You get to literally dig deep into sustainable dining
Chiang Rai may not be as permanent a fixture on the tourist trail as Chiang Mai, but one restaurant is putting it firmly on the foodie radar. Since opening one and a half years ago, Locus Native Food Lab has become the hottest ticket in town with its monthly-changing 10-course menu offered to just 20 covers per night.
While head chef Kongwuth “Kong” Chaiwongkachon periodically presides over fine-dining chef’s table dinners, in March he’ll be launching an exciting new “chef’s journey” concept. For B22,000 ($935), this all-inclusive three-day trip will take guests on a culinary adventure, exploring the roots of their food, offering the chance to learn first hand the importance of seasonal, sustainable dining. Here’s what you can expect.
The trip begins in the forest. At Baan Non Som Boon, a village in Toeng District, foodies are given a chance to meet locals who make a living from foraging mushrooms, wild galangal and other ingredients. As well as teaching techniques, the villagers will educate guests on their sharing system and ways in which to protect the forest, as well as offering an opportunity to take part in “Buad Ton Mai,” a tree ordination ritual where a tree is wrapped in Buddhist robes as a symbol of protection against deforestation.
After the foraging session, a pickup truck will transport you into the main village to meet with Kornkanok Phupakdee, a young farmer who runs the small Baan Suan Phupakdee Organic Farm, where seeds and seasonal produce are sold. Here, you’ll learn how to harvest produce as you wander through gardens of morning glory, cos lettuce, passion fruit vines and native northern khao gum (black sticky rice)—a rich source of the antioxidant, OPC (Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins). You’ll then be treated to a local lunch served in a tiffin carrier, surrounded by greenery at the airy wooden farmhouse.
Afternoon comes with a workshop at the sustainable and organic Rai Ruen Rom Farm, where you’ll have chance to create a tie-dye scarf using natural colorants including marigold (yellow), sappanwood (pink) and Indian trumpet flower tree (green)—all of which are grown on the farm.
You’ll then be treated to a northern dinner by the bonfire, prepared by chef Konwuth using the fresh vegetables you harvested earlier in the day. Featured dishes include the likes of laam moo (pork with curry paste cooked in roasted bamboo), om nua kwai (spicy buffalo soup with vegetables), potato salad with makawan (Chiang Rai Sichuan pepper) dressing, and roasted vegetables with wild honey dressing. After finishing dinner at the rustic long table, you’ll bed down for the night in a boutique tent.
A new day calls for new learning opportunities, starting with a visit to Doi Makha Coffee, a small farm in the Mae Lao district. You’ll be met by Suppajin Khamsamut, a farmer, barista and beekeeper who lives in true sustainable fashion. Apart from growing all of his own food, including fish, coffee, vegetables and rice, he’s also a keen wild honey conservationist. On his farm, he has created a forest-like environment where wild Luang and Channarong bees thrive, helping to fulfill the important role of pollinating the nearby forest.
At the ponds, you’ll learn how to catch natural-fed Nile tilapia with a net, as well as collecting free range duck eggs along the dyke. Finish off with a northern-style lunch prepared by Suppajin himself, topped off with a taste of his signature Honey Americano.
Next, you’ll get the chance to show off your own culinary prowess at Locus Native Lab, where you’ll be taught how to make a seasonal local staple, such as chili paste with dried-fish. Your creation will be served alongside Kongwut’s 10-course chef’s table dinner—there will be a vote on which guest made it best, so it’s time to get competitive!
The following day, you’ll head to Mae Sai district in the northernmost part of Thailand bordering Tachilek, Myanmar. Here, chef Kongwut will take you on a walking tour of the local market, starting at the foot of Wat Phra That Doi Wao, where you’ll have chance to sample the famous Lanna staple, khao kan jin (steamed rice in pork blood), at Auntie Daeng—a small pushcart stall dubbed one of the best in town. Continue past an array of Thai and Burmese roadside stands hawking rarely seen items like hornets’ nest.
Conclude the trip with a local chef’s table lunch at the house of Jin Saiwong, a 70-year-old living legend who still cooks old-school and hard-to-find traditional northern dishes. Usually reserved for special occasions at Wat Phra That Doi Tung temple, Jin’s table is full of rare Lanna gems such as nam prik tor (traditionally this dish uses hornet grubs but this version uses cashew nuts instead), ab aong aor (steamed pork brain with herbs), yam pak ra (acacia pennata salad with shrimp paste and fermented fish) and jor pak kad (Chinese cabbage sour soup).
The Chef’s Jouney tour costs about $935. Trip routes and food selections will vary according to season. Visit Locus Native Food Lab’s Facebook page for details.
A version of this article first appeared on BK Magazine.