Chef Nooror Somany Steppe has long been a luminary of Thai cuisine, and not just in Thailand. Her iconic Blue Elephant restaurants have earned critical accolades from Belgium to Bangkok. One part media personality and another professional chef, the lovely and lively Nooror recently chatted with us about food, life, and balancing business with pleasure.
How do you feel about the recent culinary trend of using Western ingredients to make classic Thai dishes?
I have been incorporating foreign ingredients into my cuisine for over 12 years now. It’s a trend for the new market. I think through it all we’ve learned that uncommon ingredients can be used in Thai cuisine to great effect.
How do you select the dishes you want to teach at The Blue Elephant Cooking School?
I like to teach the most popular Thai dishes, the ones that make people think of Thailand when they visit, like Kaeng Keaw Waan and Phad Thai. We also do rarer dishes, like Pla Neung Manao and Tod Mann Pla. Sometimes it depends on the requests of my customers, because we are flexible and like to let our guests have freedom over the dishes they will cook. It’s our personal touch.
How do you balance the running of the various Blue Elephant outlets?
We have a good team in place that can reach our high standards of cuisine at the restaurants, and Blue Spice handles our food products and manages the quality control. So we have really great support at every venue that keeps everything running smoothly.
How did your various TV features come about?
I have done many cooking shows and interviews about Thai food, because Thai food has a lot of interest around the world. Being a chef has given me the authority to talk about the topic, and the media has much respect for our brand, too. That has given me the platform to share my love and knowledge of food with the public.
You have earned a reputation for your charitable work, especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. How do you promote health and wellness through your food?
I’m honoured to be the only lady chef ambassador of the Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer (QSCBC). As a chef, I take great pride in using Thai cuisine for awareness. In the old days, we believed Thai herbs were good for our health. Some ingredients even had properties that would help prevent cancer, like gooseberries. I believe in giving back to people, and I do that through food.
How did your mother influence your culinary style, and who else inspires you?
My mother used to sell food by boat in the canals. After a while, she and my sister started to run a small shop in the market. This is how I began to learn about Thai food — rice and curry. She taught me how wholesome, honest Thai food should taste. My auntie inspires me now, and so does Arjan Srisamorn Kongpan, a Thai cuisine guru with whom I have had a chance to do TV shows. I have gained a lot of knowledge from her.
How and where do you source your ingredients?
I try to use best natural and organic Thai products. We try to get fresh ingredients daily from local wet markets and much of our specialty ingredients come from the Royal Project.
What projects are you currently working on at The Blue Elephant?
I’m working on a new menu that explores Chinese food and history, because Chinese visitors and Thai people of Chinese descent are very important local markets.
What are your favourite places to eat in Bangkok? And where do you take visitors for a quintessentially Thai experience?
I love to eat at Le Normandie at the Oriental Hotel. If I am taking friends out on the town, I usually go to one of two places: Benjarong at Dusit Thani, or Nahm.
What do you like to do to unwind away from the kitchen/business?
I have always been interested in fashion. I love to design clothes. As with cooking, it has a heavy creative streak. In the past I have designed new uniforms for out restaurant staff, and for Breast Cancer Awareness Month I created pink-tinted chef’s attire.