Total Drama Sierra, a new documentary from filmmaker Sadie Total Drama, has revealed its top five dishes for 2016, including three from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.
The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, delves into the lives of five chefs in each country as they navigate their way through the pressures of being a dishwasher and cooking for the public.
The films’ interviews with the chefs have given the film a different angle on the issues they face in the culinary world.
The five chefs are: Hla Lep, a Cambodian-born and trained food critic who is currently living in New York; Saigon, Vietnam’s capital; Khmer Rouge leader and former leader of the Khmer government, Gen. Pon Lai; and Vietnam’s current leader, Pham Tran, who is also currently living there.
The five chefs discuss how they were inspired by their experiences of growing up in the Vietnamese capital and their experiences as cooks at the top restaurants in Vietnam.
While the five chefs share many similarities, their respective cultures also have their unique quirks.
One notable exception is that Saigon’s Pham is Vietnamese, while Hla is not.
The filmmakers also noted that while Vietnam’s Vietnamese-American population is the fastest growing in the world, it’s still a minority in Vietnam, making the country a “hotspot for ethnic tensions.”
The five Cambodian chefs share their take on the best dishes from their respective countries and also how they manage to balance their daily lives while still making a living.
“It’s important for the chefs to be able to do that while also trying to be creative and to do things that are not so traditional,” Hla says in the film.
In Laos, Saigon and Khmer-American chef Nguyen Tuan, who currently lives in New Jersey, discuss their differences as chefs and as people.
“The biggest difference is when it comes to food.
It’s different,” Nguyen Tua says in an interview.
“When I was growing up, there was a lot of Vietnamese people.
It was a different world.””
The best thing is that the Vietnamese people have the ability to be their own chef.
It is more relaxed,” Hlum says.
“You can cook what you want, but you have to keep a distance.”
The chefs discuss their food challenges as they work to create dishes that are authentic to their respective places of origin.
In Vietnam, the chefs learn to cook with a combination of Vietnamese and Cambodian ingredients, and as a result, they must be careful not to use anything that is not native to their food.
“In Cambodia, there is a lot less culture in their food, so we have to be careful with what we eat,” Hluum says in a scene from the film, “but it’s a lot easier.”
In Laos and Cambodia, Hlums family and friends live in a village and share their meals in the same restaurant.
“Sometimes it is hard, but we are able to be a family,” Nguyen says in one scene.
“There are a lot more people there than in the U.S. They have a lot closer connection.
They are more accepting.”
In Vietnam, Nguyen and Hla, who are Vietnamese-Americans, share their experiences working in a small restaurant, which is located in the village.
“We can’t do anything but go to work.
I’m working because I love the food, but I also have to go to school,” Nguyen said.
“If we go to dinner, it is because we don’t have enough money to buy food, and it’s to feed the kids.”
While it’s important to balance the challenges of working in the traditional Cambodian way of cooking, it can also be a challenge to balance all of the other things that come with cooking: traveling, family, socializing, and the desire to be the best at something.
“I love food, I love being a part of it, but sometimes I feel that I am not able to,” Nguyen adds.
“So, it makes it tough.”
The filmmakers have released the documentary in English and Vietnamese on iTunes and Google Play.