The Thai elite don’t merely eat; they indulge in scents and sensations that permeate mind, body, and spirit. Accordingly, one expects no less of a cooking school on the grounds of a swank resort, where towering teak and fecund bamboo shelter old-style Lanna designs. For me, it began with a pot of tea to pick up the pace before entering a pristine arena of brass woks, personal work stations, and unobtrusive assistants to clean up the dirty dishes. A languid breeze rustled the palms as a chef in a smart white smock explained the essence of herbs. And here’s the beauty: I attended two schools in Chiang Mai that fit this description. At the Four Seasons ($202 per class, including lunch), in the scenic Mae Rim valley, an expert wooed me with the notion of hot-sour-salty-sweet-bitter, perfectly harmonized in a plate of pummelo with chicken and tamarind. The cook at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi ($167 per class, including lunch), a little closer to the nightlife and the trinket traders, shared the secrets to Chiang Mai’s distinctive curries. At both schools, tidy market tours initiated the uninitiated to galangal, shrimp paste, and pandanus, while frequent class breaks let us get on with the critical business of eating our plated creations.
What I Learned
The pummelo is commonly used in Thai salads but can be hard to find in the U.S. Pomegranate and green mango are good substitutes.
Apparently, the Thai market embarrasses these clean-cut instructors: One tour avoided the meat section entirely, and no one was overly forthright about the animal parts used in true Thai cooking.
Before You Go
Relax. No culinary knowledge, Thai or otherwise, is necessary for either course.
Where to Stay
Obviously, it’s easier to attend one of the schools if you’re staying at its corresponding hotel: Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai (800-819-5053; fourseasons.com; from $605); Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai (866-526-6567; mandarinoriental.com; from $455).