Take Me To The King - A Chefs Journey to Cambodia

Help me raise funds to be able to cook for the Royal Family in the Kingdom of Cambodia!

My family came to Canada from Cambodia as refugees fleeing civil war in the 1970’s.  Once arrived, they had to adapt to Canadian culture while maintaining, and finding, their identities.  With the war taking the lives of so many of our relatives, my parents brought with them a lifetime of trauma. They also had to find a way to survive in a new country, with a new language and a strange culture.  As a result, my parents didn’t have much time to raise me.  They both had full time jobs and the house was overcrowded with other family members. This left the responsibility of raising me to my grandmother.  And this is where the origin story of my culinary life begins.

From early on, my grandmother was my inspiration to cook.  Each morning I woke up to the sound of mortar and pestle, with aunts and cousins on the floor sharing cooking techniques as well as life stories. This is when I fell in love with cooking - the sounds, the dance, the storytelling, and the ability for food to forge connections and be a catalyst for conversation. 

As I got older I began cooking in restaurants.  Starting with a humble, family-owned Italian restaurant in Windsor, Ontario I worked my way up to cook with some of the most recognized chefs in the world, such as Ferran Adria, Andoni Aduriz, and Magnus Nilsson. Eventually I took the leap and opened my first restaurant, Fieldstone, in Montreal, with limited resources and connections. Two years, and with a heavy heart, I said goodbye to Fieldstone but moved on to a new, and exciting opportunity as Executive Chef at Parliament in Montreal’s Old Port.

It wasn’t long after opening Parliament that the pandemic shuttered our doors. Just when the momentum was starting to build, it all seemed to fall away. It was during the ensuing restless nights thinking about my future, and that of the industry, that the idea of ‘Touk’ crossed my mind. I could open a pop-up kitchen serving authentic Cambodian street food. While this was a business adaptation in the time of COVID, more than anything it was a re-engagement with my roots, both culinary and cultural. Touk (which is Khmer for boat) was the vehicle that would allow me to honour the memory of my late grandmother, introduce Canadians to our culture, and allow me to reconnect with the moments that brought me to cooking in the first place.

After just a few weeks, Touk started making headlines and the name was known internationally, gracing the pages of Bon Appetit, The Phnom Penh Post, and Canada’s 100 Best Magazine.  With this momentum, I decided to pitch a cookbook with all the recipes from Touk among other household favourites.  A few months later, the cookbook pitch was accepted and I was one step closer in rediscovering my cultural heritage. 

As I started writing, I felt that there was something missing.  I began to doubt myself as if I were an imposter creating recipes that only North Americans would eat.  There was once a time when I would be able to call my grandmother to ask her any questions, but now I had to rely on intuition and memories, some of which had been obscured by the haze of time. So I had an idea, why not bring my recipes to Cambodia and test them there?  Meet with the chefs, farmers, cooks, and families who could truly validate the flavours of the motherland within these recipes. This would provide the strongest basis in which to tell the culinary story of Cambodia. I may be the bridge that helps introduce these recipes to the world, but this story has been thousands of years in the making, and has been written through the experiences of millions of people. My hope is that, as narrator, I can do it justice.

This is why I am asking for help to get me to Cambodia, to meet the protagonists of this story and, if I’m lucky, maybe even have a chance to cook for the King!

Here are some incentives!

Anyone who donates $300 or more will receive a signed copy of my book "Recipes from Yey" along with a personal letter.  

Some donations can also be accepted as a form of payment for cooking lessons as well as catered events upon agreement.

If you are Khmer and want to collaborate, message me on Instagram @chanthyyen

Bon Appetit Canadas 100 Best The Phnom Penh Post LaPresse 
Photo Credit: Marco Campanozzi


Chanthy Yen
Montréal, QC

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