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Hua Hin
Friday, July 12, 2024

Beau Upatcha – A woman of great taste

Khun Beau is a real go-getter.  She is both highly motivated and ambitious, admitting to being quite driven to achieve the goals she sets both in her business and personal life.  She should be justly proud of all she has achieved well before reaching her mid 30’s.  There is much to admire in such an enterprising person, who describes herself as happy, humble and humorous.

Yet, being a go-getter can also have a less positive side.  That go-getter mentality can get in the way of other fun things in life, a fact of which Khun Beau is only too aware.  She has built her business from the ground up, all the while raising a spirited daughter, Emily, who is now fast approaching her teen years.  Beau is still trying to find the right work-life balance and knows she needs to learn to say “No” more often when it comes to work. This issue arises though because she truly does love what she does.  I quoted the famous saying, often attributed to Confucius, about choosing a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life, and Beau responded that she does feel like this, well, certainly most days!

Khun Beau was born and raised in Maha Chai, a town in Samut Sakhon province, southwest of Bangkok. Her family were not particularly well-off, having a small family-run eatery. Beau knew from an early age that her future would be working in some capacity with food, though she never really contemplated establishing her own restaurant since working in her parents’ one as a teenager convinced her just how hard the work was, for what she saw as insufficient reward.

In 2010, Beau made the move to Hua Hin, which she describes as “busy but not too busy, quiet but not too quiet”. She loves almost everything about Hua Hin, except for its lack of safe footpaths and bicycle lanes. Beau opened her business, Thai Cooking Course, in a historic traditional teak home.  This was one of many life twists that have taken her outside her comfort zone, a place she often challenges herself to be. Although Beau will tell you she is a naturally shy person, she knows that to grow as a person you must embrace life-long learning and open yourself to new experiences.  One stark contrast for her between Maha Chai and Hua Hin was that although Maha Chai is in relatively close proximity to the Kingdom’s capital, she never saw or spoke to any foreigners at all.  Maha Chai was, and is, in Beau’s opinion, all about work and nothing more.  She saw no possibility there to experience recreation and relaxation, two things she most certainly values in her life in Hua Hin.  Both the beauty and serenity of the beach and the opportunity to hike in wilderness areas are things of which Beau takes regular advantage.

Beau considers herself a cooking instructor, but I would go further and say she is an entrepreneur.  She runs a highly respected and rated cooking school which caters to individuals from all around the world and has made improvements to the physical facilities of the school, bringing it up to world-standard. A highly social young woman with the ability to talk easily with people from all nations and situations, Beau takes great pleasure in learning from her customers while they think only she is doing the teaching!  She is a cheeky young thing indeed, and has thoroughly embraced the benefits all people can derive from having a multicultural perspective to their life. Her business caters to adults and children who wish to learn or improve their skills in cooking Thai food, through visits to the local wet market, group or individual classes and even corporate events. This is where Beau’s entrepreneurial skills have come to the fore, as she has diversified and expanded the range of experiences she offers to her customers.

Having a business model based on visitors to Hua Hin put Beau in a difficult position during the Covid pandemic where international tourism wasn’t possible and even local tourism was severely curtailed. Ever the optimist, Beau took the opportunity the pandemic presented to learn a completely new skillset, undertaking training in facial massage therapy through the highly respected Chiva-Som. So now, as well as working from 9am till 2pm leading a cookery class, her afternoons are filled with private clients and she has dedicated a separate room in her premises purely for facial treatments. Which is a handy income earner, as like many a food business in Hua Hin, hers is experiencing long Covid, with still about only 50% of pre-Covid traffic.

Beau takes a very hands-on approach to her business, personally leading each cookery class, though she does have help with the post-class clean-up and the market tour which is the introductory element to each days’ lesson.  Anyone who has ever been to Chatchai Market will understand why you can’t lead a group of up to 8 people through the market yourself.  In that tight space, smaller groups are surely preferable.

A trip to the local Hua Hin market

Each class sees participants return from the market stocked with ingredients for their choice of menu.  Beau has a variety of menus to choose from, each one based around a particular curry paste, red, green Panang or Massaman, which you produce yourself, under her watchful gaze, and then use as the starting point of your day’s dishes.  Each menu also includes a dessert course, for the sweet-tooth amongst you. Other menu offerings include some of my personal favourite dishes such as Pad Grapow Gai, Larb Moo, Pad See Ew, Gaeng Massaman Gai, Tom Yum Goong and Som Tam. Course participants leave with a booklet containing a written copy of all they have learnt, and Beau is careful to offer tips on how to produce her dishes at home in your own country where the exact same ingredients may not always be available.

I do believe some people have even participated in training in all of her different menus.  I know that in listening to the enthusiasm with which she talks about her love of sharing her Thai food knowledge and skills with others, I have now committed to taking a class and insisting my husband attends as well.  I don’t expect I will have to twist his arm.  At least cooking at the purpose-built cooking stations Beau has established means I won’t be left with the usual mess I face when I let him cook Thai at home.

Thai Cooking Course has an impressively large following on social media although Khun Beau acknowledges that she still has some things to master when it comes to the its more technical aspects. Additionally, she doesn’t always feel comfortable taking the spotlight in front of the camera, though she is encouraged that young Emily seems to have a particular talent for this. I thought Beau looked fine when I watched some of her Youtube videos in preparation for our chat, and with over 18K views of her Yum Woonsen (Glass Noodle Salad) clip, I strongly suspect other people enjoyed it too. But, perhaps it is the next generation who will take this business into the top level social media and television realm. Beau shares some concerns about the next generation and their addiction to their devices and social media, afraid that the worry about whether they are cool enough is inflicting long-term damage on their self-esteem. Whatever the future has in store for Emily, Beau will be there to make sure she has all she needs for a successful high school and University education.  I share Beau’s opinion that you learn much more about yourself at university than you actually learn of the subject matter presented to you.  Emily is a very lucky girl to have such a young, energetic, supportive and successful role model.  Her future shines very bright. Beau will no doubt be teaching Emily to be kinder and less self-critical than she was at her daughter’s age.

Beau is accepting of all religious faiths and is profoundly grateful for what she has in life.  She takes nothing for granted and believes there is nothing she couldn’t live without, if she needed to, not allowing herself to become too attached to material possessions. 

The beach is probably Beau’s favourite place in the world, though she admits that her dedication to her work has stopped her from pursuing another of her passions, travel.  Topping her bucket list is an extended holiday in Europe.  Even the opportunity to holiday “like a normal person” would be a positive, but Beau manages to experience joy spending quality time with people special to her, her daughter, family and friends.  She has the pictures go-karting to prove it, too. Like many Thai people I have spoken to, one real bugbear for Beau is people who treat others with rudeness and disrespect. Her polite regard for everyone she encounters in her daily like says a lot about her character.

I finish here on a slightly controversial note.  Beau and I are in complete agreement that given a choice, our last meal on this earth would be seafood.  Preferably crab.  Many people would argue with us that crab is clearly not the king of seafood, that the effort of getting the meat out of the shell is truly not worth the effort and that crab is over-rated when compared to river prawns or lobster.  But we will hold firm, and extract every last morsel of deliciousness with dexterity and determination. I can’t tell you clearly enough how much I enjoyed chatting with Khun Beau and I expect I will love her cooking course when I return to Hua Hin early in 2023.

My next article will be truly multicultural.  It tells the story of an Italian in provincial Thailand taking part in a Spanish endeavour.  What a powerful mix.

Felicitee Lawrie
Author: Felicitee Lawrie

Felicitee Lawrie spends as much of her life as she can in Hua Hin, Thailand. She is passionate about exploring the local culture, keen to make contacts among the Thai and expat residents of Hua Hin and in particular wants to learn more about the food culture of this area of Thailand. If she is able to promote local businesses and producers along the way, this is indeed a bonus. Felicitee has also been enjoying her writing in the People of Hua Hin series of feature articles, finding so many local people have fascinating stories to share with her.

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