Michelin star chefs, master classes and Bangkok on a boat


If you're hungry, Bangkok is a great place to be. Thai food is very popular, everything from street food to what's served up in posh eateries. However, we were not there for the local food but for a culinary extravaganza presented by a set of international master chefs and Michelin-starred chefs.

SO Sofitel

My sister-in-law Mary and I were at Bangkok almost a year ago, for the 6th edition of the SO Amazing Chefs at Accor's SO Sofitel. With 18 master chefs and culinary experts representing 12 Michelin stars and 6 Masters from around the world, a Spice Master, 2 Cheese Masters, a Master Sommelier, Master Chocolatier and a Master Oyster Shucker... phew... we were going to be treated to a 4 day culinary extravaganza that would include sit-down dinners and cooking classes by these top chefs. Oh yes...a food-lover's dream come true!

The little lake at Lumpini Park from our window 

SO Sofitel is AccorHotel's luxury brand. Situated at North Sathorn Road opposite Lumpini Park, the train station as well as shopping centres are just a walk away. The rooms are well appointed and the service is impeccable.

Checking in was a breeze, especially with a very welcome drink and a bit of theatrics to go with it. The art installation in the lobby of the upscale property, the Executive Lounge as well as staff uniforms have been designed by Christian Lacroix.

A chocolate kind of welcome
A quick Thai meal at a nearby restaurant

4 Hands Dinner with Vietnamese Spices. Each course was a masterpiece in texture, flavour and taste.

The first evening was the 4 Hands Dinner with Vietnamese Spices as the theme. Chef Didier Corlou, known as the Spice Master and Chef Sakal Phoeung presented us with a 6-course dinner with pairing wines. Over dinner, we met other guests who had come in from Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

Market scenes

Seafood and poultry stalls 

Bright and early the next morning, we piled into mini buses that took the chefs and us to the Sam Yan Market. Flowers, fruits, greens, seafood, poultry, it was a staggering variety of produce under one roof - a cook's paradise. Chef Didier picked up some greens that he would be using in his masterclass later in the day.

Chef  Didier at the market; with Executive Chef Paul Smart at the masterclass

A lunch we cooked - sea bass with tofu & vanilla, tamarind sauce, tempura fried broccoli & pumpkin flower. Delicious! 

Under Chef Didier's directions, we covered our slices of sea bass with green tea, passion fruit juice, vanilla bean and other ingredients. It was then wrapped up in a banana leaf and steamed. To accompany this deliciously light meal, there was broccoli and pumpkin flowers fried in tempura batter.

How to make pan-fried foie gras lasagna with wild mushroom and black truffles

At Chef Sakal's masterclass, he got us to pan-fry fois gras. On a sheet of lasagna, he spooned over sautéed mixed mushrooms and topped it with the fois gras. Then it was wrapped up and steamed. Served with an incredibly earthy mushroom sauce, he let us shave as much truffle over it as we desired. We did, of course! (The scraps of pasta on top of the parcels were for us to identify who made which.)

Ready for dinner and the cook off. The mystery ingredient - crabs!

The visiting chefs were very friendly. Sometimes we'd bump into them in the elevator or at the Red Oven where the sumptuous buffet breakfast was laid out every morning. But on the evening of Day 2 was when we saw them all in action at the Culinary Showdown and Gala Dinner. The chefs had been divided into 4 teams and in true Master chef style, there was a secret ingredient under a big red box. The red gong went off and the box was opened to reveal the ingredient all the teams had to cook with - crabs! While the chefs got busy with their knives, pans and ladles, we got to wander around the cooking area as well as eat a superb 3-course meal. At the end of the competition, while the judges deliberated on the results, we got a taste of the dishes made by the competing teams and decide which team we thought cooked the best dish.

Green Team with their interesting plating

Red Team

The judges declared the Orange Team the overall winners

Visual Culinary Master, Christopher Lecoutre, painted this during the competition

Our dinner. Entrée - jumbo prawn; Main course - Chilean sea bass; Dessert - chocolate lava

Master chocolatier Stéphane Bonnat; the 75% bar, chocolate dessert and enrobed chocolates 

Toppings for our chocolates

There was always the lingering aroma of chocolate and coffee every time we were in the lobby of the hotel. That's because Chocolab, a little dessert bar/chocolate shop, was situated there. You can even sign up for one of their chocolate masterclasses. Our Masterclass was conducted by Stéphane Bonnat, Maître-Chocolatier and owner of the oldest established and family-run chocolate company in the world. After tasting Bonnat's fabulously smooth 75% Mexican bar, we given pots of tempered chocolate and had to enrobe and mould chocolates and then decorate them with an assortment of dried fruits and nuts. Then we trooped into the chocolate lab where we learnt how to make ice cream and chocolate ganache topping. By the time we finished our class, our chocolate "masterpieces" were packed carefully in boxes and mine did reach Chennai very safely!

7 course Seventh Heaven dinner. Hamachi in green pepper sauce; beef tartar with miso; egg carbonara style;
Cod Bearnaise; baby chicken; tajima wagyu. Dessert Strawberry, rhubarb, basil, lemon. 

That evening at the Park Society Restaurant, we were indulged with a 7-course dinner called Seventh Heaven. I've always wondered what a meal curated by a Michelin starred chef would be like and here, I was tasting, not just by one chef but 4 of them; the other 3 dishes, cooked by equally phenomenal chefs, were as amazing in looks and taste. Asian spices and seasonings had been used, giving the food an exotic flavour. Pairing wines enhanced the meal manifold.

Chefs posing for the camera!

Buildings along Chao Phraya river

Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East and a cruise on the Chao Phraya  River was part of our itinerary. The water was muddy brown and by the time our group was seated, the boat was just a few inches above the level of the water!

Wat Arun

The market outside the temple sells souvenirs. Do bargain! 

Opposite the Grand Palace is Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn. While most of our group went in to have a closer look, the rest of us did a bit of retail therapy in the stalls outside. 

River views that include a baby iguana and an abandoned house. Spooky!!

Stately riverside homes and a family boat

Back in the boat, we passed homes built over the river. Beautiful wooden boats were tied up outside some of the larger homes, probably personal river transportation of the owners. As we moved away from the busy areas of the main river into the quieter "suburbs", the water was noticeably less muddy.

Our guide had brought along bread and at one place, we stopped to feed the fish. The fish seemed to expect it for as soon as we slowed down, they swam around the boat, practically jumping out of the water for a bite. Thais believe that feeding the fish attracts good karma. Well, we all can do with some good luck.

Restaurant by the river

A Thai set lunch 

Outside the Grand Palace
We travelled in a bus from the river to a spot near the Grand Palace, our last stop for the day. The country was still in mourning for their late king and as we walked towards the gates of the Grand Palace, we saw groups of Thais dressed in black going into the palace grounds to pay their respects or coming out after doing so. Along the pavements, there were people handing out food and drink to the mourners. There is a dress code that has to be observed if you're going into the Grand Palace.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha complex from the outer court of the Grand Palace

The first sight of the Grand Palace is amazing. The grounds are beautifully maintained and the compound houses temples, halls, courtyards, royal residences and administrative offices, all under the watchful eyes of the statues of the yakshas that are everywhere. It is a place of historical significance, architectural interest and spirituality.

A mural that depicts the Thai version of the Ramayana

Nok Tantima , a mythological bird guardian

Yakshas around the Wat Phra Kaew complex

Ornate tiles and gold inlay adorn walls and pillars

Phra Mondop  with its green mirror tiles inlaid with gold
Oysters and canapés

And then it was our last night at Bangkok. We ended it at MIXO, So Sofitel's social lounge with a view overlooking the park. We mingled with other guests and the chefs, ate oysters and canapés and drank champagne. Stuff of dreams!

Posing with the staff in their designer uniforms
Suvarnabhumi Airport

Food Exchange at Novotel Chennai Chamiers


Accor Hotel's newest property in Chennai is the standalone Novotel Chennai Chamiers Road Hotel. And what a location - slap bang in the middle of the city.

Most Novotel hotels around the world have their all day restaurants named The Square but here, it's called Food Exchange. It's a stylish and contemporary space with lattice screens between some of the tables for a bit of privacy. Larger groups can book the private dining room. Black blinds over glass windows block out all noise from the road below.

Executive Chef Kalaiselvan

The kitchen is the turf of Executive Chef Kalaiselvan. His quiet demeanour belies his skill in cooking up a range of dishes across cuisines. He worked at Dubai before coming over to head the Food Exchange kitchen. If we were lucky, we could even have some Arabian delights on our dinner menu.

This part of the open kitchen is doubles up as the chef's table

The walls of the restaurant have plenty of niches and shelves that hold an array of interesting knick-knacks - serve ware, jars and tea caddies. Across the room, they house condiments and sauces, reinforcing the fact that Indian, Italian and pan Asian cuisines are the forte of Food Exchange. With the open concept kitchen, you can see the chefs prepare food. There's a buffet on weekends, otherwise, choose from the à la carte menu.

The Delicious Sour

We were offered mocktails from the Gourmet Bar; the menu could have done with a few more choices. The Delicious Sour, made with peach, apricot, lemon and soda was really refreshing though I couldn't taste either of the stone fruits. This is a mocktail that comes without a garnish! A good thing I think.

Chilli honey lotus stem 

Kasoori paneer tikka with mint chutney

Shish tawook that came with a tahini dip

Nawabi seekh kebab

Thai beef skewers with peanut sauce

Spicy bites- pepper smoked chilli chicken

Appetisers were a mix of Indian and Asian. The soft paneer tikka, seekh kebabs and Thai beef skewers were among the best. The flavours and spices were spot on. The lotus stems had been fried too much and were overdone. The shish tawook would have fared better if longer skewers had been used; the toothpicks were difficult to hold.

Burnt garlic veg soup

Mushroom velouté with porcini oil

Both soups were delicious. The garlic in the burnt garlic soup had been fried just right, perfuming the colourful broth with its aroma. Finely diced mushrooms in the velouté added to the overall earthiness and the umami flavour was pretty addictive.

Sage gnocchi, basil pesto, Parmesan

The gnocchi at Food Exchange is one of the best I've had in quite a while. Pan-fried with sage butter, the outside was crusty, the inside gooey. It was a brilliant burst of flavours from the herbs and cheese.

Mushroom ravioli with garlic bread

Half and half pizza

More Italian and this time, it was a really thin crust pizza. Mascarpone, parma ham and arugula toppings on one side while the other had bbq chicken, corn and jalapeno chillies. Definitely a good pizza that was baked just right, even the crust was edible. It was one of the few pizzas I've seen where the sauce was spread almost to the edge of the bread.

Thai red curry, prawns with jasmine rice

Green curry with veggies

Thai red curry with prawns was delish. The prawns were large and very fresh, the curry had a thick, almost velvety consistency but it was perfect with the fragrant rice. Leftover gravy? You can drink it up like soup - it's that good.   

Double chocolate mousse; Oreo cheesecake; tender coconut payasam parfait; brownie

The dessert platter was quite a sight and the portions, thankfully were small. Brownie fans can rejoice - it was dark and fudgy, the cheesecake was dense and tangy. The only thing that didn't quite live to its name was the parfait.

Food Exchange has many interesting dishes on its menu and obviously, the 3 cuisines are its strong points. The only downside to having an open kitchen is an exhaust system that is not powerful enough.

*This was an invited review 

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