In the kitchen this week of the KSK cooking school in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district, 22-year-old cooking student Khy Danea has been making an omelette.
But this isn’t just any omelette; it’s a specific recipe from the organisers of the third annual Young Chefs Olympiad, an international cooking competition sponsored by the Indian government for youths from around the globe that kicks off this weekend. It invites participants from over 60 countries to four cities in India: New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Pune.
“I need to practise because it’s a competition with a lot of countries,” she says.
The first round of the competition is judged on the preparation of this omelette, for which Danea received the recipe last week, and has the chance to practise beforehand. It will be the first time she travels abroad, something she did not imagine when she first started at the school just a year ago.
“Before I didn’t really like to cook, but my family in Tbong Khmum wanted to open a restaurant so I learned, and I found that I felt really happy when someone eats my food and they say ‘oh it’s nice,’” she says.
A student at KSK for nearly a year, she was selected among a class of 40 some-odd students to represent the Kingdom. Her favourite dish: black jelly pork soup.
“I like to cook Khmer food,” she says.
But therein lies the catch. In India, Danea will be competing with a largely unfamiliar set of ingredients and will be cooking cuisines she is hardly familiar with.
“The food that they give us is not Khmer food; it can be European food, and I think it’s not easy for me to do European food, but I will try to do it,” she says.
“Last year our student was good, but again the European food, the European cake, was hard,” says KSK’s founder and director, Kek Sokkheng. This is the second time a student will go to India for the competition, a trend they hope to continue.
“KSK represents Cambodia, and we hope next year they will select us again,” she says, adding that she hopes the exposure could foster exchange programs with a cooking school in India in the future.