First of all: សួស្ដីឆ្នាំថ្មី! Happy Khmer New Year!
During three days (from April 14th to 16th) everyday life came to an halt, as everyone visited their families, went to the pagodas and danced & celebrated to loud music. The perfect pause for us, to write you an up-date on what else is going on here.
With much pleasure and enthusiasm the renovation and rebuild of the new and larger and even more beautiful HAVEN is making good progress. Right after we signed the contract in January, we specified our visions and put our ideas on paper. Since then we have been working simultaneously on the renovation of the ground and first floor, on the construction of the classroom and on the build of the annex for the large training kitchen – which will fulfill Swiss hygiene standards and offer our trainees the best requirements for their on-the-job training.
For the visual appearance we are getting much support from our dear friend Christian Baumann who has his own interieur design business and brings in more than 20 years experience in this field. In February he spontaneously flew over to Siem Reap for a couple of days, to gain a first-hand impression of the site. Now back in Switzerland, he is a huge support, being able to provide us with advice and ideas. Thank you so much for your help!
Currently, the most advanced work on site is the building for the classroom, which also includes the changing rooms for the trainees and employees. The building is almost completed, with only the wiring being done now.
As we love the look and feel of our charming 50 year old house, we really only want to renovate it. But this is quite a challenge on the ground floor, as we have to combine the careful renovation with the build of an extension of the existing building, for the completely new restaurant and trainings kitchen. For this annex we had to knock out the rear house walls on the ground floor. This section of the construction is definately the most significant part we have to deal with.
The first floor of the Khmer house is traditionally built with wood. After we took out all the inside walls, we also had to remove one part of the wooden floor, as it was completely rotten. But once again we're lucky to have Soklun, who happens to be a wood specialist and has built a beautiful and safe new floor.
No work is done during Khmer New Year. But next week everyone will be back on site and then we will finish the work on the Khmer house, before we start working on the outside area, the patio.
Once again we were confronted with a situation that showed us how well we have settled in and adjusted to Cambodia's culture and customs. End of January, one week after the move into the new traineehouse, we learned from housemum that there was a problem: a ghost is living on the first floor and needs to be soothed, she said.
That's not a problem at all! After all, it's not our first ghost and we know what needs to be done. Especially Steffi, who has become very well accustomed to the, let's say, more unusual practices here.
Ever since, they all (housemum, trainees and the ghost) live together happily under one roof.
Usually HAVEN closes its gate for 3 weeks in April. One week holiday for everyone (during the Khmer New Year). The following two weeks are our special training weeks for our students. During these two weeks they all get a kind of training fine-tuning. This is completed with the trainees running the restaurant all by themselves on the last Saturday of these special training weeks. For this occasion we invite guests (so it is for a closed group only). Chef and us are all there, but only as guests and to see how the trainees are doing. Guess how nervous they all are... Whenever the subject comes up, they all turn very quiet.
But the reason why I started this post with the word 'Usually' is, because this year we closed HAVEN one week earlier. The reason: in the last years many guests have asked us for certain recipes or asked if we had a cookbook.
We always answered both questions with a no. Then, last autumn, Régis, a French photographer (who also lives in Siem Reap) got in touch with us and asked, if he could do a cookbook with us. This was a great opportunity! And so we spent the last couple of months preparing recipes, while Régis worked on the photo concept and the layout of the book.
Last week the time had come. During five full days we cooked and photographed all the dishes for the book. We had to do the photoshooting at the traineehouse, as it was a windy week and we needed a closed room, which is not given at HAVEN. Fortunately we built a nice and professional kitchen at the traineehouse, so Chef Pardet (picture) could easily prepare all the dishes for the shoot in a clean environment.