Martin Becquart: A French cuisine specialist in classic dishes

In the series of interviews with hospitality professionals, Executive Chef Martin Becquart of the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in the capital of Cambodia will be featured. This expert is delighted to share his knowledge with you in order to provide you with a variety of dynamic and multidimensional perspectives on the culinary industry at this renowned restaurant.

The Raffles Hotel Le Royal, one of Phnom Penh’s most recognizable landmarks, is the city’s earliest five-star resort. The structure has a classic elegance that is a gorgeous blend of antique features, aspects of traditional Khmer culture, and contemporary ornamental art. Meeting Chef Martin Becquart, a talented member of this associated high-end restaurant network, readers will be able to learn more about the distinctive traditions in innovative culinary style, which can be found exclusively at Chef Martin Becquart and in general in the restaurants of Raffles Hotel Le Royal.

Good morning, Martin Becquart. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I was born in Laos but raised in northern France; my name is Martin. I earned various certificates in classic cuisine from culinary school in St. Martin Amiens, France. My fascination in cooking began in childhood. My mother was a significant influence on my enduring aspiration to become a chef. As a child, I preferred to observe her cooking to playing outside. “She instilled in me the desire to cook, and I have always admired her creativity.”

I began my culinary career as a commis chef at La Residence de la Pinede (now Cheval Blanc St. Tropez) on the French Riviera. Beginning with my first major position in 1996 as Junior Sous Chef at Lyford Cay Club in Nassau, Bahamas, I gained experience throughout the culinary industry, serving as Sous Chef at the luxury five-star resorts in the Caribbean islands Le Toiny St. Barts, Relais & Chateaux, La Source Grenada, and Belmond Cap Juluca Anguilla.

When I joined Penfield’s’ Fine-dining restaurant at the Hilton Rye Town (now Hilton Westchester) in New York State, the Zagat Guide presented me with an award. I have spent the last fourteen years advancing my career as an executive chef in hotels around the globe, including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Macau, Sri Lanka, China, the United Arab Emirates, and now Cambodia. 

What drew you to the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh and the opportunity to work there?

Raffles Hotel Le Royal exemplifies a legacy steeped in opulence and prestige, providing an experience defined by its rich historical tapestry. Raffles hotels worldwide have established themselves as unparalleled havens of luxury and sophistication, a legacy that resonates profoundly with my aspirations as a professional in this illustrious field.

Since its establishment in 1929, the Raffles Hotel Le Royal has extended its gracious hospitality to discerning travelers with an unmatched dedication to excellence. This illustrious establishment’s storied past and unwavering commitment to service have made it a beacon of unrivaled distinction.

In the winter of 1997, following a comprehensive and meticulous renovation, the Raffles Hotel Le Royal debuted its resplendent grandeur to widespread acclaim, establishing new standards of refinement and luxury. As we approach the cusp of its centennial anniversary, this iconic establishment remains the epitome of extravagance in the center of Phnom Penh. Raffles Hotel Le Royal continues to set the standard for luxury hospitality by creating experiences that transcend time and space.

What are the most well-liked dishes served at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh? Could you share with me where you got the idea for those?

I am presently in charge of the two main restaurants at Restaurant Le Royal, which showcases centuries-old dining rituals and traditional recipes from the Cambodian royal family alongside modern Khmer gastronomy and a signature tableside service known as Guéridon.

Our French-style brasserie, Le Phnom 1929, features an open kitchen, exquisite cocktails, and our Around the World in 80 Wines program. Our visitors especially enjoy our Seafood Tower and Fine de Claire Oysters. My French upbringing in iconic bistrots, cafés, and brasseries is the source of my inspiration and creations.

What is Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh’s future plans? A classical or contemporary location?

Our illustrious journey began in the early twentieth century under the foresight of architect and urban planner Ernest Hébrard. His vision for the redevelopment of Phnom Penh included the construction of a magnificent stately hotel, a testament to his foresight and commitment to architectural excellence.

In 1929, this magnificent building dominated the Phnom Penh skyline as the highest structure in the city. HM Sisowath Monivong, a member of the royal family, graced its grand inauguration with his distinguished presence. This royal connection endures to the present day, as evidenced by our cherished crest, a gracious gift from the royal family, as well as the captivating ceiling art and the closely guarded culinary secrets known only to our skilled chefs.

In 1996, a meticulous restoration project returned the building to its former grandeur with sensitivity and respect for its architectural heritage. Two decades later, the façade was painstakingly repainted in its original lotus-white splendor, ensuring that the timeless elegance of our historic establishment continues to radiate with unrivaled brilliance. Such is the enduring legacy of Raffles Hotel Le Royal, where history and opulence seamlessly merge to create an atmosphere of unrivaled elegance and sophistication.

How would you describe your cooking style? How would you describe the finest dish you prepared while working at Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh?

My background is traditional, classic French cuisine with a modern twist, as I was instructed in Michelin-starred restaurants. I do not have a favorite or signature dish, but I enjoy working with fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits so that our guests can experience a healthier lifestyle.  

My culinary expertise was refined through rigorous training in Michelin-starred restaurants and is based on traditional and classic French cuisine with a contemporary twist. While I do not have a single “best” or signature dish, my passion rests in the art of preparing dishes with the highest-quality ingredients. I take particular pleasure in using fresh herbs and fruits, ensuring that each dish I prepare provides our esteemed guests with a delicious sample of a healthier lifestyle.

What are your favored local ingredients for preparing a variety of mouthwatering dishes? What impact do these ingredients have on the dishes served at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh?

I enjoy making desserts with high-quality local ingredients, such as Kampot peppers, which are the finest peppers in the Kampot region, coffee from Modulkhiri, and seasonal fruits. I’ve made chocolate, ice cream, pastries, cakes, mousses, and coffee crème brulee using these regional flavors.

What are the most significant characteristics of the dishes served at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh? What are the recommended dishes at your restaurant?

I would like to concentrate on the finest and freshest ingredients when preparing a dish, and Cambodia is a place where you can let your creativity and passion run wild due to the abundance of fresh herbs and fruits.

At Restaurant Le Royal, we serve traditional and contemporary Khmer cuisine prepared with the finest ingredients for an exceptional dining experience. Royal Khmer recipes passed down to the Raffles Hotel Le Royal by decree from the royal palace reside alongside contemporary Cambodian cuisine. 

In addition to our revered Royal Khmer Cuisine, we offer an ever-changing and dynamic menu of inventive modern Khmer dishes. This curated selection rotates every two months, ensuring that each visit to Restaurant Le Royal is a delightful exploration of contemporary culinary arts inspired by Cambodia’s rich heritage. Savor the opulence of tradition and the ingenuity of modernity, where each dish is a masterwork designed to elevate your culinary experience to the highest levels of luxury.

Who are a few of your culinary inspirations? What are the most essential factors you consider when preparing dishes at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh?

Working with other colleagues I’ve encountered around the world, including in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean, has taught me not only how to cook but also about life and the experiences that make each dish delicious. 

It can be said that patrons at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh have diverse tastes. How did you satisfy their needs?

Restaurant Le Royal and Le Phnom 1929 are our two primary dining establishments, where we serve international cuisine. I introduced more French Cuisine from various regions by creating events such as a cheese event, and special wine pairing. We have also invited two Michelin-starred chefs to Restaurant Le Royal for an exceptional gastronomic excursion.

Within our Raffles icon, we are delighted to house two distinguished dining establishments: Restaurant Le Royal and Le Phnom 1929, each of which offers a delectable selection of international delicacies.

I’ve had the honor of introducing a magnificent fusion of French cuisine from various regions, meticulously curated through captivating events such as our renowned cheese soirees and exclusive wine pairings. These entrancing gatherings promise an exploration of flavors that transcend borders and traditions, elevating the dining experience.

In addition, Restaurant Le Royal has had the distinct pleasure of hosting two Michelin-starred chefs. These illustrious chefs embarked on a gastronomic voyage of unparalleled excellence, enhancing our repertoire with their mastery and ingenuity so that our patrons may enjoy the pinnacle of culinary innovation and refinement.

What, in your opinion, separates your cuisine from that of other chefs? Could you inform me about your greatest achievement while working at Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh?

As a Michelin-trained chef with a background in traditional, classic French cuisine with a contemporary twist, I believe my cuisine is more traditional and incorporates modern flavors. The addition of herbs and ingredients makes the dish more vibrant and distinctive. 

Restaurant Le Royal’s Gueridon Brunch features 17 extravagant courses paired with premium spirits. Sunday brunch is essential because it is the greatest opportunity to bring together everyone you care about. I enjoy seeing the family enjoying uninterrupted quality time as we serve them at the table.  

Do you have any advice for those who wish to become chef, particularly those who wish to work in RLR?

To excel as a chef, develop your own cooking style through regular practice and consider part-time jobs for confirmation; begin your culinary journey with culinary schools and books to learn the basics and build skills for crafting unique signature dishes, and keep in mind that the art of cooking thrives on passion, curiosity, and ongoing education.

Keep a watch out for the upcoming editions of our interview series, which will inform you of a variety of world-class food and travel news.

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