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Eating with your heart

It’s not so much about eating your heart out, as eating with your heart, with hospitality training school Sala Baï’s training restaurant opening its doors to the public on Monday.

The restaurant serves set menu options as well as à la carte, and its dishes are derived from both Asian and Western influences.

From the set menus, the first week’s items include Tonle Sap fish with pineapple and jasmine rice, and beef on lemongrass skewers with pepper dip and jasmine rice.

For more Western appetites, there is pan-fried Tonle Sap fish with lemon butter sauce, and spaghetti with chicken and asparagus.

Starters include spring rolls, grilled vegetables in a mixed green salad and tomato soup with cheese ravioli.

Emmanuelle Dethomas, the Sala Baï marketing and communications manager, promises many forthcoming gastronomic treats. “Our chefs are coming up with some wonderful new ideas for the year ahead,” he said.

The restaurant’s set menu, which consists of three courses, costs $8 per person, which is enough to cover the cost of training one student for one day. For those wishing to make a contribution to the future of young Cambodians, this is a perfect opportunity to literally put your money where your mouth is. And of course, it helps that the food is invariably delicious, too.

On September 6, Sala Baï welcomed a new intake of 100 young students from the villages around Siem Reap. With free training and board, they will spend the year learning the ins and outs of the hospitality trade.

This is the ninth intake for the training school, which has already seen 704 students graduate, all of whom have found work in Siem Reap and elsewhere. The school is immensely proud of its record in training and placing students, Dethomas said. “When the general mangers of the hotels come to us and say they want Sala Baï students, that is our best result.”

Last week was what the school called the “semaine de gout” – a tasting week to introduce the students to the strange tastes integral to Western cooking such as vinegar, butter, cheese and wine. This is an important aspect of their learning, as they must be prepared to work in both international and Cambodian kitchens.

The chefs-cum-trainers this year are Sith Pisan and Dam Chamroeun. Sith Pisan has just returned to Cambodia after spending four years as
a chef at a five-star hotel in Dubai, while Dam Chamroeun is actually a graduate of Sala Baï from the second intake when he trained under former high-profile head chef at the Hotel de la Paix, Joannès Riviere.

“The most important thing we do is poverty reduction,” says Dethomas. “Through a whole year of free schooling, materials, clothes, room and board, as well as helping find a job at the end, we are helping the students to open a window into a new future”.

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