Cambodian cuisine scored a double victory last week when local chef Luu Meng was declared Asia’s best chef in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, a day after it was announced that the Kingdom’s rice was named the world’s best.
Meng’s award, issued by Malaysia-based business and lifestyle sister magazines Top10 of Malaysia and Top10 of Asia at its second annual corporate ball, was given to Meng for being the “best of the best” in the Asian culinary world.
“We researched, studied and compared [to find] the top people from every industry,” said Dato’ R Rajendran, chief executive officer of Top10 parent company RHA Media, adding that Meng was the only chef honoured at the ball.
Hak Lina, president of the Cambodian Restaurant Association and general manager at Topaz restaurant, said Meng’s victory in Kuala Lumpur is a step forward for Cambodia’s food and hospitality industry.
“This is one of the proud [events] of Cambodia, that we have a chef that can present himself and represent Cambodians in Kuala Lumpur.
“He will make our hospitality industry grow and become more famous and well-known in Southeast Asia,” she said.
The ceremony, which featured 43 other awardees from across the Asian continent and as far away as Jordan, was an elegant black tie affair emceed by Malaysian TV personalities and featured guests from the top tiers of business. The venue was the Palace of the Golden Horses in suburban Kuala Lumpur, a lavish five-star hotel.
Award winners, who were chosen for their high profiles and successful businesses, included Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa, CEO of telecommunications giant Telekom Malaysia, and Lim Wee, founder of Malaysia-based Top Glove, the world’s largest manufacturer of rubber gloves.
The star-studded event also featured performances by regional celebrities, including Top10 award-winners Vietnamese pop singer My Tam and Indian stand-up comic Papa CJ.
When he first got word from Top10 that he won the award, Meng said he was so surprised he did not even take the invitation seriously.
“They sent us a letter and invitation, and I did not bother. But then they chased after me with a second letter,” he said, adding he had never before won an award on such a high level.
Meng, who is the head chef of Phnom Penh’s Malis restaurant, owner of the Almond Group and director of Thalias Group, which owns Malis, Topaz and Khéma restaurants, is famous in the Kingdom for his gourmet adaptations of traditional Cambodian dishes.
This is not his first time he drawn international attention – he has previously been featured met with celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain on their visits to the Kingdom.
But Meng, who invited two Post reporters to accompany him to Kuala Lumpur, said that his victory in Malaysia was secondary to Cambodia’s title of top rice (which it shares this year with Thailand) at the sixth World Rice Conference in Phnom Penh.
Hosted by the California-based trade publication The Rice Trader, Cambodia beat more advanced rice producers such as the United States and Japan.
“There is nothing wrong with this event [in Kuala Lumpur], but this award is just for myself. I put this as second to helping farmers get better income – the [rice] taste is more important,” he said.
He hopes to use his newfound prestige from the top chef award to promote Cambodian rice internationally.
“In Cambodia, people already know us, but in Malaysia, it opens a lot of doors for us,” said Meng the day after the ceremony.
“I think my award is just a step – there’s still more to do.”