Joannès Rivière was born and raised near Roanne, a small town in the Loire department in France, famed for its gastronomy. He was immersed in the culinary industry from an early age through working in the family restaurant run by his father who also grew and supplied vegetables to the world-renowned three-star Michelin restaurant, La Maison Troisgros. It was from this backdrop that the importance of using local fresh quality produce became ingrained in the young Joannès – a principle which has never left him.
At the age of 18, Joannès set his sights on becoming a chef, and so spent three years completing an internship at his local technical institute of cooking, graduating with honours in 2001. He then promptly set off for the U.S. where he honed his skills as a pastry chef for two years in Nantucket Island and Philadelphia.
After his stint working very long hours in the U.S., Joannès fancied a change of scene. It was at this point in 2003 that he learned of a vacancy for a volunteer cookery teacher at the French NGO-run Sala Baï Hotel School in Siem Reap. Joannès jumped on the opportunity and subsequently taught cooking and hospitality skills to underprivileged young Cambodians for the next two years. During this time, Joannès also wrote the school’s cookbook* - one of the first cookery books about Cambodian food ever to be written and internationally published both in French and English.
The next five years of his career, from 2005 – 2010, saw Joannès progress to and gain vast experience as Executive Chef at one of Siem Reap’s most well-known and prestigious hotels, Hotel de la Paix. Whilst there and stemming from his increasing affinity with the country’s local produce, Joannès developed the hotel’s pioneering dégustation menu, the first of its kind in the country to really showcase Cambodian food in this way.
Over his many years spent living and working in Cambodia, Joannès’ love and passion for Cambodian food grew, along with his desire to open up his own restaurant. So, after leaving Hotel de la Paix in 2010, and finding just the right location, Joannès and Carole opened Cuisine Wat Damnak in April 2011, with the aim of serving delicious and imaginative Cambodian food to locals, expats and travellers alike.
In the short period of time since its opening, Cuisine Wat Damnak has indeed succeeded in achieving what it set out to do and is now rated by its customers as one of the best restaurants in Siem Reap.
* The Sala Baï cook book is available in both French and English from Cuisine Wat Damnak. All proceeds go back into the school. In English: Rivière, Joannès. Cambodian Cooking. Berkley, CA: Periplus Editions, 2008. ISBN-10: 0794650392, ISBN-13: 978-0794650391. En Français: Rivière, Joannès. La Cuisine du Cambodge avec les Apprentis de Sala Baï. Arles: Editions Philippe Picquier, 2009. ISBN-10: 2809701407, ISBN-13: 978-2809701401.