Khun Gechsoun aka Kek Soon
“I grew up in Kampot. From a young age, i worked to support and help feed my fmaily. First this was doing jobs like cleaning the fishing boats as they returned from sea and sometimes the bonus to my 1000 riel/boat pay was finding a giant prawn or fish or crab in the hull of the boat, someting the fisherman had missed. I also worked around the farmlands and forests near Kampot doing the same kind of thing, odd jobs, collecting money, food and at the end of the day, cooking for my family. My mum was often away working in other provinces. Later Mum sent me to live in Phnom Penh where I had Chinese schooling and learnt language then my mother found me an employer in Malaysia, i worked for nearly 8 years as a maid in Malaysia. This is not uncommon work for young women from Kampot, many work in Malaysia but i was especially lucky to have a great family to work with, they allowed me time to take courses and learn skills in cooking and baking. My employer was also a business lady who opened the first chain of Nando’s in Malaysia, I learnt a lot from this time, including improving my languages Khmer, Chinese, Malay and English.
When i returned from KL, I was able to by a small house and land and then opened a restaurant in the Cardamons – Bom Not. I got married, had a baby daughter but divorced shortly after Alink was born. Around this time I moved back to Kampot and needed a job. Luckily I found work at Ganesha, a great place where I learned a lot about making delicious coktails and also about the international people who like to travel to Kampot. I moved closer to town and managed the very popular Ellie’s Cafe for a year or so, another great place where I was able to put my baking skills and ideas into practice. I met Julien Poulson at Ellie’s during the time he’d come to Kampot to work with Kampot Traditional Music School, Julien told me plans for starting KAMA (Kampot Arts & Music Association). I joined Julien and Billy McCartney after they opened a bar in the ground floor area at KAMA, beautiful old French building 3 doors up from Ellie’s and at this time, I would come at night and cook Sino-Khmer meals. Billy took great photos of all my dishes – which to me are typically Kampot cuisine, the kind of meals I love to cook for my family. Julien saw the photos and told me that we could produce a cookbook so I added my own stories to the food pictures and the recipes. So it soon became more about myself, growing up in in Kampot and about the food, history and culture. Around this time Julien and Wayne McCallum were talking about establishing Kampot Writers & Readers Festival and we thought I could release my book project a KWRF. However, I joined the organising team and become busy learning how to stage and manage the festival, and worked with sponsor Janet De Neefe (UWRF, writer, cook) to cater a banquet for KWRF. This work caught the attention of Lara Dunston of Grandtourismo who invited me to join a gourmet food tour of hotels and restaurants in Siem Reap and Battambang. THis was great because Lara’s a travel writer and she taught me more about ‘story telling’ and ‘food photography’ and this opportunity has led to my opening of a new cafe Kek Soon’s Kitchen @ KAMA and Kek Soon’s Kampot Cuisine Tours. I’m making a video about touring and tasting the flavours of Kampot and still working on the cook book Kek Soon’s Kampot Kitchen. Hopefully, these projects will be finished soon but right now I’m busy working on the festival and cooking at KAMA.”