After spending the past quarter of a century working in renowned restaurants across the US, Cambodian chef Martin Try embarked on a new endeavour this year: teaching aspiring chefs at the recently opened Academy of Culinary Arts Cambodia. Here, he discusses his career in the kitchen and the future of the Kingdom’s hospitality industry
Prior to working as a chef, you had a successful career as a machinist. Why the radical change?
I started late in the hospitality industry; around 32 years old. For a long time, I couldn’t find my passion and found myself working nine to five as a machinist among other odd jobs. It wasn’t until a friend of mine said he needed help at his restaurant, La Bergerie in San Francisco, that my love for cooking started to appear. Despite my basic cooking knowledge, seeing people smile and enjoy themselves when they ate my food was addictive, and I’ve been growing my culinary skills ever since.
Why did you join the Academy of Culinary Arts Cambodia?
For the past five years I have had the dream of returning from the United States to teach and give back to my home country. Joining the Academy of Culinary Arts has given me the opportunity to really make a difference to the unskilled youth of Cambodia by providing hospitality training and sharing my skills and knowledge in European culinary standards. I am so thrilled to be able to motivate the next generation of Cambodian chefs.
In the past couple of decades, what have been the main changes in Cambodia’s hospitality and culinary scene?
With the hospitality and tourism sector so closely linked, hospitality, like other industries, has seen significant growth thanks to the surge of tourists visiting the country. This in turn has produced higher culinary standards in hotels and restaurants. The attractiveness of a career as a chef in Cambodia has certainly changed too. I’m constantly surprised by the absolute enthusiasm of students at the academy who are so passionate about receiving high standards of training, as many of them want to own their own restaurants. You can see it in their faces and their eyes that they are eager to learn, which certainly makes my job a whole lot easier.
What advice would you offer to people who want to know how to turn their love of food into a career?
The drive to dedicate hours and hours to improving your culinary skill set and having a hard work ethic is a real asset in the hospitality industry. Most importantly, as in any industry, one needs to champion resilience and discipline. Nothing comes easily, and you have to constantly persist, sacrifice and work hard in this industry to achieve what you want. You always have to strive to treat your customers as if they are kings and queens or guests in your house.