Earlier this month, Palmer-Watts, who heads up the kitchen at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, currently seventh on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, took a five-day trip to Chiang Mai with chefs Joan Roca of El Cellar de Can Roca in Spain and Peter Gilmore of Quay in Australia to see the work of the Royal Project, an initiative founded in 1969 to tackle deforestation, poverty and opium production by offering a legal crop alternative.
During the trip, organised by Thailand’s Department of Tourism, chefs learnt about the project while discovering produce such as Chinese chive flowers and cape gooseberries before cooking at a five course dinner at The Blue Elephant in the Thai capital of Bangkok with chef-owner Nooror Somany Steppe.
The Royal Project was created by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, following a visit to a hill tribe village where he discovered a variety of peach trees that yielded higher income than opium poppies. Realising there was not just a viable but also a more lucrative alternative to drug production, he set in motion converting farmers’ crops.
Palmer-Watts said: "We witnessed first hand how the project is working so very tirelessly to help the hill tribe people eradicate opium production. People back home should consider coming to this area and staying in one of the incredible home stays within the Royal Project areas."
See more about the trip in this video: