On Sunday, some of Phnom Penh’s top chefs were initiated into the newly formed Cambodian chapter of the international culinary association Disciples d’Escoffier – in a ceremony that included sashes with miniature copper saucepans, the handing out of diplomas and a little lighthearted paddling.
Founded over 60 years ago, the global association is named after the legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, who is credited with codifying the foundations of contemporary cooking and technique in his 1903 publication A guide to modern cookery, as well as creating kitchen structures that are still used today.
“I think we have reached a culinary level that while not yet extraordinary can go beyond its current boundaries,” said Richard Gillet, the newly inducted president of the Cambodian chapter of the Disciples d’Escoffier, about local cuisine.
Robert Fontana, the chairman of the board of Disciples d’Escoffier Asia – who did the honour of smacking Gillet with the paddle to establish the chapter, before Gillet himself wielded it to initiate a dozen other men in white smocks – told members that that they need to think about how they can spread their knowledge to others.
“It’s not just one ribbon and one diploma you are going to put on your wall, no way,” he said. “You are going to be a team. Alone [it’s] impossible.”
With Gillet at the helm and Luu Meng, the director of Thalias Hospitality Group, as vice president, the immediate goals are to set up master class-style workshops for cooks and chefs every three months. Other members include Frank Sampere of Open Wine and Takeshi Kamo of La Résidence, among others.
“The aim is transmit know-how and to give opportunities to young Cambodians, before even thinking about their career, giving them the desire to learn about cooking,” Gillet said.
Also on the docket will be a cooking competition to award the “young talents of Escoffier”, which is open to chefs under the age of 25. The winner will then represent the Kingdom in Hong Kong for the regional competition and, if successful there, in France for the global competition.
“[Generally] all the competitions have been something where you get your diploma, you get your medal but you remain in Cambodia. Now you can take Cambodia abroad,” Gillet said, adding that “it creates doors, opportunities . . . [and] can create dreams”.
Martin Kobald, the vice president of the World Association of Chefs’ Societies, who was in town to judge a cooking competition hosted by the Academy of Culinary Arts and the Cambodian Chefs Federation, said the establishment of the Escoffier chapter in Cambodia is “a great addition” to the local culinary scene.
“We all strive for the same thing, to grow the culinary world, that’s really what it’s all about, and to promote our profession,” he said.