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Egbok is now training chefs. Sarah Rhodes
Egbok is now training chefs. Sarah Rhodes

A restaurant well worth the wait

One of Cambodia’s leading hospitality training schools has opened a full-service restaurant in Siem Reap, after a decade of staffing local businesses with its talented graduates. It’s the first time the students will have the opportunity to train as chefs.

Spoons, which is run by Egbok Mission, serves high-quality Cambodian food with a unique flair; the young chefs are encouraged to get creative with the dishes on the menu. The operation is overseen by Michael Sands, a Chicago-born chef with 32 years of experience.

The restaurant will operate as an extension of the classroom for trainees, who spend a year with an expert team developing their skills, from understanding flavours to managing waitstaff. Competition for placement was fierce: for the first class, 45 students were shortlisted for just five positions.

At Spoons, guests dine in a high-ceilinged, open-air space in easy view of the kitchen. The project is a collaboration from across Cambodia: Brown Coffee donated the espresso machine.

Architects Bambusa Global Ventures designed the custom structure, which is made out of sustainable bamboo. And Phnom Penh-based artist Chhoun Vichheka and his team executed the decor behind the bar, which features his characteristic doodles, with an added splash of colour.

“The generosity of spirit and collaboration shown by the community made the café possible,” says Osman Khawaja, Egbok’s executive director.

Egbok was founded by American Ben Justus in 2009 to provide opportunities for young adults leaving Siem Reap’s orphanages. Early on, he partnered with other local training organisations and collaborated with many of Siem Reap’s large hotels on standards for staff. As a result, Egbok’s hospitality training program has evolved to become what could be one of the strongest in the region.

Recruits begin with housekeeping training, including work experience and English lessons, followed by modules in restaurant service. Trainees can explore particular interests – serving as a barista or a wine sommelier, for example – at Egbok’s partner businesses.

But the organisation has never had its own training restaurant. When Khawaja came on board four years ago, he says one of his earliest visions was to develop one.

Trainees are prepared for high standards before enrolment in Egbok’s program, with good reason. “We have a zero drop-out rate,” says Khawaja. “One hundred percent of our students get a job within a month of graduating.”

And now, these students are running the kitchen. It’s well worth checking out.

Spoons is open for lunch from 11am to 3pm, with plans for dinner service in December.

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