Friday, July 19, 2024

‘Cambodian Cowboy’ to lead Cambodian New Year in Long Beach across three days; ends with food festival


Chef Chad Phuong—the “Cambodian Cowboy” that has brought his Battambong BBQ popup to both regional and national recognition—is no slack when it comes to the annual celebration of the Cambodian New Year in Long Beach: Across three days beginning on Friday, April 5 at Ten Mile Brewing, he will host a variety of events that culminate with a food festival at Trademark Brewing that will be hosting some of the city’s best representation of Cambodian and Cambodian-American entrepreneurs and food creators.Cambodian New Year Long Beach

“Celebrating Cambodian New Year is one of the most humbling time of year for me and others,” Phuong said. “Battambong BBQ partners with Cambodian and Cambodian-American businesses and our awesome partners in the brewery industry to create a safe and harmonious space of culture, food, and brew.” Cambodian New Year Long Beach

That sense of partnership? It has always been a part of Phuong’s spirit: He created a Khmer lager with Ten Mile Brewing for Cambodian New Year and also held a Cambodian New Year celebration at Trademark Brewing as well—both of which are happening again. And then he partnered with Three Weavers for another beer collaboration. He partnered with Ten Mile again for their own own Cajun food celebration, creating a crawfish boil that was a complete deviation from his barbecue (but honored his roots in creating a crawfish culture among the Cambodian community here when he was first dabbling into professional cooking). He stepped into the world of Mexican cuisine by collaborating with Chef Ulises Pineda-Alfaro of El Barrio Cantina for a special Mother’s Day dinner.

cambodian new year long beach
The Cambodian New Year parade in Long Beach is an annual tradition for both Khmericans and non-Cambodians alike. Photo by Brian Addison.

Why is the Cambodian New Year in Long Beach so important for the community? Cambodian New Year Long Beach

For the Cambodian community, the celebration of the Cambodian New Year in Long Beach (or wherever they may be) is much more than a resolution-driven, time-to-better-one’s-self mentality that is common in the American celebration: It is a three-day honoring of the heavens and cleansing one’s self while recognizing the past, the present, and the future.

“The first day is marked by the angels coming down to us, opening up the new year for us, where we offer the deities gifts; the second is honoring our ancestors and our parents, washing their feet and asking for their forgiveness and guidance toward navigating the future; and the third day is an all-out celebration,” said Phuong. “There’s a lot of different, complex elements which is why it is spread across three days—and it’s why I want to invite all of Long Beach to share the experience.”

This deep tie to his culture—one that has prompted Phuong to create a Cambodian New Year celebration for the third year in a row at Ten Mile Brewing Co. in Signal Hill come Friday, April 5 and his larger party at Trademark post-parade on Sunday, April 7—was something that wasn’t necessarily always tied to his understanding. Cambodian New Year Long Beach

“I invite people from all backgrounds to experience my culture because I am always so honored when they invite me to share theirs.”

Given the Cambodian New Year aligns with typically with the Easter season, Phuong’s memories of the Buddhist new year are filled with grabbing easter baskets from Walmart, converting them to offering plates for the altars, and going to El Dorado Park to “celebrate”—though he wasn’t quite sure what he was celebrating. Cambodian New Year Long Beach

“Over here, as compared to Cambodia itself, the celebration is very commercialized, even politicized,” Phuong said. “The celebration in Stockton is one that really inspired me; it’s very country-like, as in what they actually do in Cambodia. There are statues and altars, each with a story that you get to tell your kid about. It helps us pass it down… For me, being Americanized for so long, our little celebration at El Dorado Park had me asking more questions than understanding: ‘Why are we doing this again?’ It’s taken me a bit to really grasp it.” Cambodian New Year Long Beach

As a child, no one really explained to Phuong the deep, deific symbolism behind the celebration nor the rich cultural value attached to it—something the massive celebration in Stockton taught him: There, he was enlightened on his family’s heritage that was almost entirely ignored while being able to offer the younger generation here in Long Beach a space to reconnect to their roots, just as Phuong did. Cambodian New Year Long Beach

That fairly new grasp of comprehension really took a hold on Phuong’s character—both spiritually and in the presence he wishes to develop for his community—to such an extent that he decided to invite people to his barbecue popup at Signal Hill’s Ten Mile stellar brewery space to take part in the final, third-day stretch of the celebration in 2022.

The result? Hundreds of people descending onto the tiny-but-mighty space off of Willow Street in Signal Hill, bombarding both Phuong’s wildly popular barbecue popup and the nationally-recognized brewery. Cambodian New Year Long Beach

“Chad approached us about it and we said, ‘Cool, sure, sounds great’—and then suddenly, 700 people were here,” Jesse Sundstrom, co-owner of Ten Mile said laughing when talking about the event last year.

2023 was unquestionably a smoother and much larger year: Ten Mile hosted their Khmer rice lager launch as they will again this year and a much larger party at Trademark Brewing occurred post-parade, as it will again this year.Cambodian New Year Long Beach

Yes, there will be some different happenings at this year’s Cambodian New Year festival in Long Beach Cambodian New Year Long Beach

The kick-off party at Ten Mile will include (finally) a pizza collaboration between Battambong BBQ and Ten Mile: Oh yes, Phuong’s famed twako sausage and pork belly will be combined onto a single pie.

“My smoked pork belly was a big hit with Rodney Scott when he came to out visit,” Phuong said, noting the famed James Beard winner and barbecue pit master. “It was an honor to show him how I made it.”

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This is on top of the Khmer rice lager—a beer so drinkable that The Auld Dubliner has asked for a keg to serve in their own space after its General Manager Jason Scott tasted it at the home brewer’s festival earlier this year.

Saturday will be a long day: From 8AM to 10PM, the 2024 Long Beach Sankranta festival will take place at the Pacific Coast Campus of Long Beach City College. You can expect Phuong to not just bring his barbecue but his crawfish boil back.

Trademark Brewing on Anaheim, just past the westernmost edge of Cambodia Town, will be the place where it all culminates post-parade on Sunday, April 7: From noon to 6PM, Phuong has curated the best of the best when it comes to Cambodian-led food being created in Long Beach.

We’re talking the return of Chef Beeline Krouch’s Chinitos Tacos to the celebration (who sold out early last year so come prepared) and his perfectly fusion-ed out take on the tiny-but-mighty taco. The chicken wing king himself, Chef Hawk Tea of Shlap Muan, bringing his. Vera, the woman behind Ida’s Sweets, will be offering her masterful ube and pandas creations for those with a sweet tooth. Kreung Kitchen, the popup growing in popularity in Culver City, will be on hand with their skewers (and maybe even some porridge?). Shady Jerky. Cowboy Pepper Chips. Soapko. This and more.

It is a beautiful melding of some of Long Beach’s most beloved Cambodian-centric businesses with its equally beloved beer culture and residents—something that is worth celebrating throughout the year.

Bring it.

The kick-off party for the Cambodian New Year will take place at Ten Mile Brewing Co., located at 1136 E. Willow St. in Signal Hill, on Friday, April 5 from 12PM to 9PM. The formal Cambodian New Year celebration will take place on Sunday, April 7 at Trademark Brewing, located at 233 E. Anaheim St.

For Brian Addison’s full feature on Chef Chad Phuong for Eater LA, click here.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.


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