There is something about Bali.
Beyond the sun, sand and surf, this legendary Indonesian island is a special place of balance. The Balinese live by an age-old Hindu philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, which encourages three harmonious relationships—with God, with each other and with nature.
This delicate interconnectedness is revered and reflected in the everyday aspects of Balinese life, including the way food is treated. This simple philosophy has seduced and captivated many, including the islands farmers—and in turn its chefs.
‘It’s about knowing where your vegetables come from… connecting with your local farmers.’
Eating fresh and local is not a fad or a trend in Bali; it’s a way of life. It’s how the Balinese have lived for decades, blessed with verdant rice fields, rich volcanic soil and a mild tropical climate.
From the ground up
It’s a wet and windy morning at Plaga Farm, up in Bali’s cool, misty highlands and I’m walking with Chef Jack Yoss as he inspects rows upon rows of pesticide-free hydroponic lettuce.
The impressive four-hectare farm belongs to an innovative Balinese grower, Gede Bingin Mustika, who practices hydroponic technology and cold chain logistics.
‘I met Gede through his brother who runs Taco Casa, one of my favourite restaurants in Bali,’ says Yoss. ‘Their food is always delicious, fresh and consistent. I later discovered that their vegetables came from Gede’s Plaga Farm.’
Director of Culinary at the W Bali – Seminyak, Yoss is a driver of the locavore movement and uses locally grown produce on his menus. He makes the journey up from Seminyak to get to know the farmers and inspect his produce.
‘It’s what we are doing right here, right now,’ Yoss munches, popping a few Salanova leaves into his mouth.
‘It’s about knowing where your vegetables come from, visiting the farms, connecting with your local farmers, being flexible to what they can grow and basing your menu around that.
‘Obviously, the seasonality is different here. Some things are not as readily available as in Europe and America,’ he continues.
‘You have to thrive off those challenges and be more creative and smarter with your menu.’
Gede specialises in growing high-quality vegetables including tomatoes, herbs and the prized Salanova lettuce to meet the demands of Bali’s high-end hospitality industry.
From Chips to Lettuce
As we move to Gede’s second farm in Bedugul to check out his tomatillos, Yoss explains how he went from being a high school drop out to working in Michelin kitchens.
‘I was a bad kid. I moved out when I was 15 years old, quit school and started as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Las Vegas,’ he recalls.
He finally landed a job as a saucier for Wolfgang Puck at Chinois Restaurant in Caesar Palace, and worked his way up to become Chef de Cuisine for Puck’s famous Postrio restaurant in San Francisco.
‘I love working in the kitchen: the atmosphere, the hard work, the culture and the camaraderie…it’s like a second family,’ Yoss explains.
‘The young Balinese chefs are fantastic! They are always eager to learn how to do things properly and embrace that knowledge when you’re teaching.’
‘I was a bad kid. I moved out when I was 15 years old’
Mario Batali once said: ‘Food, like most things, is best when left to its own simple beauty.’ And at W Bali – Seminyak, the produce is the star.
Yoss’ menus reads like an epicurean love affair between Asian street food and Balinese ingredients in their just-picked glory, with a sprinkling of Michelin stardust.
Tomatillos are the heroes of an heirloom tomato salad, with soft tofu, truffle ponzu, seaweed salt and cucumber.
Fresh baby vegetables sit alongside roasted Bedugul duck breast glazed with Bali honey, leek ash and cauliflower purée.
The passion for local produce is palpable. It produces cuisine that’s much more than just farm to table: It’s heart to plate.
‘I think a lot of people haven’t found their passion,’ Yoss says. ‘Work is not just work for me; work is also my life. I cannot think of anything else I’d rather do,’ he confesses.
Do you buy your fresh produce direct from Bali’s farms? Let us know with #momentumtravel.
Photos: Alamy and Meliana Salim