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After a full month in Myanmar without a single cooking class I was excited to get back to Thailand to take a class at the Blue Elephant Cooking School. Over the past few months I’ve taken many different cooking classes but without a doubt this one stands out from the rest.
As I entered the colonial style building and looked around I realized this was no ordinary cooking class. This would be held in a successful restaurant, with it’s own chain of Thai restaurants abroad as well as cookbooks, products, etc. When I saw a photo on the wall of the founders with Russian President Putin that furthered my understanding of how deep this organization goes. This was in fact a multi million dollar company founded by an entrepreneurial Thai woman – Nooror Somany Steppé and her Belgium husband. They first started a Thai restaurant in Belgium, at a time when Thai cooking was not well known internationally. They continued to build the brand, with new restaurants popping up all over the world and now a Thai restaurant and cooking school in downtown Bangkok.
Over the past 30 years Nooror and her husband have opened 12 branches of the Blue Elephant and are even running their own production line of Thai products. Amazing.
The cooking class began as most do – with a trip to the local market and an introduction into the ingredients used in Thai cooking. As we entered the market, everyone got their own ice coffee or tea, courtesy of The Blue Elephant – I chose iced, and sipped mine through a straw out of a small plastic bag. Who needs cups anyway?
From there we walked past the various product, herb, and rice stalls, admiring the marketplace while trying to stay out of the vendors way. Then it was back to the cooking school.
The class was set up with a small classroom with chairs and tables for every student and a large demonstration table in front. And as I had always seen on the cooking shows on TV, a mirror attached to the ceiling pointing down at the table. Perfect for observing the instructor’s cooking technique.
Each student received a bottle of water and folder containing the day’s recipes and a booklet with photos and names of the traditional Thai ingredients. For the first time in two years, I was in class, and I had my pencil ready to take notes.
As the instructor walked in, you can imagine my surprise when, I realized it was Nooror herself – the co-founder of the company. Given how prestigious the Blue Elephant is, I was pretty surprised to see the co-founder teaching our little cooking class.
Both jolly and friendly, Nooror introduced us to the cooking school and company, before demonstrating how to make the red curry with shrimp and pineapple. I took notes as she talked, trying to get my fill of Thai secret cooking tips. We were then able to sample Nooror’s creation along with a sampling of the Blue Elephant mango sticky rice. Off to a good start!
The class format would be to observe a dish and then head over to the cooking stations to prepare it ourselves. With a station per person we completed some prep work first before getting to the cooking.
Various other cooking instructors helped us along through the process. Dish number one was complete, but before retreating back to the classroom, I stole a bite – delicious. Smooth, creamy, and surprisingly the pineapple adds a soft slightly fruit touch.
For the second recipe the instructor was now Nooror’s daughter, Sandra – an incredibly charming and personable young woman. She excused her mom for having to rush off so quickly – explaining that she had a photo shoot for breast cancer that day, as she is the Thai ambassador for breast cancer. This only led to further my amazement that Nooror still made time to come in and teach us how to make one dish. The woman somehow does it all!
And coming up next for both mom and daughter is a trip to Los Angeles to film a cooking show with a Hollywood celebrity. They couldn’t reveal who it was though.
Sandra, in her calm and relaxing manner would show us how to make deep fried fish topped with lemongrass sauce. An exquisite dish with a deep and fragrant sauce and a touch of Thai character. I fully enjoyed Sandra’s charismatic presentation and integration of story telling into the demonstration and cooking instruction. Throughout the cooking she joked that the best way to get a Thai husband is to show how you pound a mortar. A man will listen to that and be able to determine if you’ll be a lazy, bossy, or hard-working wife. Sandra even demonstrated for us, in case we were looking for a Thai wife ourselves.
I loved that the instructors would demonstrate with a full plate of the dish so that afterwards everyone in the class got an mini plate of the dish to try. This was a great way to be able to determine spice levels for our own cooking, as well as to compare our own creations with those of the instructors. And of course snacking throughout a cooking class is never a bad thing in general…
For our third dish, a new instructor came in, a young man named Nut. He was the funny guy and continued cracking jokes and had the whole class bursting with laughter through his demonstration. His wit and ability to work off the class and our sense of humor was noticeable – this guy was made to work with people. Humor and cooking – a perfect combination.
He showed us how to make the Beef Satay, with a peanut dipping sauce and a sweet and sour cucumber salad. I’m not even a huge fan of beef but found this dish incredible. The meat was succulent and the sauce was rich and creamy. Amazingly enough the peanut dip tasted quite peanutty but for once was made with just ground roasted peanuts, instead of a peanut butter base.
For our last dish, Sandra came back to join us, and charmed us yet again with more stories about bringing a mortar and pestle through carry on at an airport. For the final dish we prepared grilled chicken salad with Thai roasted chili paste. As Sandra explained this is the perfect dish to throw together with various leftovers and the sauce is the real star.
From here we were ready to head to the dining room, where many heads of states (including Putin himself) have dined, to enjoy our feasts. After lunch we were served a delicious ice cream dessert and gifted with a class completion certificate, apron, cloth bag, and Thai cooking starter set. The starter set included a recipe and most of the ingredients, just requiring a couple more (veggies and poultry) to complete the meal. A great cooking school parting gift.
Overall I highly enjoyed my time at the Blue Elephant cooking school and loved every single dish that we made. I felt that the dishes here were more sophisticated and complex than at the other cooking schools I have attended and I greatly appreciated this. The instructors were all excellent and did a great job explaining and engaging with us students. Though these cooking classes do not come cheap, at $110 per class, if you are looking for an incredibly professionally run cooking school, The Blue Elephant is the place to go.
Disclaimer: The Blue Elephant sponsored my cooking class, however, we never compromise our integrity in exchange for a favorable review.