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Learning from experience

Update: January, 05/2015 - 16:57

Authentic: Daen wants to preserve the genuine tastes of Laotian food.

CHEF

With more than 10 years experience as a chef at a popular hotel in Vientiane, Chef Daen Saensouvanh of Thongkhankham village in Chanthabouly district takes great care with every dish he makes so visitors will have a good impression of Lao cuisine.

Experience has been his teacher rather than lessons at a cooking school. His guiding thought is that he must pay attention to every detail of the dishes he makes, so that the diner is amply rewarded.

The chef, who works at the Lao Plaza Hotel, said that in days gone by there were no cooking schools in Laos. He learnt his craft in his parents' kitchen, where he enjoyed the good food they made so much so that he picked up all their skills and then went to work in kitchens around Vientiane.

"I was really lucky that this hotel chose me to work here 10 years ago. I've never had any formal training, but my personal experience and some of the chefs here taught me how to turn out truly appetising dishes," he says.

Chef Daen Saensouvanh

Chef Daen is head of the hotel's Lao food section and is lucky to work in an environment that has a reputation for high quality Lao and international food. Every day, he cooks Lao dishes for overseas visitors and is always proud when a customer puts in a repeat order.

"I feel good to know that I am playing a part in promoting Lao culture through my cooking. When the government organises regional and international meetings in Vientiane, the hotel serves Lao food that was cooked by me personally," Chef Daen says with a smile of satisfaction.

He has tried his hand at other cuisines but has never developed the same love for them as he has for his native fare.

"The dishes of Western or European countries are not as complicated to make as Lao food, but my favourites are the traditional meals of my homeland and it's my mission to popularise these and make sure I do so to the best of my ability," he says.

He believes that to be a good chef you have to love the job and that if your heart isn't in it you won't be successful. "I believe that all good cooks want to serve tasty food. If you just take great care with everything you make, your customers can't fail to enjoy it."

Chef Daen said that back in 1992 there were few hotels in Vientiane so it was quite difficult to find a school that taught cooking "Now there are lots of hotels in Laos, especially in Vientiane, so there are many places that teach cooking and hospitality skills. Those places are helping to create a new generation of chefs who can cook both local and international foods."

"Some of them alter traditional dishes as they think that's what their customers prefer, but Lao food has a very distinctive style and we shouldn't mess with the ingredients too much, otherwise it won't be Lao," he observed.

He too makes some changes to the preparation of Lao dishes by adding some decorative touches for the benefit of hotel guests, but he never forgets to include all the original ingredients so the true taste is not lost.

"I just make the dish look a little bit more interesting and enticing, but the flavour is just as it should be," he says.

Chef Daen says he'll never change his mind about cooking other types of food because he's determined that as many people as possible get to savour the genuine delights of Lao fare. He also intends to make sure his skills are passed on to the younger members of his family so that his legacy lives on. — Vientiane Times

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