It's a quiet afternoon at the FCC Phnom Penh and new head chef Clinton Webber has huddled his staff together for their first taste of his new menu. Like any lifelong chef, he's understandably excited.
"It's going to be a whole new thing," says Webber. "There's going to be lots of fusion and touches of Khmer cuisine. The emphasis is on being more funky. Think funky, rustic fusion."
It's a bold endeavor for an expert in modern French cuisine who arrived in Cambodia from a 5-star resort in Fiji. But the 28-year-old native of Wellington, New Zealand, seems as at home in the Kingdom as he is in the kitchen.
"It's lovely here. The staff is great and I couldn't ask for anything more," says Webber. "We'll have the same prices and the meals will be straight, fresh, clean and honest."
Webber, whose official title is FCC group executive chef, will be responsible for the cuisine at the FCC hotel in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as Café Fresco and a future FCC hotel opening in the capital called the The Quay. He studied at the Auckland Institute of Technology and Massey University in New Zealand. His first job was as a gourmet pizza chef and his last was at one of the finest restaurants in the Pacific Islands.
"Cooking is all I've ever done," he says.
Splitting his time between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will become more difficult when he introduces entirely different menus at each site. He plans to visit Siem Reap every two or three weeks, but in just one month he has already visited Angkor Wat twice.
"We'll get the new menu working here before we go up there," Webber says.
For now, Webber is enjoying a crash course in Khmer cooking. He's already attempted a broth based around the Cambodian staple "prahok," and his favorite dish to prepare so far is Prahet Bongkong-pork and shrimp cakes with a "pickled banana blossom" salad seasoned with coconut salt.
"Prahok does smell a little funny though," Webber says.