Cheffing in Cambodia: a blog by Richard Bias

The  Staff Canteen
Richard Bias is the 32-year-old executive chef of a hotel in Siem Reap in Cambodia, a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the famous Angkor Wat temple complex. He previously worked in Sapa in Vietnam for three and half years and before that he had stints in Ireland Cambodia and Dubai including the world’s only seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab. Richard originally comes from Harlow on the river Thames where as a child he helped out in the kitchen of the family pub. As a young chef Richard was a finalist in the Academy of Culinary Arts Awards of Excellence, runner up in the first ever Gordon Ramsay Scholarship and winner of the Rungis Club UK’s Young Chef of the Year. He started sharing his adventures with The Staff Canteen in a series of blogs last year. Now he is back with more tales from the Far East. Holidays are over and high season is closing in on us. Menus need revamping for our changing clientele. Working in a seasonal town where everyone fights over every tourist for 5 months of the year and the rest of the year hoteliers get to pick which traveller demographic they attract. A word of advice if travelling to SE Asia: choose rainy season/low season where you can get up to 50% reduction in rates allowing you to stay in some luxury places at affordable prices. The rain is normally daily but doesn’t last the whole day: in a week’s holiday you should get a few good days for the beach or tourist attractions. The temperatures remain mild yet a lot higher than Europe so all in all if you want a relaxing break and don’t mind the odd shower you will have a much better pound for pound experience travelling in this period. My trip to the south of Cambodia was covered in my blog but what I did not mention was the abundance of sea food which I found in markets and restaurants. Squid, clams, blood cockles, several varieties of crab, sea bass, red snapper, ray, grouper and an array of langoustine species. I was hoping to form some relations with local suppliers who could arrange delivery to Siem Reap, 11 hours by road away. However due to the small scale each operator was working at this proved to be very difficult and painfully hard work to explain. There were no big suppliers but there are many small family businesses which have neither the need nor ambition to sell to a bigger market, so for now we will stick with our current suppliers and pray for a good year of fresh sea food. We are always pushing the boundaries and trying our best to improve our menus, pushing for the next step or the best technique. We have to walk before we can run and in the last 18 months the team has come a long way. I have guys that can now work two even three sections comfortably and general consistency is improving all the time. The major differences between working in a hotel versus a standalone restaurant are the hours and corporate responsibility. When I worked in City Rhodes I don’t remember ever being asked my opinion on anything let alone being sat down in front of a computer to answer 100 questions on my satisfaction of the company and if it’s doing enough for me. We did however have Michelin inspectors and guys from the AA who we assumed were sent by God to check up on us. Now I have Leading Quality Assurance (LQA) inspectors who come by the hotel and pull everything apart for two nights and upon check-out announce that they have been staying with us. I don’t get judged on my food as such but we are scrutinized on important things such as whether the starter was served within 15 minutes of ordering, was the food fresh and of good flavour, was the food presented in an appealing manner and the list goes on of further questions designed to make the service staff slip up. Performance appraisals are another mystery in hotels. However they do lead to an increased salary based upon your performance for that year. The only glitch in this system is that sooner or later your steward of 10 years will be earning more than your chef de partie. As our year is coming to an end I look forward to our December performance appraisals and hope I manage to juggle my turkey and computer as well as I did last year! Richard shares more of his experiences on his online blog -http://culinaryinspirations.wordpress.com/
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th October 2013

Cheffing in Cambodia: a blog by Richard Bias