Siem Reap is a multicultural foodie’s paradise with restaurants and cafes flogging cuisine from almost everywhere – except Australia.
Which is a bloody disgrace.*
To make matters worse, Siem Reap until recently harboured the now-shut-down New Zealand Bakery and Café, which promoted the virtue of New Zealand meat pies as opposed to the superior Aussie meat pie**.
Many Australians regard New Zealand as small inconsequential neighbour with a cricket team that now and then manages to beat the Australian cricket team***, so to be confronted in an Aussie-cafe-devoid Siem Reap with a New Zealand venue mostly patronised by Kiwi backpackers laying claim to the meat pie and talking about New Zealand beating Australia in cricket again was simply another bloody disgrace.
Enter Aussie expat businessman Michael Kean who’s as keen as mustard to right matters and make Australia grub available not only in Siem Reap, but throughout the Kingdom via outlets and franchises he hopes to establish.
And he could just be the bloke to do it, as he’s notched up a credible career to date.
“I was a finance broker in regional Australia for many years leading to many property acquisitions including a 32 -room motel, luxury apartment blocks, and a ski resort in Thredbo including a high turnover restaurant,” he says.
Kean had been visiting Vietnam and Cambodia since 2003 on travel tour business, and in 2011 he settled in Siem Reap, developing a five hectare orchard at Banteay Srei and founding the ABC School to teach village children English.
He also embarked on business ventures, initially taking over Siem Reap Garden Inn.
“I renovated this, adding a pool and two penthouses on top,” he says. “I traded for about nine months and then sold to a young Frenchman.”
In 2013 he “did the same” with Manhattan Resort which, although decidedly heterosexual, he turned into a gay resort.
“Being a professional hotelier I look at ways to build on my investment,” he says.“And I noticed that there was only one pure gay resort in town, hence the inspiration to run an exclusive men’s only resort. I treated the guys the way I’d treat anyone else and it worked.”
Kean then sold that business to a French couple who renamed it the 3 Monkeys Villa, and set about his new Aussie food mission, setting up Aussie Outback Foods in February after meeting a fellow Australian from Battambang.
“He’d operated a similar business on and off for six years,” Kean says. “And I transferred the concept to Siem Reap as no one had developed it here.”
There’s nothing haute about Australian cuisine and in fact there’s nothing really cuisine about so-called ‘traditional’ Australian food that until the 1970s consisted almost solely of stodgy British fare like soggy lamb roasts, occasionally beefed up by American-influenced steaks.
But just as Khmer food is largely represented by street food, the food Aussies nostalgically call their own is primarily Brit-influenced take away tucker such as meat pies, fish’n’chips, potato cakes, and cheap easy-to-cook convenience food like sausages, a la bangers and mash on the plate, or in a take-away version as sausage rolls.
Chinese-inspired items deep fried and sold through fish-n-chip shops are also devoured, especially dims sims, a sort of Chinese meat and veggie dumpling, and the famous Chiko Roll, a beer-can-shaped-and-sized ersatz spring roll that was so popular in the 1970s that Wikipedia dubbed it an “Australian cultural icon.”
Not that Michael Kean will have any truck with the Chinese-inspired stuff.
“We will stick to pies including rabbit and kangaroo pies, sausages, sausage rolls, and patties for hamburgers,” he says. “And we stick strictly to the traditional recipes and don’t vary except sometimes to add more vegies.”
Aussie Outback Foods now services eight cafes and guesthouses, with a distribution system in the planning for ready-to-cook fare, with the hunt on for suitable café venue where more substantial Australian meals such as lamb roasts, bangers and mash, and silverside steak dishes will be featured.
Kean confesses his personal favourite tucker is “a solid good quality pork sausage, in a bread roll,” and notes that he gets his sausage savvy and recipes from his ‘bible’, ‘Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing’ by renowned New York sausage seer Rytek Kutas, who writes, “Sausage making is an adventurous art and a remarkable combination of surprise, mystery and delight.”
Kean also knows his onions when it comes to meat pies, as he has worshipped at the seat of Australian pie baking guru Tom O’Toole who owns the famous Beechworth Bakery and has been described as “O’Toole is to Beechworth Bakery what Colonel Saunders is to KFC,” or alternatively as “John Cleese on speed.”
Kean also consults Tom O’Toole’s tome, ‘Secrets of the Beechworth Bakery’, and says, “I have visited The Beechworth Bakery on many occasions – I always have a chunky pie and sometimes a Bee Sting cake – and we produce our pies to a strict recipe from Tom O’Toole.
“He is an inspiration to anyone in the business.”
*The columnist is Australian.
**On average, Aussies eat 12 meat pies a year, which tallies to 270 million pies annually. But New Zealanders eat an average of 15 meat pies a year, or 66 million pies annually.
***New Zealand last beat Australia in test cricket at Hobart in December 2011, with NZ just squeaking home to win by a paltry seven runs which is very close to not being a win.