Cambodia’s got talent: top chefs

We asked some of the country’s finest Cambodian chefs to prepare their favourite dishes and share their stories. The results were never anything less than scorching

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October 28, 2015
Cambodia’s got talent: top chefs

Pisith Theam, head chef, Park Hyatt Siem Reap. Dish: Charcoal grilled meat platter – “I’ve known how to cook since I was a young boy. My father was a chef at the Hotel de la Paix [Siem Reap’s iconic hotel that became the Park Hyatt in 2013] in the early 1960s, but he stopped working as a chef during the Khmer Rouge years. After the war he opened a small stall selling noodle soup, and I helped him out in the mornings before going to school, but he never told me about his past as one of Cambodia’s finest chefs until many years later, once I had already started working in kitchens. It was my father who taught me about the charcoal grill –he always used to say it is the only way to cook meat.”

common tiger, phnom penh

Lao Tola (top), Phan Kosal (left) and Bonna Srey, chefs de partie, The Common Tiger . Dish 1: Sea bass with yellow kreung and spinach purée. Phan Kosal “There’s something amazing about being able to come to work each day, be happy and do what you love. This sea bass dish is one of my favourites and has a wonderful mix of sweet, salty and sour flavours.” Dish 2: Dark chocolate variation with pineapple and coffee. Lao Tola “I get enormous satisfaction out of my work. I started my career in Siem Reap province and, in 2013, I was invited to work at Nihiwatu Resort on Sumba Island in Indonesia. I moved back to Cambodia soon after to continue my career.” Dish 3: Tiger prawn sous vide with a smoked tomato panna cotta. Bonna Srey “Working as a steward at Song Saa Private Island, I would often look at the food on the table and wonder how it was created. One day, the chef asked if I would be interested in helping in the kitchen. Today, I love being able to cook for people, to make them happy and see them enjoying the meal. My dish is very special because of the way the prawn is slow cooked. It’s not an easy dish to master.”

the lost room, phnom penh, cambodia

Moung Vuthy, head chef, The Lost Room. Dish: Moroccan spicy duck with a chickpea stew. “I started out looking after the customers’ motorbikes at the famous Phnom Penh bar called Talkin’ to a Stranger. Then my boss, who is a chef, opened The Lost Room and I joined him as a kitchen hand. Within a year or so I moved up to second in command and then he said that I was able to do it all myself, so he let me take over the kitchen. I have two people working under me now and I’ve started adapting some of the Lost Room’s classic dishes and giving them my own twist. The Moroccan spicy duck is served with a chickpea stew, and the duck itself has wonderful flavours such as cinnamon, ginger, garlic, coriander and many others. It is a real favourite among our customers.”

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