Canadian Zita Long opened Zita’s Bakery in Siem Reap in 2014, and his perfectionism meant that he spent little time outside of the kitchen during the past two years. Long became a bit of a local celebrity, and business boomed: crowds lined up for his crumpets, Berliners, apple crumbles and trademark sourdough bread.
But a little over two months ago, he left. Zita’s Bakery closed its doors.
“The last few days [before I left], I remember feeling very confused, and upset in a way,” Long says. “I was feeling hopeful, but also with a little uncertainty.” Long knew he would return to Siem Reap, but he wanted a break, and a little time to explore new trends and techniques. He took off for Perth, Australia, to reignite his passion for the trade.
Long is a young, self-taught baker. He developed his skills while living in Cambodia – where there were limited opportunities to formally learn the trade – and worked on a trial-and-error basis.
Perth was a city of self-reflection, Long says; it is quiet and, more importantly, close to Fremantle. There, Long had the opportunity to study under a retired bread-baking instructor as well as a traditional Italian baker, Nick Agostina. They spoke about technique – as well as their beliefs and values – and Long observed his process.
“I got to touch dough again for the first time,” Long says with a laugh. “I didn’t think I would miss it, but I did.”
The baker then travelled to Melbourne, which has its own renowned traditional baking scene as well as a batch of new bakeries with cutting-edge approaches. “The croissants and cruffins were tremendous,” Long says, noting that the queues were constant.
“I came back from Australia with an open mind,” Long says. He’s now scouting around for his next opportunity or collaboration: perhaps a bagel cafe. But nothing is set in stone, he adds. He’s not even sure if his sourdough is relevant anymore – or if it’s him or the town that have moved in a different direction.
One thing is for certain: if you’re in Siem Reap, you likely won’t go hungry for too long before his next plans unfold.
Keep up with Zita Long’s projects: facebook.com/ZitasBakery.