Kitchen confidential: Nooror Somany Steppe
'My dream dining companion? Jennifer Lopez. I love her music'
Sunday 06 May 2012
My earliest food memory...Learning how to pound curry paste and cook rice over a charcoal stove – I grew up in Thailand's Chachoengsao province and my mum and older sister had a rice-and-curry stall in the market I used to help them with. Another vivid memory I have is making a fish soufflé to impress my mum when I was about 13: when she came to eat it, she liked the taste, but she was angry with me because I had forgotten to take out the bones!
My favourite cookbook... I love Paul Bocuse's books. I met him at a food conference in South Africa once, and I think he is the master of French cuisine. Although Thai food is [my expert field], I love doing French cooking at home as my hobby. My favourite recipe of his is probably his boeuf bourguignon. In terms of Thai food, the cook who has inspired me the most is a lady called Sisamon Kongpan, though I only got into cooking properly when I got married: when I was younger, I wanted to be a designer, so I only bought books on fashion.
The kitchen gadget I couldn't live without... My pestle and mortar. I have a very heavy stone one, which is the best kind. As well as making pastes with it, I like using it to peel garlic: rather than doing it by hand, you just crush the cloves and the skin comes straight off.
My culinary tip... I teach a lot of students, as I have a cooking school in Bangkok, and I always tell them that they don't have to follow me exactly; you need to cook with your own feeling and to your own personal taste.
My top table... If I'm in London, I love going to Nobu and Hakkasan: aside from the wonderful food, they have a great atmosphere and a very beautiful, stylish crowd. But my top table has to be at home, when my husband Thomas is cooking for me: he does the best steak with salad, home-made french fries and home-made mayonnaise.
My dream dining companion... Jennifer Lopez, because she seems to have a great personality and I love her perfume and her music: her [recent single] "On the Floor" is my ringtone! Where would I take her? My restaurant, of course, because I would want to impress her with my cuisine.
The strangest thing I've eaten... A sheep's testicle, at a food festival at the Taj Mahal, when I went to India to learn about their cuisine a couple of years ago. I asked the boy serving them what they were, and he looked at me and said, "Just try one," and only after I had did he tell me what it was. It disturbed me a lot! As does snake, which people eat in Thailand – if it's put in front of me, it makes me feel sick, because when I was a young girl, I once got a snake in my hair, and ever since that day I've been terrified of them.
My guilty pleasure... I love chocolate, but I have to diet! If I feel under pressure, I'll eat a chocolate mousse or a piece of chocolate.
My comfort food... Papaya salad with chilli. In Thailand, it's very popular as a street food, and I'll have it every few days, either from a stall or at home. If I'm feeling sleepy, I find it is always the best energy booster.
My tipple of choice... Because I use a lot of coconut milk in the things I cook, I like to start the day with healthy, freshly blended fruit and vegetable juices as a way to lower my cholesterol. One of my favourite ones to make is pineapple and passion fruit with honey, and lime. As for alcoholic drinks, I love champagne: I don't mind which brand it is, but I like to have it as a Bellini with some peach [nectar] mixed in.
Nooror Somany Steppe is the founder and executive head chef of the Blue Elephant Thai restaurant chain. The London branch has recently relocated to The Boulevard Imperial Wharf, Townmead Road, London SW6 (020 7751 3111, blueelephant.com)
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