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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ten questions, two chefs, one passion: Michelin star chefs talk food, recipes, manners and foie gras

Richard Gillet is development manager at Khéma.
Richard Gillet is development manager at Khéma. THALIAS

Ten questions, two chefs, one passion: Michelin star chefs talk food, recipes, manners and foie gras

Exclusive concealed double interview with Michelin star chefs Richard Gillet, development manager at Khéma wine bar and deli, and Alain ‘Papa’ Darc, executive master chef at Topaz.

Thalias, the holding company of renowned Topaz and Malis restaurant and the recently Khéma wine bar and deli chain. All joints offer different menus and concepts but Thalia’s chefs are working closely together. How can this work that Cambodian and French chefs bring in their own tastes, characters and experiences - and create delicacies that are famous outside the limits of Phnom Penh? Doesn’t it say that too many cooks spoil the broth? In this instance, the opposite is the case. Skills and knowledge are shared in the Thalias family and most of all a passion for food and highest quality ingredients. Julius Thiemann spoke with two very different characters from the gourmet company. Both interview partners didn’t know the other was asked the same questions in a different interview. Even though they the two have different attitudes towards table manners, they come to terms in two deciding points: good food is simple and foie gras is too tasty to be banned.

1. What is the most exciting thing you have ever tasted?
I remember I have eaten a small wild duck that is cooked in a capucin (conic iron kettle) directly in the embers of a fire. You wait until the capucin is glowing red and then fill it with very cold pork fat. When the fat is boiling, you put the duck in and it is just cooked in the fat. The duck is served on a stuffing from foie gras, charlottes, chopped liver and minced pork that has baked on country bread in the oven. It is magic. I have eaten that in the Basque region in southwest France. I will always remember that.

2. Please define indulgence.
It is the last pleasure you finish a meal with. It is like when you say “OK that is the last bite”. You are actually full and think “I should not” but you enjoy it so much and go for it. For some people that is chocolate fondant. For me it’s cheese.

3. Are table manners important to you?
It depends how and where you are. If you go to a fine dining place they are important. I personally like it more easygoing and comfortable. I think manners are overestimated in the perception of food. You cook a meal for three hours and then it melts in the mouth in one moment. Food is really about cooking and , well food.

4. Which three ingredients have the most potential in terms of diversity?
If you take it simple, then I would say really good eggs are beautiful. Poached eggs for example are very simple but that is about technique. Potatoes can be cooked in many ways; just a boiled potato with a butter.

5. If you had eggs, potatoes and butter and one hour to make a delicious dish – what would you make?
I would just put the potato in the oven and let it cook. When the water from the potato is gone you have the concentrated taste of the potato.

You then remove the pulp from the inside put in some cheese and seasoning. That goes all back into the oven and then you have beautiful baked potato . . . hmmm . . . [Editor’s Note: smuggling cheese inside the potato is actually cheating but that’s very OK because it sounds delicious.]

6. What is the secret of a successful French restaurant menu in a very international community such as Phnom Penh?
For one, you need to offer something that people can picture, because not everybody is curious to try things they don’t know.
In my experience people enjoy food that they have already had in some way.

7. What is the most ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ dish?
Tripe and intestines. You either like andouilette [sausage made from tripe and intestines cooked in white wine and spices. Some people call it “stinky sausage”.] or you don’t.
There is no in-between because it involves people’s image of what it is. If that doesn’t matter to you then the way it is made counts. And that’s also either well done or not good at all.

8.What do you think about Cambodian cuisine?
I like it because it is very fresh and flavourful. They use a lot of herbs. It is mild, not too spicy and well balanced.

9. What do you think about the ban on foie gras some countries have?
Eating or not eating it is a question of culture. Here they eat insects and Europe they find it disgusting. In France, we make some kinds cheese we cannot export to some countries either.
They [other countries] think that this kind of cheese is spoiled milk, but it is part of our culture. We learned how to guide and control the bacteria that make the cheese.

10. What is the most rewarding part of being a chef?
Happy guests are. You spend hours over hours cooking something and it is eaten up within five minutes. Obviously the worst is when you put all your love, time, and attention into a dish and then people don’t like it.


1. What is the most exciting thing you have ever tasted?
I think prahok is very exciting, but the first time I tasted it I didn’t like it at all. Prahok shows the evolution of food in Cambodia. In China they use MSGs and in Cambodia they use prahok to make things taste stronger. It is very interesting what you can make with prahok: Fish sauce, pork sauce, so many kinds of sauce . . .

2. Please define indulgence.
I indulge in simple and good food in company. Food is a simple thing for me. I enjoy veal head in a good frame, for example when it is heated properly. You cannot eat it in a very social situation because you need to pay attention to the food. That’s not possible when you are playing around in a social dinner. If I feel like it, I can eat foie gras at 9am in the morning with a friend and a very good sweet wine. That will make me very happy for the day and the day after.

Alain ‘Papa’ Darc is executive master chef at Topaz. He has a giant heart and appetite.
Alain ‘Papa’ Darc is executive master chef at Topaz. He has a giant heart and appetite. THALIAS

3. Is dining etiquette important to you?
In a restaurant service and manners are very important because food needs a show. There are two kinds of food for me. One kind is the food for every day. You don’t need to sit, can eat it at any corner. In the restaurant, that’s different because people who come to eat are stressed. You have to make them soft. The waitresses need to walk elegantly and slowly and provide a service that nobody notices because they miss nothing and pay attention to the food. But young people always play with their phones nowadays. That’s picking your nose or your ears! If you spend so many hours to make like the best steamed carrot you want the people to pay attention. On the other hand, it is relative because things are changing with time. I like a cigar and a cognac after dinner to enjoy my life, but today you cannot do that in the restaurant anymore because we protect people who don’t smoke.

4. Which three ingredients have the most potential in terms of diversity?
Potatoes, pork and sugar.

5. If you had potatoes, pork and sugar and one hour to make a delicious dish – what would you make?
I would make pork ribs

6. What is the secret of a successful French restaurant menu in a very international community such as Phnom Penh?
Food has become one in the world. We eat the same everywhere. A carrot is a carrot. You find it anywhere in the world. In Japan they only had two kinds of sauce. Not tasty. But now they make so much sauce and stock. They learned that from France and France have skills form Japan. Some people call that “fusion food” but I tell them they are stupid. That’s just marketing. Is a potato French? No, it is from South America. Pasta came to Europe with Marco Polo. Since then, the globalisation of food started. All you need to do is make things just a little different for people from different countries.

7. What is the most ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ dish?
One time I went to the province and I saw a small cookshop. I was hungry and bought meat they had. I ate and they asked me if I knew what I was eating – it was dog. I didn’t know.

8. What do you think about Cambodian cuisine?
I think in the next 10 years Cambodian cuisine is going to become one of the best in the world. Why? They use around 50 different herbs here. Eighty per cent of the products in the local market are organic. It is so tasty! At the moment however food is still mostly seen as utility not to make you happy. Gastronomy follows the level society has reached. In a poor society you eat what you can. In Europe they ate only stew made form cabbage and potatoes.

9. What do you think about the ban on foie gras some countries have?
Maybe one day we’ll ban making babies. This is stupid. Man is the predator on top of the food chain. How can people accept war and care about this? Will they ban farting one day because that produces methane and destroys the ozone layer? When I went to slaughterhouse in France they played classical music to calm the cows before slaughtering them. Some societies have demanded that treatment to reduce stress. In Cambodia I witnessed something very interesting. Cows here don’t care when they are killed or when they see how other cows are killed. It is a cultural thing.

10. What is the most rewarding part of being a chef?
When you can see your guests sitting at their table quiet because they only enjoy the food.

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