Call me suspicious, but what am I to make of restaurants that brag about serving “locally sourced ingredients”? What does that even mean? Are you telling me that they buy all their food at local farms and farmer’s markets? Really? I have to wonder if what if what they really mean is that they purchase their provisions from local supermarkets (which ship in their goods from all over the world). I say, if you’re going to boast about your “local sourcing”, prove it to me!
Proving it is exactly what Chef Suwannee does on a regular basis in the small North Thailand town of Chiang Rai. All her cooking classes start in the market where the ingredients will be purchased. While Donica and I enjoy a fresh coffee in the middle of a bustling Thai market, perusing a list of meal choices, I suggest to our chef, “How about we make tom kha gai – coconut soup — and pad thai—stir-fried noodles?” “Fine,” says Suwannee, an attractive, 40-something Thai woman who had previously worked at upscale restaurants in Europe. “Let’s go shopping.”
The next hour is a whirl and a blur of activity as Suwannee sweeps us from one food stall to next, purchasing lemon grass and galangal here, noodles and curry paste there. From time to time, she asks a vendor to give us a free sample of a particular delicacy. “Here, try this Lanna sausage, ‘Sai Ua’. It’s delicious. And try this sticky rice.” Better yet, our hostess takes us outside to meet the hill tribe vendors, who have come down from the mountains to hawk their wares at the market. “I always try to buy at least one item from each hill tribe. It’s only fair, and it maintains good relations.”
After all the shopping is completed, we drive 20 minutes to Suwannee’s home, which doubles as her teaching kitchen. For the next 3 hours, we chop, cook and eat a delicious, multi-course meal in a traditional setting. The entire class had been billed as a 2-hour activity but it ends up lasting over 4 hours. Just a remarkable, authentic experience that over-delivers in every way possible. Now that’s what I call local sourcing!
(What do you do to “over-deliver” in your life? It could be in business, it could be towards friends and family. It might even be towards yourself. It’s always that extra step that makes the difference between event and experience.)