Thai Master Classes
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Sompon Nabnian has been a local celebrity since 1993 when he and his English wife, Elizabeth, first launched this cooking school in northern Thailand's capital, Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai's distinctive regional cuisine incorporates accents from the southern Chinese who settled here centuries ago and the Burmese who ruled the region until 1775.
Students try their hands at cooking classic Northern Thai dishes like sticky rice and plaah goong (a spicy prawn salad) as well as pad Thai noodles, chicken in coconut milk soup, Penang curry with pork, and steamed fish in banana leaves. The class schedule is supremely flexible; students take one class a day, choosing from among five different daylong programs, which can be taken in any order. Each class explores a different vein of culinary skills -- learning how to shop in the market one day, the next learning to identify the full range of exotic Thai spices, or making spicy pastes with a mortar and pestle, or carving fruits and vegetables.
Not only that, you have two different choices of location, either in the Nabnians' pleasant home just outside Chiang Mai in Doi Saket, or in town at The Wok (44 Ratchamanka Rd.; tel. 66/53/208287). Nabnian and his assistant teachers are all fluent in English and offer lots of hands-on assistance. Every student is given his or her own workstation and equipment; they cook four dishes in the morning and two in the afternoon, and later eat the fruits of their labors. Culinary professionals and students who complete all 5 days of the course are also welcome to take master classes with Nabnian after 4pm.
Even if you're not taking a class, you can stay at the Jasmine Rice Village, with a cluster of private poolside villas that evoke the village life of northern Thailand. Set amid green rice paddies, the peaceful property even has an herb and vegetable garden that provides produce for the cooking classes, a short walk away. Rooms have a minimalist simplicity, trimmed in teak. The resort's restaurant, Fragrant Rice, showcases some of Nabnian's more ambitious cooking -- a reminder that, no matter how much you've learned, you still haven't exhausted the wonders of Thai food.
47/2 Moon Muang Rd., Chiang Mai 50200; tel. 66/53/206388; www.thaicookeryschool.com.
Chiang Mai (14km/81/2 miles).
Where to Stay:
Jasmine Rice Village, 91 Moo 3 Soi 3, T. Luang Nua A. Doi Saket (tel. 66/53/206 3151; www.jasminericevillage.com). Tamarind Village, 50/1 Rathcadamnoen Rd., Chiang Mai (tel. 66/53/418 896; www.tamarindvillage.com).