by Anne Dimon, The Blue Elephant Govenor’s Mansion Cooking School & Restaurant, with its numerous balconies and elegantly appointed interior, certainly has the look and feel of a stately govenor’s mansion.
The popular Phuket restaurant, cooking school and catering company also houses a shop for its brand name line of food products and signature Blue Elephant wines made from grapes grown in France and bottled in that country. Our guide, Ben, says Blue Elephant serves the best Thai food on Phuket.
The original Blue Elephant opened in Bangkog in 1980 and, today, there are Blue Elephant restaurants in 10 cities around the world.
Executive Chef Sombat Prongthong greets us upon arrival and introduces himself as Chef Tiger. Since it is common for the Thai people to have an English nickname, and the name Sombat sounds like the Thai word for “tiger,” he has become Chef Tiger.
A mix of Thai and Chinese, the French-trained chef shares the fact that his mother was a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and he stresses the importance of whole foods for health. “It is part of the Thai and Chinese cultures,” he says.
This two-and-a-half hour class is both a demo and a hands-on workshop. We all have our own individual stations – each with a burner. Classes can be private – as is this one – or accommodate up to 30 people (60 with two to a station) in one of several dedicated cooking class spaces in this large mansion.
Chef Tiger tells us that the secret to making flavourful Thai dishes is using special Thai ingredients. The list is a long one and includes everything from Bay Leaves to Palm Sugar and Tamarind. But the three main ingredients of any Thai dish, he says, are Lemon Grass, Kaffir Lime and Galangal (a Thai ginger) – all available, according to the chef, in Vietnamese shops in North America.
He points out the importance of using a mortar and pestle (rather than a food processor) to grind up and prepare the ingredients for cooking. Yes. It’s more work but he insists the flavour is worth it.
Another “must” according to Chef Tiger is adding the ingredients one-by-one and cooking each individually instead of throwing them all in together.
Today there are three dishes on the cooking class menu:
Kaeng Poo Bai Cha Phu (Crab Curry with Betel Leaves)
Koong Phad Nam Makram (Stir Fried Prawns with Tamarind Sauce)
Yum Ma-Muang Plaa Krob (Spicy Green Mango Salad with Crispy Fish)
At the end of the class, we are each given printed recipes and a souvenir Blue Elephant apron to take home. The group then gathers in one of several Blue Elephant dining rooms to enjoy the dishes we have collectively prepared.
The cost for this half day culinary experience is 2,800 Thai Baht (under $100 U.S. ) per person and includes a meal following the class. Excellent value!