The pastry and cafe king insists on doing things its own way, and that way is paying off in spades.
Arnaud Curtat at his signature Blue Pumpkin cafe in downtown Siem Reap.
SINCE landing in Siem Reap in August 2000, French pastry cook Arnaud Curtat and wife Thai Sudarat have created the Blue Pumpkin empire, a gastronomic network that is all-pervasive in Temple Town.
Almost every supermarket and retail mall in Siem Reap stocks a Blue Pumpkin pastry stand, many of the town's functions are catered for by Blue Pumpkin and non-branded Pumpkin pastries and ice creams sell in many eateries.
Plus, there are nine specific Blue Pumpkin cafes dotted throughout town, including the recently renovated signature downtown cafe.
This chic, relentlessly white cafe, inspired by The White Room at Bangkok's Bed Supperclub, is a favourite with the guidebook writing set, but some criticism has been levelled by tourists for the absence of Khmer trappings.
Curtat told the Post, "Some tourists have told us that it is out of place because it's not Cambodian style. But we didn't want Cambodian style, we wanted something different."
Furthermore, it's a fit with Arnaud's long-range marketing plan to shore up his seasonal tourist trade with regular Cambodian clientele.
"While some say we should be more Cambodian, the Cambodian customers now like the cafe. We have more Khmer customers coming in. They don't have to have Khmer style all the time."
Attracting the "new" Cambodian market is part of Curtat's consolidation phase, replacing its recent rapid expansionism, when the Pumpkin Empire grew from an almost accidental start nine years ago.
Curtat came to Siem Reap from Phuket as the pastry chef for then newly opened Sofitel Hotel, but his wife had no job so she started a small business. "Then I stopped working at Sofitel in October 2000 and joined her," Curtat said.
"Then we got bigger and bigger. That's the Blue Pumpkin story."
Originally, Curtat's wife sold carved fruits and vegetables to hotels, and the name came about because pumpkin is apparently one of the best looking carved vegetables.
The shop started serving sandwiches and snacks. Carved food gave way to cooked food, and the Pumpkin was pumping.
"We never planned to be so big," Curtat said. "At first, we had no plan at all. We worked just to survive, but then we started trying different things.
"But I am not so surprised by the success and the good reviews because we worked very hard to make things right. You work hard and one day things will be OK."