The Blue Elephant Restaurant and cooking school in old Phuket town does nothing but astound you as you walk up the drive to what used to be the Governers Mansion. This glorious building houses some amazing teaching kitchens, a wonderful gift shop and of course one of eight restaurants that can be found around the world. We were lucky enough to be the only two students booked on the course today and so this made the trip extra special. We were greeted by our host and head teaching chef who promptly made us feel special with a cold drink in the Blue Bar, an 18-metre long cocktail bar and lounge area. She outlined the day for us and told us we would be starting with a trip to the local market, the genuine article where the locals buy all their ingredients for their home cooked meals. With this announcement we were off into the old town, dodging the scooters, the utes, the SUV’s as the sun rose higher along with the temperature.
As we arrived the smells and colours of the market were something to behold. The hustle and bustle of everyday Thai life were there for all to see. The market flowed from an outside area into an amazing two story building. Along the route, we were introduced to all kinds of vegetables, paste’s and on the first floor the flowers. This was where the locals purchased various items to give to the Buddha, dependent on which one they prayed to. Some liked flowers, some liked red or orange soft drinks and others liked cigarets and alcohol, all of which could be purchased here. Taken from stall to stall we learned about the unique items that the Thai people cooked with every day, the various eggplants. Thai basil, Morning Glory (yes you read right) and so much more.
The Wet Market
After being asked if we wanted to go upstairs, and of course saying yes, we landed in the world of the ‘wet’market. The world of raw fish, chickens, pork, dried meats and things that I won’t go into here but needless to say it was an eye-opening experience. The dried fish stomachs certainly looked interesting and were very expensive. I guess all the work required to find it and dry was probably warranted. On the way back to the Blue Elephant we grabbed cold coconut juice and met this lovely old lady with most amazing hat, it just kind of floated on her head.
Back at the school, we were right into the thick of it. Four dishes to make, A traditional Green Curry, Tom Yum Soup, Pad Thai Noodles and a Papaya Salad. Luckily all the ingredients had been pre-prepared and so we were watching the chef and then getting our fingers dirty (so to speak). The tricks of the trade were where we really learned from this amazing chef, for instance, don’t add all your coconut milk at once into a green curry, spoon it in, taste it, spoon more, taste more… taste taste taste all the way along. Moving to soup, add the chile jam, taste taste watch your lips melt of the front of your face, add more taste, taste, pass me the iced water to immerse my head into.
Onto the Pad Thai, Originally a dish forced upon the Thai people by the Royal house, due to the high cost of rice in the last century. This dish came from China originally but the Thai people found it to bland and so they added the Tamarin sauce and Pad Thai was born. Cooked in under 5 minutes, the ingredients must go into the pan in a correct order or they don’t work (I didn’t quite do this, but it still tasted great ) Finally the Salad, everything made in a mortar and pestle, crushed chillies, fish sauce, peanuts, TASTE… by this stage I could not feel my lips and just like that our four dishes were complete and on their way to the restaurant for us to eat.
And our morning had come to an end, in this idyllic, fabulous place, The Blue Elephant. After seeing where our ingredients came from and the everyday people of the area shopping, chatting and the general hustle and bustle, for me that made it all the better. If you ever come to Phuket then a trip to the Blue Elephant should be put on the agenda, maybe cooking is not your thing but if eating is then I am sure you will taste things that will simply delight you, surrounded by the loveliest of people.