Cooking Lessons in Southeast Asia


Cooking classes are a great way to expand your cooking repertoire and learning new skills. I’ve taken classes in Sonoma, California and in my hometown. My son Tevis Spezia took it to a new level when he spent 4 months in Southeast Asia. He took two classes–one in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and one in Hội An, Vietnam. He found both of them on Trip Advisor, which is his go-to when he’s looking for interesting activities when traveling.


Tevis’ interest in cooking started with lessons from me for he and his friends Jenn and Heather. He quickly expanded his abilities past easy enchiladas and pasta sauce. While he lived in San Francisco he cooked dinner every week with a group of friends with a range of cooking experience. He tried a lot of new recipes and learned new skills.

“You can only go on so many walking tours and see so many museums, so I thought I’d try a cooking class.”  The Chiang Mai class included pick up and drop off from his hostel, and a shopping excursion at the market. Then they went to the farm kitchen for meal prep.



Tevis did feel like the odd man out in Chiang Mai as it was all couples except him. He did suggest the class to his dinner party friends Alison and Craig who honeymooned in Thailand. His experience in Vietnam was different–there was a mix of singletons and couples. He even ended up mopeding to the next town with someone he met in the class.

In Vietnam they spent more time in the markets shopping and even traveled part of the way by boat. Then they returned to a classroom kitchen in town. They made this specialty rice cake and crepe like pancakes used to roll up with different fillings. Tevis’ favorite recipe and one he’ll make again was the fresh spring rolls. They also made pho, but Tevis didn’t see the point in making pho when you only had to walk a few steps to find phenomenal pho made from a family recipe. And it was all so cheap (about $1.50 a bowl). Even in Boston, where he lives now, he’s more likely to buy a bowl a pho at a restaurant than make it himself.

I didn’t ask if he’d take another cooking class on future trips, because I knew the answer! Tevis’ Chilean cooking class is featured in next blog post.

Thanks Tevis Spezia for sharing your experience with Adventures of American Julie.


3 Reasons for Girls Weekend in Sonoma

Recently I spent 2 days with girlfriends in Sonoma, California. We had a great time.

We got to eat everything he prepared!
Chef Pierre explaining how to prepare filet mignon. He shops at Costco!
  1. We took a cooking class at Ramekins. This class was not “hands on” except when putting food and wine in our mouths. We sat classroom style and watched Chef Pierre make amazing French holiday food. We left with recipes and very full tummies. Excellent.
  2. Readers Books is a wonderful local independent bookstore.
    Readers Books is a wonderful local independent bookstore.
  3. We made a dent in our Christmas shopping lists! We shopped in Sonoma where there are lots of great shops (and places to stop for tired feet). On the way home we stopped at Yountville and were surprised that the shopping was anemic compared to Sonoma.
  4. We ate fabulous food at Osos, and the El Dorado Kitchen. We also recommend the Girl and the Fig if you get reservations in advance. So much good food! On the way home we stopped at the Oakville Grocery to get a few treats for loved ones at home.

We stayed at the Inn at Sonoma, a Four Sisters Inn. It was very comfortable and more affordable than many other places on The Inn’s location is excellent–walkable to the Plaza, and to MacArthur’s Spa.

Cooking Adventure in Sonoma

Ramekins Cooking School in Sonoma, CaliforniaIt is always delightful to spend the day with my friend Stephanie, but difficult to schedule. It took us months to line up our schedule and the available space at Ramekins cooking school in Sonoma, California. It almost did not matter what we were going to learn. As luck would have it, we learned to make the elements of the menu featured in the movie, Big Night. If you are not familiar with the movie–it translates as an Italian feast. This much food would work for a big family party or a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal.

We had a lovely drive over and a delicious lunch at The Girl and the Fig. We had just enough time to walk to the excellent independent bookstore just past the town square. Readers’ Books is a treat. It offers used and new books–all in good condition.

Participants in Ramekins cooking classWe arrived at Ramekins at the appointed time and signed in. The class was $95 per person for about 2 hours of cooking and then an hour of eating what we prepared paired with Sonoma wine. The classroom is set up for teams of 3 or 4 to work on various menu components.

Our Chef Lisa Lavagetto and her assistants had done most of the prep work to be able to make:

  • Fried Calamari with Garlic Dipping Sauce
  • Roasted Beet and Beet Greens Salad with Apples and Goat Cheese
  • Timballo – Pasta Drum with Meatballs, Fresh Ricotta, Asparagus and Hard Boiled Egg
  • Roasted Eggplant stuffed with Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella
  • Italian Apple Cake with Grappa.

Salad courseParticipants got to choose their stations but it was a bit of scramble like musical chairs. Stephanie prepped the roasted beet salad and I made the apple cake with grappa. I am not actively cooking in this season of my life. My skills are still sufficient to keep up. I enjoyed the buzz in the room as for many of the people cooking was a passion. We were all talking and tasting as a calamari appetizer was finished early or as the marinara sauce was ready. Chef Lisa based her recipes on those her Italian mother-in-law taught her. We were provided the recipes to take home and the appropriate specific recipe at our stations.

Chef Lisa brought in cooked Timballo ready for serving--a dramatic climax.
Chef Lisa brought in cooked Timballo ready for serving–a dramatic climax.
Slice of Timballo
Slice of Timballo

The assistants also did the hard clean up work. We got to retire to the dining room and enjoy our wine until Lisa and her staff brought in the salad, the eggplant, and then the dramatic Timballo. We finished with the Italian apple cake my team made topped with fresh whipped cream. Everything was molto delizioso.

Finished Apple Cake with Grappa. Yum!
Finished Apple Cake with Grappa. Yum!

We enjoyed the experience so much that we signed up for another class in December before the week was out.