Alex Gares was crushing ingredients for a spicy broth and giving cooking-class students instructions at the same time.
"Something you should know about Thai food: If someone tells you it's not spicy, don't believe it. It's spicy," he said.
"If someone tells you it is spicy, take extra care. It's really spicy."
Valuable information, I thought to myself. Gares, executive chef at Phulay Bay Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Krabi, was giving tips on how to prepare three dishes; I hoped I would be able to prepare them myself when I got home. If so, the class, which cost $100 and is open to the public, was time and money well spent.
Cooking classes are soaring in popularity in Thailand, as they are in many other countries known for their interesting cuisines. In Bangkok, the classes usually last half a day and include a visit to a market to introduce you to Thai ingredients and flavors. Beach resort classes are a little looser, but the big benefit with all of them is that you get to eat the foods you make.
I hit two classes during a fall visit to Krabi Province in southwestern Thailand. At Sofitel's Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort, the class, about $40 to $50 and open to the public, had more students, but the room was smaller. Lots of chopping, stir-frying and tasting in tight quarters. But the tasting was excellent.
The Sofitel isn't on the beach, but it has an impressive open-air lobby, an interesting colonial/Victorian vibe and an enormous pool, one of the largest in southern Thailand.
The digs are more luxurious and pricier over at the waterfront Ritz-Carlton, where all guests have their own beach or hillside villa, complete with butler. Plus a resident baby elephant comes out to say hello each night at sundown.
The Ritz also has Gares. "You need to taste, taste, taste while you're cooking," he said, putting together a salad using wild ferns, pork and chicken.
I learned that lesson well. But now I never seem to have enough left when I'm done to serve it to someone else.