When you first bite into the cheesecake at  Chiang  Mai's  "Love at First Bite," you   are   transported to a place far away. Your mind snaps back to the  salient  taste   memories   of cheesecake, real cheesecake and screams: "this is what I've   missed!"

  Then you begin to look around. You see apple pie, banana cream  pie, coconut  cream   pie, quiches, cookies and all manner of confectionaries; more taste memories waiting to
   be explored. The bakery's refrigerators are full with them, tempting you to indulge, to plunge in and enjoy.
   
   You would not be alone in this. "Love at First Bite's" reputation as the place for the best baked goods is  growing day
   by day, giving the small bakery a steadily growing clientele.A bit difficult to find for the first-timer, this five-star bakery
   hides in the guise of an ordinary-looking house, tucked away in the alley-streets on the "other" side of the Ping River,  off the Chiangmai-Lamphun Highway.
   
 
 Customers are free to sit in the air-conditioned glassed-in dining room or opt  for a meal  out in the garden area, the  brunch  alcove  on  the  lawn  amidst  trees  and  flowers. A  driveway leads between these and to a small parking lot,hardly enough for the constant  flow of traffic in and out."Love at First Bite" places no ads in the  local  papers. It doesn't  have to. Its advertising is accomplished solely by word of mouth.
   Owner Jerry and owner/main baker Mattie S. Watana are an affable, welcoming  pair, two  people  joined  by a  long-  term marriage and love of food. My fianc? and I had the pleasure of joining them one  sunny  weekend  morning, to  discuss food, travels and the success of "Love at First Bite."
   We arrived to the sound of building.Workmen are busy constructing a larger kitchen in a back corner of the yard, a  future addition that will operate as the main kitchen and possible as a teaching studio for Mattie.
   
 
  "That's my dream kitchen," she told us. "I don't have a kitchen any more, because it's   a fulltime bakery … nothing is in the right place."

  The Watanas were born in Chiang Mai, but lived in the United States for 27  years  and   travelled the length and breadth of the land during their stay there; he  as a computer   specialist and she as an employee of United Airlines.  As  they  travelled, they  explored
   their love of food, dining with friends, or on their own, trying out the regional cuisines.It is a popular subject with the  two of  them, for they love to enjoy quality cuisine and they search for the best of food.  During  our  conversation,  we  veer through subjects as diverse as the best Kow Soy noodles in Chiang Mai to  the  best  lobster  ( Maine  by  a  landslide). In Jerry's point of view,the search for good food should take you into the unexplored areas,the places off  the beaten path - a bit like the location for "Love at First Bite" in fact.
   
 He explained with one of the regional specialties in the U.S. - Mexican food.

 "If I want to go to a real Mexican restaurant, it doesn't have to be expensive," he said. "You eat  a  burrito at Taco Bell and it won't taste as good as the one from a  small  mom  and  pop  shop  Mexican food. That I can tell. I can tell the difference."

 The two of them work well together, each with their  respective  roles. Jerry  acts  as the "high-  tech" marketing part of the operation,  while  Mattie  mans  the  ovens. Mattie  began  her  own  training  early  enough.  As  a  girl,  she  experimented  with  baking  ( her  father  worked   with  missionaries) and picked up early an appreciation of the skills and aptitudes  of  Western  cuisine.
 
   "I have loved to bake since I was a young girl. I never took any course or craft. Somebody up there probably  gave  it to me,"Mattie said. "Since I was a young girl, I would make food for everybody in the house and make them eat it."
   
   "She's got a talent," Jerry said, nodding in appreciation.
   
   When they returned in 1992, the Watanas  settled  into  their  current  home  and  Mattie  kept  experimenting  with  baking. At first, she baked for parties  and  special  events, but  as  time  went  on, her  skill  in  the  kitchen  became  something of a legend and friends began ordering cakes from her. Jerry retired from his position at Telecom Asia and  together, they decided to formally open the shop on July 4th, 1999.
  
  Jerry remembers the first day.

  "We picked it because of Independence Day. We wanted to declare to the people that   we wanted to be independent. We don't work for anyone," he said. "Well,  would  you   believe the first person to walk in was an American guy?
   It was an American guy and his wife. He just saw the sign and he walked in and ordered the chocolate cake."
   From there, "Love at First Bite" was born.
   
   My fianc? and I were given a sample of the delicious specialties during our visit, including the  ever-popular  blueberry  cheesecake,a standard from Day One and the rich and creamy Black Russian cake with Kahlua. With a side of coffee,  it was a brunch taste test made in heaven.The chocolate cake was rich and creamy (inciting yet another sharp taste  memory). There is no "Thai taste" here to the baked goods, a product of using the finest ingredients available - such  as cream cheese from Philadelphia, whipped cream from New York and chocolate from Belgium or Switzerland.
   
 
 On the urging of our hosts, we also partook of a slice of Quiche, the crust of  which  melted  in  our   mouths. We had  tasted  the  chicken  pot  pie  before,  which  had  incited  yet  another  memory from   home, specifically of one of my favourite bakeries in New Hampshire. To go,we  were given a   slice of Mattie's newest  creation, Grasshopper  Pie,  a  sweet  minty  concoction  fresh out of the   imagination of the hostess.

 "I create new stuff  all  the  time, " she said. " People  want  to  try  new  things. When  I  start  something new, it goes fast. And if it keeps on going, I keep it and if it doesn't go, then  I  stop  it."
   "Love at First Bite" keeps a menu of popular standards (the  blueberry  cheesecake  and  chocolate "town" cake  are  always big sellers), while offering new taste sensations every month. There  were  just  over  20  selections  when  we  visited, ranging from banana cream pie (her favourite) to the  macadamia-nut  covered  Hawaiian  Cheesecake. With  this blend of innovation and popular standards, "Love at First Bite" stakes a firm claim to its  five-star  bakery   status.
   
   "People in Thailand … they want to open a bakery, so they open a bakery," Jerry said. "They look  at  a  recipe, they  take a six month course and they start baking. But put it this way - if you have never eaten it, how can you make  a  cheesecake the way the cheesecake should taste like? You have to know what it tastes like to make it."

   At "Love at First Bite," they have that knowledge, making this home-run bakery the place to go  for  delicious  baked  goods and sweet memories in Chiang Mai.
   


   
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