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How This Local Culinary Force Became the Canadian Prime Minister’s Personal Chef

Chef Chanthy Yen still intends to cook for the Cambodian king, but for now he’s prepping dinner for Justin Trudeau

man looking the distance Brandon Beerwort/Supplied

Notable Montreal chef Chanthy Yen has a new vocation: He’s been enlisted to cook for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On September 21, 2021, the day after Trudeau won (but failed to secure a majority) in a snap election, Yen, who’s recently garnered attention for his Cambodian street food pop-up Touk and the menu at new Japanese-meets-Italian Chinatown spot Tiramisu, received an unexpected phone call about an opportunity to become the personal chef at Trudeau’s Rideau Cottage residence in Ottawa.

“I thought it was a joke. I was sure one of my friends was playing a ruse on me,” Yen tells Eater. But, it was true — someone had recommended him for the gig, and by December 13, Yen was reporting for duty.

Being the prime minister’s personal chef entails providing meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — for him and his family. Though Yen won’t divulge how Trudeau likes his eggs or takes his coffee, the chef says he can confirm that his Cambodian heritage has found its way onto the dishes carried out to the Trudeau dinner table.

“I see this as kind of giving back to Canada for allowing us into the country,” Yen says. His parents and grandparents arrived in Canada in the 1980s after fleeing a civil war-torn Cambodia. He grew up in Windsor, Ontario. “I inherited the cooking gene from my grandmother. And through this job, I could showcase the love I have for this country through food.”

The gig seems a natural step for the chef who just last year shared plans to cook for the Cambodian monarchy someday. That’s still happening, once the pandemic settles down, but for now, Yen says he’s focused on cooking for another world leader.

“I just feel so privileged to have this opportunity, and it means so much more to me as a queer, BIPOC chef. I’m doing it for my community.”

When Yen received the call, he had just moved from Montreal to Vancouver, where he was involved in opening the city’s newest vegan restaurant, Nightshade. But the government gig offered stability that working in restaurants hasn’t as of late.

So, is this the last the public will see of Yen on the restaurant circuit? Absolutely not: “Touk has to come back to life,” he says. Fortunately for Montrealers, he says he hopes that’ll happen here — where that chapter first began.