CHIANG MAI, July 10 ― Exploring street food in Thailand is a must during every visit.
But how about learning how to cook your favourite Thai dish the next time you are there?
Just 15 minutes from Chiang Mai International Airport is Air’s Thai Culinary Kitchen.
Owner Chanrat “Air” Karatna, 55, started this business as he felt that cooking a traditional Thai dish is a great way for a tourist to experience an authentic holiday in Thailand.
“I used to work as a tour guide and I always felt that tourists were not getting a ‘real feel’ of Thailand.
“It also hit me that tourists love our food more than anything else, so why not start a cooking class?” he said.
Air’s Thai Culinary Kitchen has come a long way since 2004 when it first started, and visitors are even given a 23-page booklet containing recipes for several dishes such as phad thai, tom yum and green curry when they leave.
But Chanrat said his classes are more than just a cooking experience.
“Visitors can also learn some of Chiang Mai’s rich culture from me. You’re in my home, you know I live here and it is as authentic as you can get,” he said.
Chanrat worked as a tour guide from 1982 to 1992; he also owned a bistro called Air’s Bistro. He then decided to pursue a Tourism Industry Management graduate programme at the Chiang Mai University in 1999.
Things changed in 2000. “I had my daughter that year and I felt that as she grew up, owning a bar wouldn’t really be the best example for me to set for her.
“It’s a place for people to drink and enjoy so I told myself I need to find another way to make ends meet besides being a tour guide.
“I sold off my bar in 2003 because I found this brilliant idea (setting up Air’s Thai Culinary Kitchen).
“I really did not want to sell it off, it was a place I loved so much but I needed funds to start my new business venture.”
The birth of Air’s Thai Culinary Kitchen
In 2004, Air’s Thai Culinary Kitchen was finally set up on a 1.6 acre piece of land located in Nong Prateeep village which also happens to be where his home is.
The kitchen ― the size of half a football field ― is surrounded by a garden planted with lots of fresh herbs.
“This land belongs to my grandparents and I did not want it to go to waste. Besides, buying a plot of land is too expensive.”
Chanrat admitted it was not easy at first but he never thought about quitting.
“I had already sold my bistro and knew I couldn’t quit. There were not many people coming but whatever I made was enough for me to survive.
“I chose a tough life from a life where I could get money very easily. Being a tour guide I pocket money daily.
“I had several offers to get into the tour guide industry again, but I turned them down.”
This tough period gave him more knowledge about the insights of running a business.
“We need to know how to market something, promote it, have good public relation skills and also some connections which will aid a business.”
‘That horrible green curry’
His first memory of bad Thai food is a green curry dish served at his father’s funeral 50 years ago.
“The green curry was spicy and that dish is not meant to be spicy. It was so bad that I still have memories of how horrible it was.
“This might have been the reason I ended up loving cooking because I was pretty sure I could make a better dish.”
He first started cooking at eight years old, making an omelette and mixed vegetables for his family.
Chanrat shared a secret on how to know whether a dish is good or bad.
“Feed it to the children, they won’t lie. If it is bad, they’ll tell you it is bad.”
14 years later
“I’m really happy with my business. I can spend time with my mother; I can see my wife and my daughter and learn new things from tourists.
He added: “One day in life you will have to choose money or experiencing a good life. Choose wisely because if I chose money, I would not have spent all these wonderful times over here and wonderful moments with my daughter.”
Each class hosts about four guests and prices are set at RM407 per class on Airbnb’s website.
The class lasts for four hours and one can learn to cook up to three dishes during this period.
Drinks and food ― the dishes you cooked, of course ― are included.
Part of Airbnb’s Experiences in Chiang Mai
Chanrat’s cooking class is available for booking at Airbnb’s website with available dates that are at located at the bottom of the page.
The online marketplace and hospitality service launched it’s Experiences in Chiang Mai towards the end of last month due to travellers’ preference of exploring a place through the eyes of locals.
In 2017, Airbnb welcomed more than 160,000 guests into Chiang Mai from over 135 countries.
Founded in 2008, today it is home to millions of places to stay in more than 191 countries.