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Bringing top hotel quality food to the streets

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Chef Rungphet Seeubon whips up a dish at his newly opened restaurant. Nicky Sullivan

Bringing top hotel quality food to the streets

Thai food lovers rejoice – former Raffles chef Rungphet ‘Can Do’ Seeubon has struck out on his own

Good Thai food in Siem Reap is roughly as hard to come by as a sober backpacker on Pub Street, but Rungphet Seeubon is aiming to right that culinary wrong.

A chef with 25 years of experience behind him, most of them in Raffles Hotel properties across the region, he has just set up a new streetside diner in the French Quarter from where he dishes out rich, spicy Thai curries and soups, salads and noodles, most of them costing between $2 and $3.

A “can do” attitude is essential to survival in hospitality, and in Rungphet’s case, it is not just an attitude, it is also his nickname, given to him long ago by a happy supervisor.

And so the new enterprise is also called Can Do, and he proved it the first time the Post rolled up to his place requesting food when he’d already shut down his kitchen.

Without a second’s hesitation, he ushered his single, late customer to one of the black wooden tables and stools sheltered beneath fans and a corrugated roof, and within minutes he was cooking up a stellar green chicken curry with a big smile on his face. The rig, that he designed himself, is a far cry from the gleaming, state-of-the-art kitchens that he’s been accustomed to.

“I’ve been working for so many years, and I finally thought I should try to open my own business. I want to be the owner, to be independent,” he said.

The Chiang Mai man has invested a surprising amount into what looks on the surface like a humble business, but when asked whether he’s worried if it’ll work, he looked up quickly. “Only now that you ask,” he said, looking taken aback at the idea.

But the fundamentals are there: a warm welcome, a comfortable space, the happy sounds of gangs of guys playing volleyball behind, and seriously good Thai food.

The green curry hit all the right notes, and lunch the next day rang more than true too.

Can Do is no stranger to Siem Reap though. The multiple-award winning chef first came to Cambodia in 1997 and stayed for two years, putting in stints at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh.

Notwithstanding his decision to put down firm roots this time, he was rather less than enamoured of Siem Reap then.

“I didn’t like it. The streets were dirty, so many of the buildings that you see today weren’t there, there wasn’t much to do. It was kind of boring for a 25-year-old guy on his own,” he said.

His feelings have changed somewhat. Returning to Siem Reap in 2014 to take up a position as executive chef at Prince D’Angkor, a 195-room, four-star (five-star as of two months ago) hotel on Sivatha Boulevard, he feels much more energised.

And now he’s been pushed to be more creative, more dynamic and more independent than before, and it’s clearly working for him.

“I always felt that if I have the power, I would come back to Siem Reap. It’s much more exciting now, and I have a real feeling that I want to stay,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing this.”

Can Do is on Oum Chay Street between Street 5 and Oum Khun Street and open from 7am to 9pm.

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