Touk, the Cambodian pop-up restaurant that bravely took up residence in the kitchen of Old Montreal’s Parliament Pub and Parlour during the pandemonium of the pandemic spring, is winding down this week — but not without two final takeout events befitting the occasion.
Tomorrow, December 8, Touk will be supplementing its regular offering of Cambodian street food, with a five-course takeout menu and beer pairing. The takeout event will resemble one held last month with Dieu du Ciel, but this time comes courtesy of a collaboration with artist-led craft brewery Collective Arts Brewing from Ontario, where Yen grew up.
The menu opens with a snow pea soup and fish roll; is followed by a shrimp, cashew, mango, and mint salad; is headlined by a turmeric, and coconut-flavoured chicken and rice dish; and concludes with a brownie that carries over the coconut and ties in the beer theme with a spike of stout. As the menu unfolds, the beers bounce from a light citrus-infused blonde pale ale, to a rich New England IPA; a sour, hoppy beer is meant to intermingle with the Kroeung (a yellow curry paste of lemongrass, turmeric, and more) in the main, and for dessert, what else but a rich, chocolatey porter.
For Touk’s final night, on Saturday, December 12, Yen is trading in the beer pairings for cocktails and wine, but preserving the tasting menu format that first garnered him recognition during his tenure at now-no-more Fieldstone. “Our farewell dinner will be filled with heavy hitters demonstrating some interesting techniques. It’ll be very Cambodian, but also very Montreal,” Yen says.
Explaining why he’s been orchestrating these one-off tasting menus in addition to Touk’s everyday offering of Cambodian street food, even when pandemic constraints would certainly justify his scaling down, Yen says, “I’m just trying to show people that Cambodian cuisine has its own voice, ingredients, and techniques, and is just as deserving as Italian and French food.”
The idea for Touk had been gestating for some time — it almost got its start as a concessions stall at Time Out Market before Yen decided it wasn’t the right fit. But it only took shape once Parliament, where Yen was working as an executive chef, temporarily closed for the pandemic. “It was actually on my birthday that Kevin Demers [the owner of Parliament, and other bars like Cold Room and El Pequeño] had said to me, ‘Okay, if you think this is going to happen, I truly believe in you 100 percent. Five days later, Touk was born.” Within a couple of weeks, Yen made headlines internationally, including in Phnom Penh, and most recently in Bon Appetit.
Though this may be the end for the line for the Parliament-based pop-up, it certainly isn’t the last you’ll see of Yen — or even Touk. “There may be a comeback, but it’ll be a different version of Touk,” Yen says, hinting at ongoing plans for a potential beer shop in Pointe-Saint Charles.
The pop-up has emboldened Yen, who’s come out of it feeling — for the most part — encouraged by the reception to his Cambodian creations. “I knew that taking a chance meant that I would have to accept that sometimes things are just going to suck. People are going to say mean things, even people within your immediate community. We opened up during the midst of the pandemic and the faces and the racist slurs that I’ve seen and heard directed towards me just on the streets were really hard. But, I have to say, my biggest takeaway is that I have much more support from strangers than I ever really thought I did.”