Celebrating French and Cambodian gastronomy, attracting both local and international clientèle to the same establishment, and training young people in the restaurant trade: these are just some of the challenges successfully met by Khéma Angkor.
Adorned with decorations reminiscent of the imminent New Year celebrations, the banks of the river have become one of the highlights of a city that has recently undergone a profound transformation.
“What a difference compared to previous years! And it’s not just the city that has changed, but its people too. Faces are serene and smiling again, after the worries and uncertainties of the past”, confides Sothy Keo.
The director of the Malis and Khéma establishments, located just a few hundred metres apart, shares this optimistic mood. A growing number of customers, an increasingly diverse clientele and the arrival of new products all point to a bright future for gourmets.
100% Cambodian cheese specialties
“With the pandemic, we’ve all, at some level, had to question ourselves and face up to new situations. But sometimes a difficulty opens the door to opportunities. This is how we came to design a new range of cheeses of which we are particularly proud. Cheese is inevitable when it comes to French gastronomy. But when the Covid sanitary restrictions reduced imports, we had to find a solution to guarantee supplies. This coincided with an increase in Cambodian milk production. The result was Rousseau, Khémabert and Chanda, all made with local produce and matured in Cambodia. We were helped in this by master cheesemaker Nicolas Rousseau, who came to train our teams and to whom we wanted to pay tribute by naming our first product after him. Cheeses are not the only example of this change in habits: more and more of our charcuterie, especially our pâtés and dried meat varieties, are prepared directly at Khéma. Offering local products is as much a guarantee of quality as it is a demonstration of know-how, not to mention the environmental and economic impact,” says Sothy Kéo. She adds that these local products are totally adapted to Cambodian palates. “We have a long tradition here of preparing meat dishes. Pâtés and dry sausages have long been familiar to us, and are even renowned specialties in certain towns. So it’s hardly surprising that our products are so popular with our Cambodian customers.
Satisfying a wide audience
One of the special features of Khéma Angkor is that it attracts a varied and cosmopolitan clientèle, including residents, expatriates and tourists passing through.
“We’re very proud of this, of having been able to create a place that is appreciated by all and that is not exclusive. This has always been one of our major concerns, and we’ve been rewarded for it. If French customers are curious about Cambodian gastronomy, the reverse is also true. French wine and cheese discovery sessions are very popular with our Cambodian clientèle, for whom these dishes and beverages have been relatively unknown until now. It’s interesting to see our local clientèle’s tastes evolve, to the point where we now have a large community of enlightened wine and cheese enthusiasts.”
To showcase its specialities, the establishment organizes a whole series of promotional offers to ensure that it never runs out. The “all-you-can-eat” formulas, for example, are very popular, allowing diners to enjoy the full range of dishes and beverages on offer for a modest sum. “These formulas are attracting an ever-increasing number of customers, with something to suit everyone’s culinary tastes.
From a simple café croissant to wine and cheese buffets, not to mention our signature dish or sausage varieties, from breakfast to afternoon tea and from afternoon tea to dinner, there’s always something to satisfy the most demanding and varied preferences. Nor should we forget to mention our pastries and macaroons, which are often offered for birthdays.”
Offering ever more career opportunities
Behind the counter, Pen Los greedily declines all the varieties of mini-pastries for a customer who won’t leave empty-handed. Finding these little cakes irresistible, she opted for an assortment ranging from Kouign Amann to opera. Like many of the 25 employees who make up the Khéma team, Pen Los completed an internship there, which later led to her being hired.
” We want to offer as many opportunities as possible to young people who are curious, motivated and talented. In Siem Reap, we are fortunate to have a number of top-quality hospitality schools. Whether it’s Sala Bai, Paul Dubrule, Bayon Pastry School or Feeding Dreams Cambodia, from which Pen Los originated, they all offer training in a variety of professions that have lost none of their appeal.”
” This year, eight trainees will be taking their first steps at Le Khéma, working in the dining room, the kitchen or as pastry assistants. We’re always surprised by the knowledge and dynamism of these students, who also learn a lot about French culture. After an internship with us, they’ve learned all about the galette des Rois and crêpes de la Chandeleur, grape varieties and food and wine pairings, cheeses and pastries, and so much more! It’s a real pleasure to see them blossom and acquire skills that are bound to be useful in their future careers. Of course, I invite all Cambodge Mag readers to come and visit us and enjoy our specialties.”
Par Rémi Abad. French version here