“No such thing as traditional food”: Cambodia’s Master Chef

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Cambodian chef and restaurateur Luu Meng addresses Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 delegates

Cambodian chef and restaurateur Luu Meng addresses Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 delegates

Luu Meng started out earning $75 per month as a kitchen hand. Now he sits atop a restaurant and hospitality empire, the Almond Group.

If there were a Southeast Asian equivalent to the “American Dream” Luu Meng may very well personify it having acquired celebrity and prosperity through his passion for food and spirit of entrepreneurship.

Luu Meng brought his knowledge and experience to bear during the Mekong Food Tourism Seminar 2016 which took place a day after Mekong Tourism Forum 2016. Most of the more than 200 delegates registered for the Forum stayed behind to attend the session, which immediately followed the Mekong Tourism Investment Summit.

“No such thing as traditional food”

After hearing delegates spend some time discussing how to connect travellers with authentic food, either using top-down (defining recipes and certifying restaurants) or bottom-up approaches (allowing local foodies and local food trends to guide travellers and the industry), Luu Meng said there was no such thing as traditional or “authentic” food.

Of greater concern to Luu Meng was food and water safety. He called on government officials and tourism industry stakeholders to pay more attention to that.

Luu Meng thinks the real reason for tourists’ often bad experiences with food is that many chefs or cooks who work in hotels and restaurants frequented by tourists have lost their passion.

“They cook numbers, not food,” he said. They cook to a strict budget and are scared of cost over-runs.

Chef Luu Meng and Professor Walter Jamieson lead a discussion about food tourism in the Mekong region

Chef Luu Meng and Professor Walter Jamieson lead a discussion about food tourism in the Mekong at the Mekong Tourism Forum 2016

The UNWTO views food as being of “utmost importance” to any travel experience, said Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO).

He highlighted examples of destinations that already leverage food: Australia actively involves restaurateurs in the tourism value chain and offers promotional opportunities; the European Union spruiks food-themed routes; and the USA, having developed a culinary map of the country, sends celebrity chefs to source markets to give agents and prospective visitors a foretaste of what they can expect.

The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) welcomes contributions from experts and writers on the subject of food-related tourism. Click here to discover more about our contributor program.

Presentations from Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 are available for download here.

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