Discover Ben’s inspiring story and how he supports orphan children and the local community
Escape the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap city to find host Ben’s cooking class in a peaceful countryside village. Here, you can explore the picturesque countryside, level up your cooking skills while discovering 1000-year-old Khmer cuisine and even help change the lives of many orphan children.
After training to become a chef and hotel manager, Ben and other passionate locals at Siem Reap Countryside Cooking class decided to devote their time and effort to introducing the beauty of their country to foreign travelers, as well as giving less fortunate children in Cambodia a better future. Read on to learn more about Ben’s heartwarming story.
Tell us your foodie story. How did you get into cooking and what does it mean to you?
I originally started in hospitality and tourism management, specializing in Khmer Cuisine at the Paul Dubrule School in Siem Reap. For me, cooking is an art. A community’s individual cuisine can reflect its unique history, lifestyle, values, and beliefs, which is why I love welcoming foreign tourists to my cooking class. I want to show them the history of Cambodia through its cuisine, the stories behind every new Khmer dish; I want to provide them with a meaningful experience while they’re visiting my country. I also want to give back to my community so I use the money I receive from the bookings to support local orphan children.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the foundation of the cooking class?
Siem Reap Countryside Cooking Class was founded in June 2011 at the time Cambodia was still recovering from the devastation of genocide and civil war. My godfather John, who supported my English education in 2005, along with his friends, decided to team up and use my culinary skills to support orphan children and other very poor families in Siem Reap. The money from the bookings goes to less fortunate children to provide them with education and healthcare. John once told me that if you want to change a country’s future, you have to start with young people; give them a proper education, teach them etiquette and manners. Therefore, the Siem Reap Countryside Cooking Class offers educational and vocational opportunities including Khmer, English & Kindergarten classes. Education is the key.
At the beginning, we had 6 children staying with us, but more and more children are joining us as time goes by. I raised the money to build the cooking venue in a rather unusual way! Back in 2014, I took part in a chili eating competition in Phnom Penh and won first place by eating 529 chillies. I won $900, but my stomach was burning for 3 days!. However, I survived and I used my prize money to build the cooking cottage and welcomed 15 orphan children to stay with us there.
Why did you decide to become a part of Eatwith community?
I came across the website one day and immediately it came to me that Eatwith would be a wonderful platform to bring more travelers from all over the world to learn to cook and experience authentic Khmer cuisine, while also providing additional support to the orphan children.
What can guests expect from your experiences?
Siem Reap Countryside Cooking Class is a place where you can delight in the delicate and aromatic flavours of Khmer cuisine. Start your adventure with a tour to the local market, where you can collect fresh produce, locally grown herbs, spices, exotic fruits and vegetables. Once you have all the necessary ingredients, you can prepare dishes depending on the menu of your choice, then enjoy everything you’ve made together in a traditional wooden cottage. You’ll get to meet people from all over the world and go home with authentic Khmer recipes.
My cooking class also gives foreign travelers the opportunity to discover daily life in Siem Reap, see the beautiful countryside, as well as help less fortunate children and contribute to the local community.
It’s an unforgettable experience where guests can make memories of a lifetime.
What is a typical day like for you?
Since 2015, I have been working full-time with the class as well as looking after 98 orphan children and helping to support 58 of the poorest families from 6 different villages. I also work part-time as a hotel manager from 8pm to midnight every night in order to make my own living. I believe that not everyone can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.
Next time you’re in Siem Reap, come and meet Ben and learn more about his incredible project. Check out his upcoming events here.