If you’ve been visiting Khéma Pasteur over the last few days, you may have noticed a fresh-faced Frenchman in chef’s whites about the place. And if you haven’t been introduced to him already, then we are very pleased to present Franck Grabowski, a pastry chef (patissier) with 25 years’ experience in creating delicious pastries, cakes, macarons, chocolates, sweets, ice creams and desserts back home in France. And now he’s turned his hand to working with our team here in Cambodia.
Franck arrived here in April this year, originally settling with his wife, Montha, in Siem Reap, where they had planned on setting up a guest house. But we all know now what Covid can do to anyone’s hopes. And so he contacted Thalias. We weren’t actually looking for anyone at the time, but on inviting him for a three-day ‘trial’, decided to create a position for him and the skills he brings with him.
Franck literally grew up with his hands dusted in flour. The patisserie he eventually came to call his own had belonged to his father since Franck was 13. After a spell in which he studied law in nearby Poitiers, Franck came back to the heart of things, and after studying went to work alongside his father in the mid-90s. After five years, Le Pêché Mignon (the “guilty pleasure”, or, “sweet spot”) became his own, and he has run it together with Montha and their team ever since. Or, until this year.
Aside from working with her husband, Montha is key to why they are here now. Born in France, Montha’s family is Cambodian, with relatives still based around Oddar Meanchey. She and her husband had visited the country several times over the last several years, and it was on their last visit in 2016 that they started to put together the idea of making a definitive move. And then they did it.
With Thalias, Franck has been charged, inter alia, with bringing the entire patisserie range up to date, which means re-conceiving and testing the recipes, with particular reference to the ingredients that are actually available rather than the ingredients he would ideally have to hand and also, just as importantly, with reference to the different environment and palates that prevail here. It’s a challenge with a great deal of adjustments at every level. At the same time, he isn’t afraid to experiment and to integrate new ideas and ingredients where he can.
The task isn’t without other challenges too. It’s fair to say that both Franck and his team here at Khéma Pasteur have a “middling” level of English. However, one of the curses of a language with multiple origins is that there are always at least 20 different words for everything (contrary to many French people’s understanding of the English language!) It’s not easy to get to grips with the workings of an organisation when you’re having to effectively evolve a fourth language of your own out of one you sort of, but not quite, have in common and the two you don’t in which to do it.
But that challenge aside, Franck is already working on new ideas and formulations for Khéma’s cakes and more. He’s reluctant to touch the Viennoisserie (croissants, etc.) because, as he says, they’re already better than he often finds in France. Cakes are more complicated for environmental and product-sourcing reasons, and also because he thinks they can be better adapted to Cambodian tastes, which are actually less sweet when it comes to sweet things than he anticipated. He’s already working on a some new versions of old classics that integrate local ingredients as well.
So there is much to look forward to for him, with the challenges and all, and even more for us to look forward to on the other side of the counter. Keep your eyes open for the new ideas that will be coming out of Khéma’s kitchens soon!