Our guide to Tuol Tom Puong, Phnom Penh’s funki­est neigh­bour­hood

Southeast Asia Globe - - Shortlist - –Dene Mullen

“I got the in­spi­ra­tion for cook­ing from my mother. Grow­ing up, I didn't have a proper ed­u­ca­tion, but I re­ally wanted to go to the Paul Dubrule School, a hos­pi­tal­ity school in Siem Reap, but there was a tu­ition fee of $500 per year. I could not af­ford it be­cause I came from a very poor fam­ily. So I pushed my­self to go and work abroad, save money and come back.

“I started out work­ing in Siem Reap as a dish­washer, but then I ap­plied to an em­ploy­ment agency and left Cam­bo­dia to go to Bahrain, where I worked for two years as a waiter. I didn't even know where Bahrain was, and I ac­tu­ally wanted to go to Dubai, so it was a big move.

“While I was there, ev­ery­body told me I needed to go to school to be­come a chef. I moved from Bahrain to the Cay­man Is­lands, which is where I saved a lot of money be­cause there was no tax, and I worked a lot. I was a beach boy while I lived there, which means serv­ing drinks on the beach and look­ing af­ter guests.

“Af­ter I saved enough money I moved to Switzer­land, where I stud­ied at the Culi­nary Arts Academy Switzer­land for one-and-a-half years be­fore tak­ing a six-month in­tern­ship at Do­maine de Château­vieux, [a restau­rant in the Geneva coun­try­side], which has two Miche­lin stars.

“At school you learn about the ba­sic flavours and [do] lots of writ­ing, and then when you go to work at a restau­rant that's when you re­ally learn. I came back to Cam­bo­dia with very lit­tle money and opened this place as a lit­tle cof­fee shop with five ta­bles, that's why it has ‘café' in the name. I didn't even have a fridge or any of the proper equip­ment. Slowly, I moved on from be­ing a café to a small restau­rant to where we are to­day.”

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