Madame Butterfly brought a taste of North Africa, via France, to its menu this week with the arrival of Michelin-starred Parisian chef Gilles Choukroun, who is in town for two weeks to explore Khmer cooking and to work with Angkor W Group of Restaurants.
“This part of the world has always interested me for my cooking,” said French-Algerian Choukroun, who runs his own successful MBC restaurant in Paris – in the French, MBC stands for the herbs menthe, basilic, coriandre. He is also a restaurant consultant, has written a book and hosted his own TV cooking show.
When Angkor W coach Patrick Guerry invited Gilles to come to Siem Reap for a new culinary project, he jumped at the chance. “Two parts of the world are very important to me,” Choukroun said. “North Africa and Southeast Asia. I always said if I ever had a chance to come to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, this part of the world, I would.”
Angkor W public relations manager Clem Balasoto explained that Gilles is an old friend of the group’s Angkor W coach, Patrick Guerry.
She said, “When Angkor W was looking for something special to celebrate one year of new ownership of Madame Butterfly, Patrick immediately thought of Gilles and happily he said yes to the concept and challenge. He is really open-minded and interested in other countries’ cooking techniques, spices and flavours.”
The challenge was to create a ‘Wild Dinner’, along with Angkor W executive women chefs Kimsan Pol and Kimsan Sok, which would combine North African, French and Cambodian flavours.
Gilles describes his cooking style as ‘experimental,’ with a desire to create original dishes – this is the man who, after all, once produced a foie gras and peanut crème brûlée.
“I think it’s a personal style reflecting my sensibilities, my history,” he said. “In French we say ‘cuisine d’auteur,’ personal and artistic, playing with the flavours.
“My restaurant in Paris has a little bit of North African influence, because it’s my story and when I cook, I cook with my sensibility. It’s natural for me to work with these kinds of flavours.”
The packed gala dinner was held on Tuesday at Madame Butterfly, with members of the local hotel and restaurant industry invited and turning up in droves despite the flooding.
Speaking before the dinner, Angkor W owner Serge Billot said it was exciting to have someone bring a new outlook, and a wealth of experience from abroad.
“Angkor W has been here for 13 years,” he said, “So it’s interesting to have someone come in with a new mindset, and perhaps bring a more modern style of cooking. He has shown our chefs how they can use ingredients, herbs, in a new way.”
“The dinner brought together Paris, North Africa and Asia –these influences were very interesting, having a mix of different flavours. For me he is an artist. He works away from the norm.”