Meet our Chiang Mai Chef, Mae!
In Chiang Mai, food and culture are intertwined. Thai food is one of the most popular cuisines in the world, bringing such distinct and delicious flavors to our plates. We’re so excited to feature Mae Kuruphong as our Chef for our Cooking Class this Spring. Mae is the Owner of Buddha Raska Nature Farm in Chiang Mai, an organic farm that is focused on sharing local ingredients and the secret recipes of Chiang Mai local cuisine with others.
What first drew you to cooking?
I was always helping my mom in the kitchen when I was little kid. This is a part of Thai culture where cooking is the major gathering activity that brings the family together. After working abroad for 11 years, I returned home to Chiang Mai in 2019. From my travels, I realized how special and unique Northern Thai food is, and I decided to fully embrace learning this cooking style.
I love food and I enjoy eating various kinds of food not only Thai food but also Asian and Western food. After I spent some time in Singapore and China, the food scene expanded my palette. It felt like a window of possibility opened in terms of food combinations. I learned that not only do we enjoy tasty dishes but also the culture and story behind each dish.
How did you get started w/ teaching others to cook?
My family owns an organic farm right in the middle of the forest hilly side of Chiang Mai and there we grow our own vegetables for family meals. When I moved back, we decided to open our farm to visitors to experience this side of Chiang Mai, and began a farm to table cooking class.
What do you like about teaching people to cook?
I love it. It lifts my spirit every time we share and exchange culture with food in the kitchen. I have a also learned a lot from others through my cooking classes. I think we learn so much more by sharing. Cooking is so natural for everyone because we all need to eat, so we share this common bond.
How would you describe Chiang Mai cooking and flavors? What do you love most about it?
Chiang Mai is surrounded by greenery, so you’ll find that most of our recipes contain lots of vegetables and less meat. We favor salty flavors over sweet flavors, and we rarely add oil in our cooking. We use pork lard or oil from natural sources, so most dishes use water instead of oil. Over the past 700 years, Chiang Mai people have exchanged food and culture from neighboring kingdoms.
Chiang Mai is the heart of northern Thailand, bringing diverse and distinct flavors from surrounding regions and kingdoms to the cuisine. The fall of old, nearby kingdoms, such as Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and influence from surrounding regions, such as curries from Thailand’s tropical south or seafood from The Central Plains, has contributed to the variety of flavors found in Chiang Mai food.
How would you describe your style of cooking and/or teaching?
I love to share our home cooking style, where there is not a perfect recipe. Food is always adaptable, depending on the person who cooks it. For example, you’ll see that the Khao Soi recipe I’ll share has been adapted by my mom to bring turmeric which we grow on our farms and has wonderful healing powers.
What are some of your favorite dishes?
Northern Style Larb and Nam Prik Ong. These two are the best in complexity yet easy to make.
Northern Style Larb (Larb Muang Moo)
Larb Muang Moo is a classic northern Thai dish, a tasty salad with minced pork, fish sauce and lime juice.
Nam Prik Ong
This spicy chile-based sauce with tomatoes and ground pork is served with pieces of cabbage or cucumber to scoop it up with.
How long have you lived in Chiang Mai? What do you love about it?
Chiang Mai is my home. I was born and raised here, and food has always been the heartbeat of my family. My grandmother served us home-cooked, Northern Thai food for every meal, and this was passed on to my mom and me. Food is what I love about Chiang Mai, especially my mom’s dishes.
How has COVID impacted you personally and your business?
It has impacted us dramatically beyond what we could have planned. We had to shift all our cooking classes online, and the farm has had no foreign visitors for a year now.