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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bringing the tastes of Cambodia to Fairfax

Annandale resident and author of the book " A taste of Cambodian Cuisine", Demaze Baker is teaching cooking classes each month on how to prepare traditional Cambodian meals.

Cooking teacher, author shares her passion for exotic cuisine
by Alexandra Greeley Special to the Times

Perhaps the least known of Asian cuisines, Cambodian food has been a rarity in the Washington, D.C., metro area. But cooking teacher Demaz Baker of Annandale hopes to change that.

According to Baker, no Cambodian restaurants exist in the District or its surrounding suburbs, making it a challenge for interested foodies to go out and taste the culture's traditional flavors. That doesn't make it impossible, though, says Baker, who is also an amateur chef and author of two Cambodian cookbooks -- such as "A Taste of Cambodian Cuisine," which is available on With monthly classes at the Arlington County Adult Education Center and a little patience, anyone can learn how to master the culture's sweet and savory flavors.

Although it shares many similarities with Thai cuisine, Baker says Cambodian cooking is "lighter and less spicy in taste," with less reliance on coconut milk and chilis.

A U.S. resident since the mid-1970s, Baker has held daytime jobs with the Department of Defense. But in her spare time, she has indulged her passion for Cambodian food by learning the traditional recipes from her homeland and then cataloging them in her two self-published cookbooks. This has certainly been a labor of love, for Baker admits she never learned how to cook as a child in her parents' home.

"I have always liked cooking, but I never learned it in Cambodia," she said. "My aunts are really the experts in Cambodian food. I even registered in cooking school when I was a student in Australia, but I only studied there for two months."

As a newcomer to the area, Baker longed for the sweet and savory delicacies from her native country. Finding no restaurant that offered the food she craved, Baker set about learning the basics of the cuisine by calling friends and relatives all over the world.

"I gathered recipes from whomever had the expertise," she said.

Top on her phone list were two friends in Los Angeles and others in France and Canada, but because Cambodians usually never write down measurements, reconstructing the recipes required experimentation and tasting.

After gathering stacks of recipes, Baker turned to trying them all, tasting what worked and discarding the rejects.

"This was a labor of several years," she said. "But now I know how to cook properly."

As a result, Baker wrote her first cookbook, "Cambodian Cuisine," in 1999 and issued her second, "A Taste of Cambodian Cuisine," in 2009. A full-color volume, the book is available online at and also at Barnes & Noble.

As a complement to her culinary hobby, Baker started teaching Cambodian cooking at the Arlington County Adult Education Center, offering a month's worth of classes each semester.

"I would teach once a week for the month," she said. After eight years of offering adult education classes, Baker decided to simply teach cooking in her own home. This switch has worked out well, she says, noting that many of her former students signed up and have now formed an informal cooking club, though all newcomers are welcome to join in.

Held one night each month, the classes require student participation supervised by Baker. Afterward, all sit down to a feast.

"A typical menu includes a main-course soup and two side dishes, one with vegetables and often one with fish," she said, adding that the usual Cambodian meal includes fish, since the Mekong River running through the country is a rich source of freshwater fish. There may also be a chicken or beef curry, which is a norm here in the U.S. but is a luxurious meal back home in Cambodia, where chicken and beef are expensive for the average household.

Participants learn three dishes per class, and classes cost $55 each.

Her students are so enthusiastic about Baker's food that they have been urging her to open a restaurant. After all, she notes, all her siblings own a restaurant in Quebec. But Baker's response is simple: No way, she says.

"In my opinion, for a small restaurant to be successful, it has to be run by family members," she says. "Besides, you have no other life if you own one."

For more information, contact Demaz Baker at www.Cambodian

Recipe: Saraman Chicken

Serves four

Demaz Baker explains that Cambodian cooking is very similar to Thai cooking, which is evident in this rich chicken curry. To simplify the long and arduous process of pounding ingredients for a curry paste, the basis of all Thai and Cambodian curries, Baker uses commercial curry paste, making the preparation of such dishes relatively fast. All ingredients are available in Asian markets.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons Masaman curry paste

one (13.5- ounce) can coconut milk

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar or palm sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups pearl onions, peeled

4 to 5 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and quartered

nHeat the oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the curry paste and blend well until it becomes oily. Scoop out the creamy part of the coconut milk (about ¼ cup), and stir into the curry. Add the chicken, and sear for about five minutes. Add ¾ cup water and the remaining coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar, salt and pearl onions. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook 15 to 20 minutes more, or until the chicken is tender. Add the potatoes, cover and continue cooking until the potatoes are cooked.

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Operation Smile Creates Smiles With USNS Mercy in Cambodia

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia — Doctors and volunteers from the non-governmental organization Operation Smile embarked aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy, June 17, for six days, to perform surgeries ranging from cleft lip and cleft palate repair to addressing facial and burn scars in support of Pacific Partnership 2010.

Pacific Partnership is a joint effort between host nations, partner nations, NGOs, and other U.S. government agencies that come together each year to foster the relationships in which they provide medical, dental, veterinary, and engineering civic action programs as well as subject matter expert exchanges with local medical professionals.

Before the Cambodian leg of the Pacific Partnership 2010 mission began, Operation Smile participants pre-screened more than 130 children and adults with cleft lips, cleft palates, and other facial deformities, to select patients for reconstructive surgeries.

“We have brought a full medical team of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses,” said Scott Snyder, Operation Smile program coordinator for the mission. “We will be performing around 20 to 25 surgeries a day and we are hoping to see about 80 patients during the next four days.”

The Operation Smile team aboard Mercy brings together people of many countries and backgrounds. For this effort, the team is made up of 47 members from Cambodia, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom, and United States, working as a whole to complete these surgeries and help the Cambodian patients in need.

“It’s great for us to be working aboard [Mercy],” said Snyder. “We usually work in government hospitals in developing countries and sometimes the facilities aren’t that great. We come aboard with the Navy, and it’s like working in one of the best hospitals in the U.S.” Operation Smile has conducted missions with the Navy since 2006 and joined Pacific Partnership by participating in the 2008 mission.

While most of its efforts concentrate on the delivery of surgical care, Operation Smile engages in subject matter expert exchanges – even within its own organization.

“I really wanted to go on this trip,” said Brenda O’Brien, an Operation Smile volunteer from Ireland, when she discovered Operation Smile would be participating in Pacific Partnership 2010. “I am looking forward to seeing the techniques from the different surgeons from all the different countries.”

According to O’ Brien, the part that means the most to her is getting the patients aboard, giving them a clean recovery room, and them knowing that they are getting the best treatment they can possibly get.

Operation Smile has provided free surgeries to children around the world since 1982. With a presence in over 50 countries, Operation Smile has helped children whose parents cannot afford to give them the surgeries they need. Today more than 145,000 children have been helped by the medical volunteers at Operation Smile.

The fifth in a series of annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors, Pacific Partnership 2010 is aimed at strengthening regional partnerships among U.S. government organizations, host nations, partner nations and international humanitarian and relief organizations.
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Viettel wins award for its Cambodian service

VietNamNet Bridge – Metfone Viettel, the Cambodia-based affiliate of Vietnamese military-owned mobile phone service provider Viettel, was named "the most promising service provider of the year" on June 10 by the global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, becoming the only representative of Indochina to be honoured in the category in the firm’s Asian Pacific ICT Awards this year.

Viettel inaugurates mobile phone network in Cambodia

VN sets its sights on dominating Cambodia’s telecom market

Telecom operators expand overseas

The award reflected international recognition of Viettel’s role in the growth of Cambodia’s telecommunications industry. The industry could now be ranked at the same level with other countries in the region and world due to the contribution of the Metfone brand.

Metfone Viettel director Nguyen Duy Tho said the award was earned by Cambodia’s telecommunications industry over the past few years, of which Metfone was just a representative.

"Metfone is honoured to bring pride to the country," Tho said. "I would like to express the sincerest thanks to the Government, ministries and agencies, people, customers and other operators for their support so far."

Metfone quickly became the leading mobile phone service provider in Cambodia after its introduction in the country last year.

In the past year alone, mobile phone density in Cambodia has increased from 15 to 40 per cent, with 120 base transceiver stations (BTS) and 1,000km of optic cable for every million people. Internet broadband use also rose from 0.5 to 2 per cent.

Cable infrastructure could now satisfy the requirements of 3G technology and provide free internet for 10 per cent of Cambodia’s schools.

"The award recipients have demonstrated their great success despite the difficulties of the economic downturn," said Frost&Sullivan partner and Asia-Pacific managing director Manoj Menon, adding that the recipients were the leaders of the industry in the region.

Frost & Sullivan’s ICT Awards were presented annually to companies that demonstrated the best practices in their industry. Past awards have often honoured firms from Japan, South Korea, South Asia and China, Frost & Sullivan said in a press release. This year, representatives from emerging markets were recognised, including Telkomsel (Indonesia) and Axiata (Bangladesh) as well as Metfone.

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