Nooror Somany Steppe’s childhood was like many other Thais, whose girls normally start to learn cooking when they are very young, like 9-10 years old or even less. It’s a norm for Thai people. She was raised up among cooking aficionados and spent a lot of time in her mom’s kitchen learning authentic recipes from her elder sister and mother. Now she has become the spearhead of ‘Blue Elephant’, a world leading brand for Thai restaurants that roots the national cuisine in quite a lot of foreigners’ hearts.
The classic Chinpracha Mansion, built in the reign of King Rama V, is part of Phuket’s priceless architectural heritage, and has recently been renovated and refurbished by Blue Elephant International to host its 13th restaurant here in Phuket. Phuketindex.com takes this opportunity to let you get to know this genuine Thai restaurant and real Thai Chef Nooror Somany Steppe through the following 13 questions & answers:
How was your childhood?
I was born in Chachengsao province and grew up among a family that loves to cook authentic traditional Thai cuisine. The first thing that I learnt was to pound the curry pastes which was part of our family business at that time. We sold them at the nearby fresh market. (Blue Elephant’s curry pastes are now exported to over 30 countries around the world). I began to enjoy cooking and gradually I found myself falling into it more & more ever since. That’s the origin of my passion and how I started to learn cooking techniques of Thai cuisine.
What is Thai cuisine’s charm?
Thai food offers an excellent variety of flavors and tastes. Each dish has a balanced mix of hot, sour, salty and sweet. Playing an important role in most Thai dishes are Thai herbs such as ginger, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, chili, tamarind, sweet basil leaves, etc. that give Thai food unique flavors and taste. Apart from that, Thai herbs are also good for health.
How did Blue Elephant start?
When I was 16, influenced by my brother, I moved to Brussels, Belgium where he was studying Hotel Management at that time. I met Karl Steppe there and married him a few years later. Then in 1980, Mr. Somchai Wayno and Mr. Somboon Insusri, our good friends, convinced us to open a Thai restaurant in Brussels. We therefore became a business partner operating the first Blue Elephant which will celebrate its 30th Anniversary this year. Now we have a total of 13 branches located in many destinations across Europe, the Middle East and Asia i.e. Brussels, London, Copenhagen, Paris, Lyon, Dubai, Moscow, Beirut, Kuwait, Malta, Bangkok, Jakarta and last but not least Phuket.
What was your reason for choosing Chinpracha Mansion?
Phuket is always one of the most popular tourist destinations, while Chinpracha Mansion represents a somewhat classic culture. Its elegance, interesting background, yet good location in Phuket old town can add extras to any dining experience. These factors fit well with what Blue Elephant is looking for to accentuate Thai-ness through architecture, design and atmosphere. We thus decided to revive the building.
What is your expectation for Phuket?
Firstly, I have to tell you that I love Phuket. The island is colourful and always exciting. The city especially, in my opinion, looks different from the past few years. It looks like they have some more interesting things that can attract tourists to stay a bit longer. Phuket people are very friendly. I feel safe and warm every time I visit. My wish is to hear that Phuket locals and tourists have a good impression about the restaurant. We are here to offer everyone a choice. So please come and experience Thai cuisine in Blue Elephant style!
What are on Blue Elephant’s menus?
At Blue Elephant, you can experience 3 styles of Thai Cuisine including ‘Thai Cooking of the Past’ with a range of ancient Thai cuisine that has its origin, legend, or interesting history; ‘Thai Cuisine of Today’, popular Thai dishes; and ‘Thai Kitchen of Tomorrow’ that combine old tradition with international twists. Whether it is dishes that are almost forgotten, all time favourites, or most innovative creations, we serve them all.
What is Blue Elephant’s secret of success?
My team and I specially focus on the quality of the ingredients and the standard of flavors and taste most of the recipes. I believe that cooking should come from the heart and that is what I keep reminding all my chefs: to cook delicately and pay attention to every detail. For our success, I would praise the goodness of Thai cuisine.
How is the Steppes’ family’s support?
Karl Steppe, my husband, will take care of the administration, about managing financial concerns – things I have no idea about it. I take the cooking part. Sandra, my eldest daughter, helps us look after our Bangkok branch. Kim, my second son, is here in Phuket to set up and operate the new branch. Chris, our youngest son, is studying in Brussels. In terms of business, we share, support and respect each other.
What is your ‘One Fine Day’?
When I’m free from work, I probably spend my leisure time listening to some good music, shopping, travelling, going to a spa or dining. I’m a kind of easy-going and an independent person so I prefer causalness rather than formality.
What is your favourite dish?
My favourite dish is ‘Nam Prik Pla Tu’ (Fried Mackerel with Shrimp Paste), a classic dish for Thai people. A fresh-baked croissant is enough for me to start the day or if I want something more than Thai cuisine, I have steak, French fries and fresh mayonnaise.
What is your pride?
I had a chance several times to cook for the royal family. Looking back, it was when we just opened Blue Elephant in Bangkok – less than two weeks later I was called to cook for HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana. I was very proud that my cooking skills have been recognized at a high level. Another is being the only Thai chef – and one of the few female chefs – to win the Hospitality Asia Platinum Award (HAPA) 2008-2010.
What is your principle for life?
I don’t think we have to be too serious about life. I do not expect much in anything, to avoid putting too much pressure on myself. Instead, I will be focusing on what I am doing and I have to do. As an artist, I will continue doing this, which is also what I love. Promoting Thailand’s gastronomy to the world makes me happy and gives meaning to my life as well.
What is your goal?
I’ve come this far pursuing my dream – that is to make Thai cuisine renowned among the international audience and now with what we have achieved, I’m so happy. For the next step I would take – to fulfill my passion – I will be more than happy to see Thai cuisine as a composition for a gala dinner or a luxury banquet since I believe it has an unquestionable potential to be there. I’m confident that with a creative twist, Thai cuisine can be everyone’s favourite for such an occasion.