Bernard Garth Hartzenberg - Executive Chef at Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection

Bernard Garth Hartzenberg – Shinta Mani

Bernard Garth Hartzenberg – Executive Chef at Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection

In this interview, Bernard Garth Hartzenberg, executive chef at Shinta Mani Wild—A Bensley Collection—shares his insight into the hospitality industry and some exciting projects at the camp.

What do you do?

I am the Executive Chef at Shinta Mani Wild – A Bensley Collection.

How did you get into the industry?

From an early age, I found myself immersed in the culinary world, cooking alongside my parents and relishing the meals prepared by my grandmother. Only later in life, as I matured beyond my years, did I choose to pursue a career in the culinary industry. Pursuing studies in hospitality marked a transformative opportunity for me. Following college, with a clear sense of identity and purpose, I embarked on a journey that brought me to Cambodia. This chapter of my life represents the realisation of my heartfelt aspirations, born from past struggles, and a deep desire to contribute meaningfully, not only to my own life but also to my family.

Share with us a story from behind the scenes.

Behind the chef’s jacket, I am a devout follower of Jesus Christ, acknowledging His sacrifice and declaration of completion. Additionally, I am a dedicated husband to a remarkable partner who wholeheartedly backs my career decisions and believes in me unconditionally. As a father, I cherish my angelic child above and my beloved daughter and her mother. I am an ordinary individual with a strong conviction in uplifting others, advocating for the marginalised, and extending love and empathy to those requiring support.

What food memory from your childhood or travels stands out?

I am reminded of the nostalgic comfort associated with “Vaal kos,” a traditional dish prepared by older generations. Recollections surface of my father’s aromatic spicy stews, late-night sessions crafting fried potatoes in a skillet, and my mother’s delectable KFC-style chicken and macaroni and cheese. Amidst my travels, the allure of a lovingly prepared, authentic home-cooked meal holds a special place in my heart.

What’s the best/ worst part of your job?

The most rewarding aspect of my profession is the opportunity to perceive the world from diverse perspectives and immerse myself in first-hand experiences. Collaborating with exceptional individuals and embracing various cultures enriches my journey. Conversely, the culinary path can be solitary, particularly in the early stages when aspiring to establish oneself in this competitive industry. Recognising the mental toll it can take, acknowledging the sacrifices made, and trusting that challenges are temporary is essential.

What’s one of Bernard Garth Hartzenberg’s favourite food and beverage pairings?

A “Jive Pineapple Spike” and a “Masala Steak Gatsby” represent familiar comfort foods reminding me of home.

What’s one of the most distressing things you’ve seen behind the scenes?

One of the most distressing occurrences within this industry has been the impact of COVID-19, leading to the closure of numerous chefs’ businesses abroad. These chefs had invested considerable efforts alongside their families in establishing their enterprises, only to face the daunting prospect of returning to their home countries with no assets to their name.

The perfect day off would …

… involve quality time with my wonderful wife and daughter. We would begin by sharing a family meal, followed by leisurely strolls along the beach or a refreshing swim. To conclude the day, we would ensure our energetic one-year-old is settled, as she tends to resist falling asleep at night due to her continuous playful antics and chatter.

A day in the life of Bernard Garth Hartzenberg is …

a whirlwind of activity, creativity, and passion for food. From the crack of dawn, a chef’s day begins with a flurry of preparations – sourcing the freshest ingredients, crafting new recipes, and perfecting culinary techniques.

As the day progresses, the kitchen comes alive with the sizzle of pans, the aroma of herbs and spices, and the clatter of utensils. Each dish is carefully plated with precision and artistry, a reflection of the chef’s skill and dedication to their craft.

Amidst the hustle and bustle, there are moments of quiet focus and intense concentration as the chef strives for perfection in every dish. From experimenting with new flavour combinations to mastering classic techniques, a chef’s day is a constant journey of learning and growth.

As the day draws to a close, the chef’s satisfaction comes not just from the delicious meals they have prepared but also from the joy and satisfaction they bring to those who partake in their culinary creations. A day in the life of a chef is a labour of love, a symphony of flavours and textures that culminates in the art of a well-prepared meal.

What does Bernard Garth Hartzenberg do for fun?

I value spending time with my family whenever they are present. Additionally, my passion for music often leads me to create mixes or listen to it throughout the day. I also make it a point to keep in touch with my loved ones, reflecting on cherished memories and shared experiences.

What would you like guests to know about the hospitality industry?

No experience is perfect, so being kind and empathetic is essential, especially considering our industry’s challenges. When travelling, try to keep your expectations flexible, focusing on experiencing and learning rather than approaching places with a mindset that may lead to mistreating staff.

How have you grown in your profession? What are your key learnings from your start in the industry until now? Any misconceptions?

I have evolved into the chef I aspired to become, witnessing first-hand how certain leaders mistreat their staff in a manner that contradicts my beliefs. I firmly uphold the principle of treating all individuals equitably, with the same dignity that I expect to receive. One prevalent misconception within the industry is the assumption that every chef is proficient in preparing all types of cuisine and earns a substantial income. This notion is far from the reality of the profession.

What would you like people to know about being a chef as a profession?

Chefs are culinary artists who bring creativity, skill, and passion to the kitchen. Beyond just cooking, being a chef is about understanding flavours, techniques, and ingredients to create delicious and visually appealing dishes. It requires discipline, organisation, and the ability to work well under pressure.

As a profession, being a chef can be incredibly rewarding. From working in top restaurants to owning your own catering business, there are many avenues to explore. Chefs often have the opportunity to travel, learn about different cuisines, and constantly push themselves to innovate and improve.

However, being a chef also comes with its challenges. Long hours, physically demanding work, and high-pressure environments are typical in the culinary world. To succeed in this competitive field, chefs must have a strong work ethic, attention to detail, and a love for food.

Overall, being a chef is a dynamic and fulfilling profession that allows individuals to express their creativity, share their love of food, and bring others joy through cooking.

What’s your view on the food scene in Cambodia?

The food scene in Cambodia is a vibrant and exciting world filled with unique flavours and culinary traditions. From bustling street food markets offering delicious and affordable meals to high-end restaurants serving exquisite Khmer dishes, Cambodia’s culinary landscape is a true feast for the senses.

Local chefs in Cambodia are known for their creativity and skill. They blend traditional Khmer ingredients with modern cooking techniques to create innovative and delicious dishes. Many chefs draw inspiration from Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage, incorporating flavours and spices that have been passed down through generations.

One of the highlights of the chef scene in Cambodia is the emphasis on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. From fragrant lemongrass and aromatic kaffir lime leaves to plump river prawns and succulent Kampot pepper, Cambodian chefs take pride in using the best quality produce to create mouthwatering dishes that showcase the country’s diverse culinary heritage.

Whether you’re exploring the bustling food stalls of Phnom Penh, dining in a chic restaurant in Siem Reap, or taking a cooking class in a rural village, the chef scene in Cambodia offers a truly unforgettable gastronomic experience that will delight food lovers from around the world.

What practices do you currently implement or hope to implement to work towards social responsibility and sustainability in the future?

Current: The zero waste concept entails utilising on-property fertilisers derived from waste to sustain our farm, fly farm, and chickens. Our commitment extends to cultivating the majority of vegetables featured on our menu through our on-site farm, hydroponic farm, and hydro towers in collaboration with local suppliers.

For the future: We are considering launching a biogas project and investing in sustainable packaging and storage solutions from our kitchen suppliers, eliminating plastic and Styrofoam use entirely. Additionally, plans include establishing a butterfly farm, producing our charcoal, implementing water fern projects to sustain our livestock, increasing our poultry population to provide eggs for guests, introducing sustainability initiatives to the community, and collaborating closely with on-site staff to set exemplary standards. Furthermore, we aim to enhance the quality of dry store ingredients for our employees by eliminating the use of MSG.

Kitchen social responsibilities and sustainability, factors like reducing food waste, using energy-efficient appliances, supporting local farmers, choosing sustainable packaging, ensuring fair labour practices, ethically sourcing products, and minimising single-use plastics are crucial. These actions contribute to a healthier planet and a more equitable society.

What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months?

In the kitchen, our focus will be on enhancing our existing menus, delving into more fermentation projects, and crafting homemade products. A significant portion, 95 per cent, of our menu offerings encompass homemade dishes, ranging from spices to sauces. Our objective includes narrowing down our current 25km radius menu to a 15km radius, aligning with our new agricultural ventures. Furthermore, we aim to compile a recipe book featuring our guests’ favourite dishes from the past year, responding to the consistent daily recipe requests.

Read more interviews like this with Bernard Garth Hartzenberg to learn more about careers in the hospitality industry here. Stay updated with the latest gourmet and travel recommendations with The Yum List on Facebook here and The Yum List on Instagram here. 

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