I'm a freelance writer and primary school teacher living in SE Melbourne. I love finding adventures for myself, my husband and our four kids to enjoy. Come along! Heart my articles, subscribe to the fun, follow along on www.facebook.com/WNMelbourne
Published October 19th 2014
Right in the heart of 'Little Saigon', Richmond
With less than a dozen classes under their belts, Otao Kitchen is already making a name for themselves, with great reviews and a partnership with Melbourne Food and Wine Festival for their year-round events calendar.
One of the participants in our class was on her second visit, and had already recently attended, and obviously enjoyed, the Street Foods of Saigon class. A regular traveler to Vietnam, she had nothing but good things to say about her experiences in these classes, and about her interactions with the instructor and owner, Ha.
With a friendly "Xin chao", ("hello") we entered the well-lit teaching space, appropriately located in the heart of "Little Saigon", Richmond. No crowding here; the space is specifically designed as a teaching studio, with stations set up for pairs of participants. Ha and his partner Ricky interacted comfortably with the six of us in the class. The maximum booked class size is ten participants, guaranteeing an intimate setting and plenty of one-on-one interaction with the chef.
Nothing but fresh, healthy ingredients for these classes, "MSG" is a swear word for Ha. We dove in and got our hands dirty, so to speak. With the balance between fresh herbs and meats, and a selective use of spices, Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines.Traditional and modern food of Vietnam is admired for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and accompaniment of herbs and vegetables.
It was fascinating and humourous to hear some of Ha's stories of growing up in Hanoi; one story telling of how his mother used to rub bright orange fresh turmeric root on his face if he fell, to prevent scarring, as it is a natural anti-inflammatory. Ha's intimate knowledge of the foods of Vietnam complement his skill and training as a classical French chef.
My husband and I attended the Hanoi Classics class. Starting with Pho Cuon (fresh rice noodle rolls), we learned how to wet the wraps, fill, and fold them. We made a fresh and flavourful Nuoc Cham (fish sauce for dipping, with some amazing "secret" ingredients that brought it to a whole new level). Some ingredients were prepared ahead, to compensate for time; a broth and some cooked brisket for the Pho (Hanoi beef and rice noodle soup). Next was the Cha Ca Hanoi fish, pan fry style, with a delicate curry. Green papaya salad freshened the palate, and the dessert option varies depending on time and availability of ingredients.
Conversation comfortably flowed with instruction; Ha has his work cut out for him with multi-tasking, as he keeps the ingredients flying and the questions answered, but it doesn't seem to phase him.
Otao Kitchen is a unique option for intimate private parties, with both indoor and outdoor classes available. Corporate and group class bookings are also available, and are perfect for team building, social club activities, new product launches, or client and media events.
We finished our experience by joining together to consume the meal we have just created. Ha believes that "cooking, eating, and sharing should be an experience, not just a meal", and his philosophy has become a dream-come-true in the shape of his new business.