Bridget Di Certo meets Sofitel’s new executive chef, with photography by Chatti Phal.

Craig Napper is bringing sexy back.

The Australian chef’s philosophy on food is one sure to make connoisseurs salivate in anticipation of his culinary creations. “My philosophy is sex on a plate — food itself. I look at deconstructing that plate to make it look sexy. I like to think if it tastes half as good as it looks, I’m going to love it,” says the new executive chef of Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra hotel.

“A lot of food has already been done,” he explains. “So you’ve got to challenge yourself, think outside the square. You need to look for a different way to express yourself.”

For Napper, deconstructing a plate means pulling out the flavours and textures that define a dish and presenting those elements as separate entities, to be appreciated individually for their bitterness, sweetness, viscosity or crunch. It creates a visually stunning and palate pleasing journey through a dish.

Having worked as a chef across Europe and Australia, Napper was itching for a reason to come to Asia, a region he believes has a significant and evolving cuisine culture. “I’ve always focused on contemporary food, in essence more contemporary French, but trying to bring other entities into that to fuse it a little bit,” he says.

“I think the one thing I love is to go off and play with desserts. It gives me a lot of satisfaction. If I’ve had a busy day and I do get the time to go and work in pastry, my brain starts to flow.”

For the new Sofitel menus created by Napper, 70 percent of the emphasis will be on Asian cuisine and 30 percent on European. Napper intends to collect influences and ingredients from around the region to diversify the hotel menus. He is already eyeing trips to Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia’s produce is limited, but of superior quality, Napper believes. In particular, the famed Cambodian pepper has stood out to him as an exciting flavour to incorporate into dishes.

And at the end of a busy day running around a new kitchen and a new country? “I still do 50 percent of the cooking at home,” Napper grins. “But that’s a time for the simpler stuff.”

Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

26 Old August Site, Sothearos Boulevard
Tel: 023 999 200