As much as my husband and I love to eat when we travel, it wasn’t until several years ago in Italy that we discovered cooking classes were a fun, hands-on way to dive into the culture of a country. The full day we spent cooking with Chef Fabio Bongianni of the Fabiolous Cooking School at his home in Mazzano, Romano was — favoloso! More recently, during a spring getaway in Thailand, we enrolled in a half-day cooking class at the Blue Elephant Cooking School and Restaurant in Bangkok. The Thai restaurant and school is owned by Chef Nooror Somany Steppe, founder of Blue Elephant Group and known as the “Unofficial culinary ambassador of Thai cuisine since 1980.” Having grown up in the culture and tradition of the province of Chachoengsao in eastern Thailand,.Chef Somany Steppe specializes in authentic Thai cuisine.
The Blue Elephant Cooking School & Restaurant is housed in a century old mansion in the heart of Bangkok opposite the Surasak Skytrain station. Our morning half-day class started at 8:45 a.m. in the salon of the restaurant, where we were served a fresh Thai herbal drink and given a preview of what was to come. Then, accompanied by a staff member, we took the Skytrain to the Bang Rak morning market. There were about ten of us in the group, and for the next hour, we learned about fresh Thai herbs, fruits, vegetables and other products from the region.
One of the highlights was purchasing Thai Ice Coffee from two women making and selling it from a street cart. The strong liquid is served in a plastic bag with a straw, about as far a taste and style from Starbucks as you can get.
Back at the restaurant, we met Chef Somany Steppe in the cooking school’s classroom, which was outfitted with overhead mirrors and a full kitchen. Although she didn’t stay for the entire demonstration (a TV crew from China was doing a feature on her), the vivacious chef began preparing Naam A-Jard (Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad) to be served with the Tod Man Plaa (Thai Fish Cakes) that we’d soon be making. Her assistant eventually took over, and then it was our turn to be chefs for a day.
Across the hall from the classroom is a full kitchen, outfitted with individual cooking stations for each student. The recipes and all the ingredients were placed in front of us — first up was Kreung Kaen Daeng (Red Curry Paste). I was positioned next to my husband Bob, who does the majority of cooking in our house. Needless to say, while I was quickly scanning the recipe, I also mimicked what Bob was doing — and my first attempt at making red curry paste was fairly impressive.
We continued on, returning to the classroom for a demo, then cooking the menu item ourselves. By the time the class was over, we had made four items, which we would enjoy later in the restaurant’s dining room along with additional Thai dishes. Each cook’s item was labeled to ensure that we’d eat our own dish. They included:
Kreun Kaeng Daeng (Red Curry Paste)
Keang Phed Kai Nor Mai Sod (Red Curry with Chicken & Fresh Bamboo Shoots)
Phad Thai (Stir-Fried Rice Noodle with Prawns)
Tod Man Plaa Grai (Thai Fish Cake)
So how’d I do in my Thai cooking debut? I enjoyed all my menu items except the Thai Fish Cakes — I overcooked them, and they were a little dry. But for my first attempt, I’d give myself a big gold star.
Following the class and the meal, we all “graduated” and were presented with a Blue Elephant Cooking School Certificate, along with Thai herbal tea, packets of curry paste and an apron. But best of all were the menus with recipes we took home, which my husband prepared several months after returning from Thailand. For a few brief hours one evening, sitting around our dining room table with friends, we were back in Bangkok again — proving that cooking and travel can be a wonderful combination. — by Sue Frause, RFT Contributor
Blue Elephant Cooking School: Two half-day classes are offered daily, one at 8:30AM and the other at 1:30PM. Cost is $85 (includes lunch). In addition to the Bangkok location, there’s a Blue Elephant Cooking School and Restaurant on Phuket. Other restaurant locations include London, Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lyon, Dubai, Malta and Jakarta. www.blueelephant.com