If there is one thing we all have in common, it would be our love for food. Who doesn’t enjoy a good meal? As the English modernist author Virginia Woolf once said: “One cannot think well, love well and sleep well if one has not dined well”.
In the spirit of this, the team at the Singapore Tourism Board has worked together with the Singapore Embassy in the Kingdom to host a Taste Obsession dinner in Phnom Penh, in conjunction with the Street Art Festival++ that is currently taking place.
The Festival, commemorating the 55th year of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Cambodia, aims to celebrate the commonalities shared by the two nations, focusing mostly on arts – visual, performing, fine and culinary arts – among others.
Aside from showcasing the diversity of Singaporean food, which is heavily characterised by cross-cultural influences, the event also pushes the boundaries of Khmer cuisine.
Director of Trade Engagement and new markets of Singapore Tourism Board Mr Soo Siew Keong said that this special event in Phnom Penh has successfully kicked off the Taste Obsession series, which will continue in other countries throughout the year.
Two renowned chefs
The culinary event on Sunday saw two of the region’s top celebrity chefs, Cambodia’s chef Luu Meng and Singapore’s chef Malcolm Lee, working hand-in-hand to create an extraordinary and harmonious marriage of Cambodian-Singaporean cuisines in a special Four-Hands Menu.
The Cambodian representative hails from a long lineage of culinary celebration. His grandmother, for instance, perfected her craft in the kitchen of the Royal Palace, no less. And Chef Luu Meng himself has worked with the late Anthony Bourdaine and appeared as a guest chef in an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Gordon’s Great Escape.
He was also bestowed with the honourable title of “Cambodian Master Chef” in recognition of his creativity and celebration of Cambodian dishes.
Today, the chef-owner of Sevensea Seafood Restaurant and the chief executive officer of the
Almond Hospitality Group is the rightful ambassador to promote Cambodian cuisine on the world stage.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s chef Malcolm Lee is the world’s first ever Peranakan chef to win a Michelin star – which he has retained since 2016.
As a child, he grew up with the smell of spices from his grandmother’s traditional Peranakan dishes wafting through the house. He then turned his lifelong passion for food into a career in the kitchen. And proving you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, Chef Lee may appear young but he has spent several years working his way up from a humble line-cook to his current role as chef-owner of Candlenut in Singapore.
Cooking up a storm
With two legendary chefs in the kitchen of Sevensea Seafood Restaurant, the 70-odd honourable guests at the event were treated to a feast like no other.
For starters, Chef Lee prepared four samples of Singapore’s most popular dishes, such as Kueh Pie Tee with Lobster Yeye, Buah Keluak with Bergedil Prawn, Kueh Bakar with Mum’s Chicken Curry and Pork Satay.
Chef Luu Meng then took his turn to wow the diners with his rendition of Cambodia’s Kreong Samut Kampot (or Kampot Seafood Soup). The slow-cooked broth is infused with lemongrass, lime leaves, shallots and local fresh herbs called “sa-om” to give it a distinctive taste.
After the soup, Chef Lee presented a signature dish that is almost synonymous with his restaurant Candlenut – the crab curry noodles. Unlike any other, his curry is served with fermented rice noodles and garnished with wingbean salad.
This was followed by Chef Luu Meng’s Samlor Korko Trei, otherwise known as Cambodian mixed soup. Paired with award-winning Jasmine rice, the dish features marinated Goby fish fillet with seven types of herbs cooked in traditional style.
The dessert, of course, took centre stage at the event.
Chef Lee prepared three types of desserts that best illustrate his Peranakan origins – Chendol Cream (light coconut Panna Cotta with Pandan jelly and Gula Melaka), Kueh Bingkah (tapioca coconut cake with homemade Gula Melaka and grated coconut jam) and Buah Keluak Bon Bon (Black nut bon bon with salted caramel and chilli using Valrhona chocolate).
Meanwhile, Chef Luu Meng’s caramelised banana left the diners in awe as he brilliantly paired all of Cambodia’s best products in one dish – Ambok young rice, Anloung Chen Island longans, honey from the Kulen Mountain and coconut milk. They were served in a caramelised banana cup with ice-cream.
Also present to walk the diners through special wine pairings was Mr Darren Gall of Joval Family Wines, one of the city’s top suppliers. Some of the finest reds and whites from the Catalina Sounds New Zealand range were served that evening.
The event, which was held at Sevensea Seafood Restaurant, also saw the presence of distinguished guests including Singapore Ambassador H.E. Michael Tan, Street Art Festival++ organising committees Ms Stella Toh and Mr Nick Tan and members of the Singapore Club Cambodia, among others.