Zipporah Gene tries her hand at the delicate art of Royal Thai cuisine at the Blue Elephant Cooking School.
Hemmed in by the BTS and the familiar battalion of skyscrapers, this yellow, baronial building still manages to hold its own; amidst Bangkok’s modern cityscape. Located right in front of Surasak BTS station, it’s impossible to take your eyes off its charming European facade; an enduring testament to foregone eras of unfettered opulence, colonial chic and that long since forsaken world of classical glamour.
The Blue Elephant, itself, needs no introduction.
With branches in London, Paris, and Dubai – to name but a few and now in its 30th year, it’s safe to say that the world can’t seem to get enough of its take on authentic royal Thai cuisine. Comprised of three floors, the interior doesn’t fail to disappoint. Bedecked in rich, polished teak beams, and sprawling with tropical foliage; it’s not long before you’ve left all memory of the bustling city behind you.
I opted for the early morning class, which includes a local tour of the nearby Bang Rak market. Having participated in quite a number of cooking classes in Bangkok, I will admit to being ever so slightly tentative, at the thought of yet another market excursion. However, I went along, to see if I could learn something new from our guide, who also happened to be a chef at the restaurant.
Only one BTS stop away, Bang Rak station is a delight for those who have never experienced the hubbub of an authentic Thai marketplace. I will admit that there were also some insightful surprises, for a seasoned market goer like myself.
Maybe it was the chef’s in-depth knowledge, or the initial bribe of a refreshing iced coffee, but it was not long before the group was chatting, involved, and engaging with his thrilling introduction to the basic tenets of Thai cuisine.
Back at the school, which is located on the third floor, we began our lesson in the exhibition kitchen. A far cry from your usual classroom setting, it’s clear the school is used to hosting both laymen and professionals alike. Kitted with an over-hanging mirror, camera and a monitor, it truly is the perfect setting to hone in, and learn some easily missed techniques.
Our teacher for the day was none other than the founder, Nooror Somany Steppe’s daughter – Sandra. Something about Sandra’s charming, candid but inviting demeanour, made her both endearing and loveable. It didn’t take us long to feel as if were all simply long-time friends, learning about her family’s treasured recipes.
The history, the ingredients and the techniques were all explained in such a detailed but relaxed way, that when it was time to move to the adjacent practice kitchen, and try it out for ourselves, we were all confident and rearing to go.
The menu for the day included all the classic crowd pleasers. From tod man koong (crispy Thai prawn cake), to tom jew nua (beef soup), keang karee kai (yellow curry with chicken), to the exceedingly popular phad thai sod (prawn pad Thai). Under the reassuring and vigilant supervision of Sandra and her team, we were quickly able to replicate our own versions of these simple but delicious dishes. Lessons can be tailored to suit your individual needs, so there’s definitely something for those looking to try their hands at the more challenging recipes.
After the class was over, we made our way to one of the beautifully adorned dining rooms to try out our culinary creations.
There truly is something magical about seeing the food you just prepared, laid out on such fine china. The room was abuzz with the sound of contentment and teeming with other satisfied guests, while we we tucked into our meal – fit for kings.
After wolfishly devouring our lunch, we decided to turn our forks towards some of the Blue Elephant’s signature dishes. The keang massaman (massaman curry), is simply other worldly. With it’s fall-off-the-bone beef and generous sprinkling of cashews, it boldly challenges you to reinvent your expectations, on this much loved dish.
Also worth mentioning was the all-too-often overlooked and sadly often overdone dish of sautéed vegetables. Prepared especially for a pescatarian member of our team, it was crisp, sweet, but full of such vibrancy that you couldn’t believe it was just your run-of-the-mill serving of veg.
We paired our meal with some of the sensational in-house wines. I’ll be honest in admitting to my ignorance when it comes to pairing wine with Thai cuisine, but with an on-site sommelier and a vast collection of both local and imported blends, you’re bound to find something to suit your palate.
What really made the experience unique, was not only simply the impressive cooking stations, or the meticulously selected ingredients, but the professionalism and attentiveness of all the staff on the day. You felt as if you were part of the team and they were truly all invested in teaching the enigmatic art of Thai cuisine. At the end of it all, I found it really hard to leave. But, I know I’ll be back to try my hand at some more of their appetising recipes.
The cooking school is open 7 days a week (Sunday is a morning only class)
Morning class 08:30 am – 1:00 pm (with market tour)
Afternoon class 1:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Course descriptions (including dietary options) are all available on the school’s website. For more information on The Blue Elephant Restaurants and Cooking Schools, visit www.blueelephant.com.