fried sea bass with chili and tamarind sauce; green curry chicken, prawn cakes with sweet and sour sauce; royal dumplings and green papaya salad.
Chef Mum’s cooking is rooted in the traditional fare of Bangkok, her hometown. She makes sure to use only authentic, natural ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.
“I make curries like we eat them at home—smooth, creamy and comforting, not too strong or spicy,” she says.
Her stint at the Hyatt Regency Manila is only one of the many she does yearly for Hyatt hotels all over the world.
Based in Macau, where she is chef de cuisine of Grant Hyatt, she has prepared meals for the royal Thai family and travels regularly to Hyatt hotels worldwide to host Thai food events.
For chef Mum, food is about “sharing good times and great meals with the people you’re close to.”
Here’s her recipe for Thai prawn salad, a delicious introduction to the exotic flavors of Thai cuisine. (Note: You can adjust the amount of ingredients according to your taste.)
Thai Prawn Salad with Green Mangoes and Chili Lime Sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar syrup (see below)
1 extra small chili, crushed
2 tbsp chili paste in oil (may use bottled)
2 tbsp finely sliced lemongrass
1 tbsp finely cut kaffir lime leaves
2 tbsp finely sliced shallots
3 tbsp finely shredded green mangoes
1 tbsp sliced Thai coriander or use wansuy leaves
Mint leaves, for garnish
Clean the prawns and blanch them in boiling water then transfer them to a bowl of ice cold water. Leave the prawns for two to three minutes in the water then drain the prawns. Remove the shells and the veins in the middle but leave the tails on. Set aside.
In a bowl mix the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar syrup, crushed chili and the chili paste. Set aside.
Place the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, green mangoes and coriander in a bowl.
Put the prawns in a mixing bowl and add the lime juice mixture and the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, green mangoes and coriander. Toss to mix.
Arrange in a serving platter and garnish with mint leaves. Makes two to three servings.
To make sugar syrup: Combine ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup water in a cooking pan then bring to a boil. Let boil until the sugar dissolves and the liquid becomes clear. Use as needed.
Tips from Chef Lekkwan:
For vegans, you can omit the prawns.
You can also substitute squid for the prawns. Blanch the squid as you would the prawns before tossing with the other ingredients.
Use only the white part of the lemongrass.
Taste the lime juice mixture first before mixing with the prawns. Then adjust according to your taste by adding more of either the lime juice, fish sauce or sugar syrup.
A Taste of Thai is available at dinner and Sunday brunch until Sept. 22 at The Café, Hyatt Regency, City of Dreams, Belle Avenue, Entertainment City, Parañaque. Tel 6911234 local 1163.