Interview With Chef Mongkol
We sat down with Chef Mongkol, the creative force behind Changkran Khmer, a newly opened Khmer fine dining restaurant in Siem Reap. We asked him few questions about his culinary background the history behind the creation of Changkran Khmer restaurant.
When did you discover your passion for cooking?
My passion for cooking came from my grandmother who was in charge of the cooking for the main events in my village. I learned a lot from her and started cooking for my family from the age of 15.
I came from a poor family and the second of my 4 brothers and 2 sisters and in Cambodia this means that I have to support my parents and siblings. I had in mind to do something in my life with cooking so I started to study English with the Buddhist monks at the temple and other disciples at the general school One monk in particular was very supportive of me and sponsor to go to cooking school. In 2003, I was lucky to join the newly opened Paul Dubrule Culinary School in Siem Reap and this was the start of my career.
Where did you start working?
After graduation, I started my first job at the Victoria hotel in Siem Reap as commis 3. I learned there a lot as as every month I was rotating to a new section and I ended up at the western kitchen section.
My first Chef position was a the Majestic Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap where I had the opportunity to learn beside cooking how to manage a team. My next position was at Bougainviller restaurant in Phnom Penh where i learned French Cuisine.
In 2008, I left Cambodia following an opportunity to work on a luxury yacht in Greece. The yacht was based on one of the many port of Greece and we were leaving with a small group of guests for one to two weeks trips so I was what you can a Personal Chef. It was a challenging position as I was alone in the kitchen. It stayed on the boat for about 10 months and came back to Cambodia. I worked as sous-Chef at the Naga Word in Phnom Penh and mainly cooked Asian Cuisine (Khmer, Thai and Vietnamese).
In 2012 I left again abroad even further away from Cambodia to join the Aman Group at their luxury resort Amannyara in the Turks and Caicos Island. After 6 years it was time to go back home and go back to what I liked the most i.e cooking Khmer Cuisine and it when we embarked on new culinary adventure sailing on our one boat this time with Changkran Khmer.
Tell us more about your love for Cambodian cooking ?
My love for the traditional Khmer food its all about bringing out the natural flavors of the ingredients, using herbs and some spices. The various dishes often use chillies and garlic so it is simple cuisine but there is something beautiful about simplicity. The Cambodian Cuisine is one of the oldest living culinary traditions and it can be sometime difficult to recreate some recipes.
What is your favorite dish at Changkran Khmer ?
My top favorite dish is Amok and Eggplants. Amok is Cambodia’s signature dish, it’s made it with freshwater fish covered in
coconut milk, eggs, fish sauce, palm sugar and Khmer paste called Kroeung. The traditional way of cooking is to steamed in a banana leaf placed into a bowl.
What should people should expect when they come to Changkran Khmer restaurant ?
Changkran Khmer restaurant is situated in a quiet and a typical Khmer residential neighborhood, just five minutes away from the city center of Siem Reap. Because of it secluded location, the atmosphere is private and relaxing. The house is based on traditional Khmer architecture i.e wooden structure with high ceiling with a large open-air dining space upstairs. We have very attentive staff that will cater to your needs, and I usually go out to table to meet my clients to check if they have any questions and be sure that are enjoying their meal.