South African chef Amy Baard, a fixture of Phnom Penh’s fine dining scene for more than two years, is starting fresh and bringing her energy and culinary creativity to a more relaxed, but equally demanding setting.
Since leaving her role as head chef at Chinese House last month, 26-year-old Baard is now Food and Beverage director at Farm to Table and Artillery Cafe (including the location in Siem Reap). Patrons may already notice some changes at the Farm, where Post Weekend caught up with her last week.
“We’ve only made for now a few changes to the menu so as not to chase away our regulars,” she said. The transition, she expects, will be complete by high-season.
For Baard, the change of environment – from the luxurious space at Chinese House to the more laid-back rustic chic at Farm to Table – reflects some new additions to her cooking repertoire.
“I think for my own sanity I needed to make the change, as much as I love fine dining. I think this environment suits me better,” she said. “I’m more of a rustic chef focusing more on the flavours as on the plating.”
Not that the presentation at Farm to Table is anything to scoff at. Baard’s test creations were presented elegantly, with flourishes like edible flowers livening up the Khmer-Vietnamese style pork meatballs, alongside a sweet chili dipping sauce to start. Served alongside pickled and fresh veggies, the meatballs were hearty but light on the stomach, and the greens provide a refreshing contrast to the meat.
For a main, Baard offered up an exquisite seared mackerel, served with a cauliflower-coconut purée and topped with charred lettuce, sautéed bok choi and zucchini with a honey-soy-chili sauce.
Her dishes, all new creations, required her to “go back to the drawing board” in some ways in order to keep with Farm to Table’s philosophy of locally sourcing meats and vegetables and using what is in season as much as possible. Fear not vegetarians and health nuts: under Baard, Artillery and the Farm to Table will be keeping their respective menus full of vegan, gluten-free and paleo options.
“Everything is very healthy, very vibrant, very colourful,” she says.
Working within those parameters, Baard has relative carte-blanche in the kitchen. To showcase what can be done without dairy and using Cambodian ingredients, her dessert – a pineapple carpaccio with a lemongrass, ginger and chili syrup and raw nuts with a passion fruit and mango sorbet – was a treat for the senses.
In her new role, Baard will also be involved in revamping other aspects of the businesses.
“We’ve got a few ideas to educate the community on what’s available and what’s right to buy and where to buy it from,” she said. Among the ideas, a calendar is in the works that would show what is in season locally in terms of fruits and veggies.
Baard, who participated in a “five chefs” dinner series while at Chinese House – which united some of the city’s top talents for meals at rotating venues - hopes to bring the idea to Farm to Table, with a twist: “Trying to focus on one supplier, one farmer, and using their products in the dinner menu,” she says.
“It’s good to be a part of something like this.”
On Sunday to launch Amy Baard's new menu at Farm to Table, there will be free tasting and live music by the jazzy Blue Gray Trio from 1pm-5pm. To drink Baard proposes her special Sangria, craft beer, and a gin 'inspired' happy hour from 4pm-7pm with a 'pimp your G&T' garnish station.
Farm to Table is located at #16, St 360. It is open every day from 8am until 10pm. Tel: 078 899 722