Saturday 14 December 2013

Waves of faces

Cuca’s opening marketing strategy was to focus ourselves on every single guest, welcome them with open arms and make them feel taken care of, spoiled by the food and our sincere smiles. We were determined not to advertise anywhere, firstly because after building the entire restaurant we were seriously broke and secondly because our thinking is: who is going to believe an ad someone has paid for? People believe friends or acquaintances who have tried a place and eagerly recommend it.

Things could have turned sour and we may have failed badly as we knew nobody in Bali so not even friends or relatives could help us out to start spreading a good word about Cuca... However our humble strategy and very hard and long hours of work slowly started to pay themselves back.

It all started by Kevin himself in full uniform fishing for customers among the tourists at the nearby beach (“Come, I will cook for you!”). Once convinced, they would walk in, sit down and be in awe with our food. I guess it is not that hard to exceed low expectations :). Most of them would return the following night and then promise us to tell their friends back at home, write something nice about us on Internet or share their unexpected find with their fellow hotel guests.

It was shocking to start getting guests recommended by previous ones… It was working! Our strategy was working! Then the power of Internet multiplied exponentially the chain of recommendations and the word of mouth started to cross borders. Believe me, it is still truly magical to witness day by day and first hand this phenomenon.

While tourists came and left, we started to recognize faces that kept on coming, every time with different company to show new groups of friends their recent discovery. We know each other by name and they are now our regulars.

At the end of October the tourist season significantly slowed down and locals took over. Guests from Jakarta or Bali timidly walked in knowing exactly what to order. It seems they always watch out for reviews about new places and wait for the tourist wave to leave before trying them themselves.

We are now preparing ourselves for a new tourist peak season: our first Christmas. We don’t know exactly what is ahead of us but we are ready to embrace this new chapter with our eyes wide open, a well-laid table and a Cuca smile that will make you feel at home away from home.

Friday 20 September 2013

PART 2: religion reaches Cuca

The altar in our kitchen
Religion has also invaded Cuca’s life. As soon as the first employee walks in, the “canangs” are prepared and placed around the restaurant: on our cars, on the main entrance, staff area, in the office, on the reception counter, etc. Special attention is put on the main “pecati” in our kitchen, carefully decorated and daily taken care of. The ceremony of blessing all the key locations takes place at least twice a day and the Balinese masterfully organize themselves to take turns to carry out these intriguing tasks. 

Our priest 
For you to understand the degree of importance of the spirituality in Bali, let me tell you about our “Mlaspas”. Our initial plan was to open Cuca’s doors for the first time on July 20. However, a brief consultation with the priest revealed that we could only request permission from the Gods to open Cuca on July 22, a full moon day. Our staff explained to us that it was unquestionable to open Cuca without divine permission, so it was decided by the higher power to postpone our opening until July 23 and celebrate our Mlaspas on 22. 

The “Melaspas” is a traditional Balinese ceremony meant to cleanse and purify a new building after it has been completed and prior to its occupation. This ceremony is held by priests, relatives, neighbors, friends, etc.  for the people who will occupy the building to feel at ease and avoid undesirable tribulations (pain, frustration, conflict). During the day-long intricate ritual, we asked the spirits of our coconut grove to consent us to carry out our business in their land. We fed them with countless offerings so they leave us work in harmony and Kevin and I witnessed the endless series of rituals participating as we were told. 

Feeding the spirits with offerings
Cuca staff ready for the ceremony
Cuca's ladies discussing the ritual
Blessing Cuca
Blessing Cuca
The main ceremony
Taking the blessed water
On the way to the beach
The end of the ceremony: in the sea
A few weeks later, on August 10 we celebrated Saraswati Day. This is a very special celebration in which the Balinese give thanks for the gift of knowledge, for the ability to understand human nature, to write and to read. We got up that day leaving our bedroom to find incense burning on all our bookshelves at home. Cuca’s office was equally scented and we were recommended not to write by hand and seriously forbidden to erase anything written.  Schools are closed on that day and students pray for the success in their studies. 

On the morning of August 24 Cuca was a very busy restaurant. Our Balinese staff was waving dozens of beautiful offerings made of coconut leaves. We soon found out that we were celebrating "Tumpek Landep", or the Day of the Iron. Originally this day was about giving thanks for the swords but it has evolved to all things man-made from metal: computers, kitchen equipment, cars… That afternoon when we briefly left Cuca for a meeting we were amazed by the wonderful decoration on our cars and smiled every time we came across to other cars in the road similarly decorated. How nice look the streets of Bali with so many mobile decorations!

The front of our car

It is not easy to find out why you are supposed to do or not do certain things on certain days. Balinese take these beliefs in such a natural way that when you ask them why this or that they just look at you surprised at your question. Trust me, no matter how much you ask, you don’t get a straight answer, they simply tell you “don’t worry, just make sure you don’t erase anything today”, what leaves you with no option but to follow…  Life in Bali is a constant enigma. 

Tuesday 27 August 2013

PART 1: Bali, all about religion

Religion in Bali is present everywhere and every day. It is literally a way of life where ceremonies mark every single step a Balinese takes and every event he or she experiences.

Hinduism came to Indonesia from India in the 5th century, was first replaced by Buddhism and later in the 14th century by Islam. However, Bali was the only part of Indonesia to remain Hindu and despite the foreign influence generated by tourism still until now Balinese people worship an elaborate array of deities: of fertility, fire, water, earth, sun, the mountains and the sea, gods and devils…

Several types of Canang
No matter where you are in Bali, you only need to look around to see signs of religion in every corner: the “canang” or traditional baskets reign over the island filled with the most unusual gifts to the Gods such as a candy, a tangerine, some frangipani flowers, a banana or a salak fruit, some leaves, even a cigarette! Balinese start each day by buying these items in their traditional markets, they then arrange them nicely in coconut-leaf baskets and finally they pray while placing them in strategic locations around houses or workplaces. These offerings are meant to thank the good spirits and appease the evil ones, keeping the balance between good and bad in the island.

Teeth filing ceremony
Apart from these daily rituals, ceremonies are a major aspect of the Balinese lifestyle and culture. From birth to death the Balinese celebrate a variety of milestones or rites of passage that they believe will guide the soul through the numerous stages of life. Some of these celebrations can be really shocking from a Western perspective, as it is the tooth-filing ceremony. This very significant ritual marks the step from puberty to adulthood for both males and females and it consists of filing down the canine teeth (the pointy ones) until they are even with the other teeth around them as they are considered animal-like and getting them shortened symbolizes the smoothing out of the animal aspects in a human's personality. If for whatever reason a person has not undergone this ceremony by the time he/she dies, then it will have to take place prior to his/her cremation, as the Balinese believe that the gods may mistake a human for a savage animal if his/her teeth are not filed.

Until recently, Kevin and I were exposed to religion in Bali just by watching the locals in their immaculate ceremonial clothes buying or preparing the offerings, walking to the temples, praying to holy trees... Or as we waited anxiously in traffic for a cremation procession to enter or leave a temple. Or when we witnessed from time to time the taking over of a beach by a group of worshippers to release their offerings into the ocean. But, as I promise to reveal in my next post, religion is now also part of Cuca and of our daily tasks and accomplishments. 

It’s time to go, Cuca’s dining room is filling up and dinner service begins!

Thursday 8 August 2013

Being a restaurateur

Although I have lots and lots of things to tell you about after my long silence, today I would love to share with you how does it feel to have your own restaurant. If you have been reading my blog from the beginning, you will know well the ups and downs of this year long journey. You will also remember the array of little details and great people involved in the making of Cuca so you will be able to perfectly understand me when I tell you that the opening night was truly magic. To see our guests walk through, touch, feel and taste everything we had so thoughtfully developed gives you the utmost feeling of accomplishment. The room around us that night was silently screaming “You made it!”.

Cuca´s first night

On that first evening we left Cuca exhausted but smiling and above all determined to tackle the second day of Cuca’s life with a long list of points that needed our attention and improvement: a bulb here and there, better signs for our guests to easily find the main entrance, a different selection of flowers, bigger candles for the garden and smaller ones for the oil burners, different lighting in the dining room, lower volume in the cocktail bar…

Kevin and I do pretty good getting things done but it is overwhelming to see that for every tick accomplished we discover another 5 new “to dos”. And whenever something seems under control, it just suddenly slips out of your hands and you need to reassess the situation all over again. One of the biggest challenges in the day is to combine our marketing efforts to get Cuca known with the daily operations of the restaurant. We know we have to do whatever possible to attract guests but at the same time we need to make sure we are ready to impress them so they return. Another tricky part is to be strict with our staff so they perform up to our expectations but at the same time to make sure they are happy and in good spirits to provide a heartfelt service for many years to come. You know that this is always difficult but it becomes a real challenge when you take into account that all our staff is new so we don’t count with the loyalty of any senior employees.

In a nutshell, to be a restaurateur feels like climbing a mountain every morning. You start full of energy and motivation, get going and easily skip the first obstacles, continue farther and start feeling a bit tired, go some more and begin feeling the pain and the weariness and when you are about to desperate…  you see the peak (the first guest of the evening) and forget how exhausted you are. You are at the top and feel great while admiring the view. By the end of dinner service is time to slowly pack up and descend… get home and feel a mixture of accomplishment and tiredness. And fall asleep realizing that tomorrow another mountain awaits you.

Sunday 14 July 2013

So we moved in… and then?

You may wonder what is it like to move into a brand-new restaurant and how do you start organizing yourself when all you see ahead is tasks to be done and people asking you what to do next. Well, in this entry I want to share with you what we have lived this couple of weeks and how are we are managing to keep the boat afloat.

Service team attacking their dining room for the first time
In theory the trick is to meticulously plan every step, although planning in the middle of so much activity is definitely a challenge, and so many things come up every other minute that plans vanish as we make them. For example, the first task to tackle seemed to be cleaning, although with what, where and when was not so easy to determine. Imagine a space still full of all types of workers (plumbers, electricians, aluminum specialists, glass contractors, painters, carpenters, etc.), all busy trying to finish up their jobs; on top of that, picture a restaurant made out of materials that look great but fragile and 50 people eager to jump on them and make them shine. We smelled trouble right away: if we armed our staff with all the cleaning tools we had, we would end up without cleaning tools and with a brand new restaurant seriously damaged. The solution? We got our management to coordinate with all the workers the status of their job, schedule when we could start cleaning and with what products to avoid any damage on the floors, glasses, doors, wood, etc.  Furthermore, we divided the team in smaller groups easier to manage. The next challenge we encountered was realizing that 50 people work pretty fast and jobs were completed faster than it took us to come up with new tasks… 

Briefing about receiving our first orders
A simultaneous challenge was the urgency of getting the office ready. We could no longer work from home as the cleaning and organizing required our full attention so we had to get the office at Cuca operative as soon as possible to start placing our first orders. In Bali every step is an adventure and trust me, to place an order is worth an entire novel.The system we had developed was straight forward: orders to be placed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12 to 2pm and deliveries to be received Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 to 12pm. We were so naive…Just to give you an idea, we are working with 32 suppliers and each of them has to be contacted through a specific way (some only accept orders via sms, some via the phone, some via email...) and they deliver “when they are nearby”. Fifty per cent of the products we ordered were “indefinitely” out of stock (the suppliers had no idea of when they would be available) and it seems that most prices change daily (depending on the price of petrol, if it is Ramadan or any other seasonal festivity, and some other factors we fail to grasp). To cap it all, most of the suppliers did not understand the names of the products we wanted to order as we were using either the English or the Javanese name (apparently different from the Balinese one) and since our staff was not trained yet on the recipes, they could not help us to find the right translation. 
The "receiving" drama
This process was totally a gamble. We were so afraid about the products we were going to receive… So the moment arrived when the first product was delivered: grapes from Australia. Fantastic. Cuca uses exclusively Indonesian products… We looked at the label in disbelieve and just when we were about to lose it, the magic of Bali took place:  in the midst of our upset explanations to the supplier repeating that, as mentioned when we placed our order, all products delivered had to be local, he, without any bad gesture whatsoever, took the grapes back and said he would come back "some time later" with local grapes. Similar situations took place non-stop during the entire week. I would say that 60% of the suppliers got the product wrong but each of them had no problem taking it back and either bring the right one later or tell us where we could get what we were looking for. Unbelievable. 

So receiving was a major milestone for us:  we learned the local names, confirmed suppliers and get our chillers organized. While placing and receiving orders, we were moving all the equipment and utensils from the store rooms to Cuca to get everything ready for the next step: production. I must say this is a piece of cake for Kevin so, luckily for us, no drama on this field. 
Cooks reviewing production for the day

In the office, once we got over the ordering we focused on communication and human resource matters: keys (there were just everywhere!), phones, air conditioner timers, internet, shifts, staff catering, uniforms, laundry, etc. Hundred little things necessary to get started. Regarding the service, we continue facing challenges as there are still quite a few details to be completed so a final cleaning has not yet been possible. Furthermore, we did not want our furniture to be damaged with the works still taking place so we have not unpacked yet. Fortunately, we are almost done and next week our service team will be able to shine by making our dining room as pretty as we dreamed of. 

I must confess that I feel dizzy when I think of everything ahead of us but looking back I understand that the secret is to take a step at the time. Tomorrow: cocktail production and tasting!

Saturday 6 July 2013

Cuca miracle

This is the longest I have been silent since I started this blog but my excuse could not be more solid. These last few weeks have been extreme and made full use of all my time and neurons. However, they have been absolutely unforgettable. It is funny how aware Kevin and I are of these magical days. We live every minute fully conscious that this dream is slowly becoming true right in front of our astonished eyes.

There were countless steps that took us here and along this way we kind of forgot that we won many of the little fights that we picked on to accomplish each detail. One by one we painstakingly tackled so many tasks that after a while you stop seeing the forest and lose count of the trees. Now the trees are through the art of magic being delivered to our front door and we spend our days unwrapping, polishing, labeling, searching in our dream the spot where we had imagined them and finally placing them there. A bit more to the right, yes, there!

So I couldn't stop myself and here I am trying to share with you this mundane wonder. I am not talking about the grand opening, or our first guest. I mean an extremely intimate moment in which you plainly see how thousands of hours of your time and sweat start to make sense and images that were somewhere in your mind are now real and in front of you. Cuca is made of so many conversations, sleepless nights, arguments, loving contributions, late night decisions and even accidental discoveries that it is truly magic to see how all these unconnected events embrace each other to make up something that for us is nothing short of a miracle.

That is what we experienced a couple of evenings ago when after the whole day busy at the restaurant site fixing this and that we realized it was already dark outside and all our staff had left. Taking a break from the chaos, we went out to see for the first time an almost finished Cuca, beautifully lighted and glowing like a new-born star. Only then we saw the forest, not the trees, and the feeling of having made it to this point and seeing with our own eyes this piece of our hearts now out there, real and reachable, is something that we will never forget and will forever take with us.

The moral we learned: try hard enough, it is possible.

Monday 10 June 2013

Nomad Training

Since 80% of our time now is occupied with our new staff, I guess there is no better topic choice for this post than our staff training.

As in all businesses, the first weeks for new employees are spent learning about their new company and training how to perform the tasks required.  The great challenge in our case is to conduct this training without having a restaurant ready where we could meet all our staff at once and go through all the topics they need to know and master before we open. But as they say, a challenge always gives you an opportunity to be creative and that is what we are doing.

Training at home
The first two weeks with no other space the training had to be held at home so we decided to focus on a small group: our management team. We introduced them to Cuca, the concept, the philosophy, our values, etc. Next step was to start reviewing and developing the systems necessary for everyday operations. Our intention was for the key team to be involved in this step as they need to understand and agree with the structure of the restaurant to be able to genuinely embrace it and explain it to their teams as something they themselves believe in.

Exam at the beach
For the third week we managed to get a small meeting room so we divided all our staff in two groups (kitchen and service) and got our managers to train these two groups on the topics we had previously trained them on. Kitchen trained on Monday and Wednesday and Service on Tuesday and Thursday. They had a day off in between to be able to study what they had learned during the lesson days. Friday was a big day: exams for everyone to make sure they were assimilating the content given. Is it very obvious I have been a teacher before? :) You can’t believe how handy my experience comes in…

Since we did not have a space to put 45 people, we held the exam at the beach (oh Bali…. ) and once the examination was out of the way, we spent some time getting to know each other and teaching our staff techniques to work as a team through funny  games.  A well-deserved break after a week full of theoretical lessons.

The egg toss, one of the games we played to practice team-building
This week we face yet another challenge. Our contractor says we are still one week away from getting in the restaurant so how do we keep our staff motivated to continue learning without being able to practice? Remember that the type of persons working in hospitality are very active people, used to a quite physical job. To keep them sitting down in a room for very long while listening non-stop to someone’s speech will eventually stop being effective so we came out with a new plan for this week: we have rented a function room and set stations all around it. We will divide the class in groups that will rotate from station to station to meet a different leader who will explain one single topic for 30 minutes. When the gong goes off, the group rotates to a new station. In this way participants will be exposed to a new experience every 30 minutes: the space will change, the students will have to physically move, the teacher is different, the topic a new one. The idea is to keep the family awake!

Well, we have plenty of ideas for this week but we really hope we can finally have a restaurant for the next one as we are all eager to move in to our new home!

Monday 3 June 2013

Jakarta Sprint

I had meant to write about our 4 intensive days in Jakarta a couple of weeks ago but our return to Bali is being so hectic that until now I haven’t had the chance to fill you in with the details of our trip.

Some time ago we realized we should go to Jakarta to promote Cuca as many of the tourists coming to Bali are Jakartians taking a break from the big city. We could only leave Bali before we open as once we start operations we will have to be present at the restaurant for a while before our staff can handle service independently. The right opportunity presented itself when a friend of ours told us about a cute bazaar she organizes from time to time where vendors can showcase their very special products. We immediately thought of Cuca Salts and confirmed our attendance. Since the bazaar was going to last 2 days, we decided to combine it with a couple of sessions to meet with contacts we had in Jakarta or friends of friends that were waiting to hear more about Cuca. We had lots to prepare and not having any equipment or staff available gave us no choice but to squeeze our brains and come up with a very simple but very unique program. 

Cuca Salts at the bazaar.
Photo courtesy of our friend and great
blogger Hans
I must say the events went much better than we could have expected. At the bazaar Cuca Salts were an overwhelming success and we were truly touched by people’s reaction to them. They listened to us for a minute, held the container in their hands, look at our colorful salt, smell it and immediately bought it. I was really emotional to witness this response as we had spent many painstaking hours developing every aspect of the product: picked up the ingredients, source the salt, design the package and even attach the stickers…

"Discovering Taste" Session
Photo courtesy of our friend and great
blogger Hans
The second part of our trip consisted of a couple of sessions to introduce Cuca. One of them was for expats living in Jakarta (a great friend of mine helped us with the invites as she loves food and so do her contacts) and the other one was for food bloggers and journalists. I must say we had a wonderful time with both groups and got enthusiastic reactions from the participants. The event started with an introduction to the concept of Cuca, followed by a very special master class called “Discovering Taste” (where we teach how to cook without recipes… More details to come in my next post) and we finished with a cocktail (Cuca’s Sun-gria) and our very unique Pop-corn Betutu. Betutu is a traditional Balinese dish consisting of chicken and spices. It’s hot, rich and extremely tasty. Our pop-corn version was a hit!

Everyone was extremely interested and supportive and we feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet great, passionate people who believe that Cuca will be a success. We left Jakarta energized and encouraged more than ever to fight for this dream. Friends, new and old, we are going to do everything we can to proof you right!

Cuca's Pop-corn Betutu. A hit!

Monday 27 May 2013

Cuca Salts

After a couple of extremely busy weeks, I am finally back to the blog as I can’t let the one more day pass without writing about our Cuca salts. You may remember my post “A salty trip”, where I told you about the ancient technique of extracting salt in Amed, in the East of Bali. We went there back in November to understand how special and unique this salt is and came back home with tons to start developing one of Cuca stellar products: Cuca Salts. 

Our idea was simple: infuse these sea salt crystals with traditional Balinese flavors. The result could not go wrong as the base product is the most amazing salt you can imagine. Produced 100% naturally in incredibly small quantities and slowly extracted exclusively from solar evaporation, the crystals are 4 sided hollow pyramids for reasons unknown until now. Gourmet companies around the world have noticed this magical product and sell it at incredible high prices but for us is easily available so we can offer it at prices you can afford.

The second step in developing Cuca Salts was to identify the most traditional Balinese flavors, those always present in the popular “bumbu” (Indonesian word for spices mixture or seasoning). Kevin studied them, began understanding their traditional use and grouped them for specific purposes: one mixture for poultry, one for seafood, one for veggies, one for beef and one for pork. 

The challenge was then how to take advantage of these unique ingredients completely fresh, as capturing the aroma had to be a key feature of Cuca Salts. Applying a secret technique, Kevin managed to produce a very special end product: a magic salt infused with the essence of Balinese deeply rooted ingredients. 

We offer 5 “touches” identifiable by their different colors and aromas, to be sprinkled over food either before cooking (a 5 minute marination is enough) or after cooking, just before serving. You use them as normal salt for any type of cooking (steam, fry, grill, boil, barbeque, etc.) and they save you the time of manually preparing complex seasonings or marinades. If you are on holidays in Bali, this is the perfect souvenir to bring back home: a take away little box with the soul of Bali that will remind you of this very special island while you enjoy your lunch across the world. 

For pork: sea salt, young ginger, turmeric and lemon basil.
For poultry: sea salt, chili, kaffir lime leaf and ginger flower. 
For veggies: sea salt, galangal, lemon grass and salam leaf. 
For seafood: sea salt, white pepper, citrus, vanilla and pandan leaf. 
For beef: sea salt, Javanese black pepper, garlic and kencur.

We offer them in two sizes: 50 and 80 grams at 38.000 (USD 3.8) and 48.000Rupiah (USD 4.8) respectively. 

The first time we made them publicly available was last weekend in Jakarta and within minutes of opening our booth we had sold 20, within 2 days we run out of stock. The weekend promotion made us realized the great potential of this little first step by Cuca. One more reason to come to visit us!

Thursday 9 May 2013

Caught on camera

Among the hundreds of things we have in our hands right now, we are slowly but steadily filming the making of Cuca. This won’t simply be a video about the steps we are taking to build our restaurant but will actually tell the heartfelt stories of the wonderful people we found along the way, what took them to the island of the gods and why they love what they do. Through their smiles we want you to see with your own eyes how special is every item we have handpicked for Cuca and how much care and thought is put behind each of them.

Kevin explaining how special our plates are

Raymond filming in full wing!
Pak Kicuk helping us with the
time-lapse camera as it must be
reset every day. 
We have traveled all around the island to film the locations where our veggies are grown, where our salt is extracted, where our wood furniture is sanded, where our fish is caught… We have also captured the skillful hand making of our plates, the engraving of our cutlery, the weaving of our furniture… We have interviewed the individuals who listened attentively to our ideas, shared with us their priceless knowledge and helped us to make this dream come true.

Also we are producing a time-lapse video of Cuca’s actual construction. A camera has been set in front of the site to take photos every 3 seconds so we can show you in only a few minutes how Cuca has grown from a mere seed in a coconut grove to the building we sketched what seems ages ago.

Although the documentary will only be completed after Cuca is finished, we are preparing a teaser that hopefully will touch your heart. It is just a week away, so keep your eyes open!

Saturday 4 May 2013

Cuca Kitchen: a dream come true

After years of working in all kinds of kitchens using all types of equipment, Kevin had the opportunity to design his own dream kitchen. The process has been painstaking, being forced to take on step back for every three steps forward and learning as we progress but we are almost there. All the key equipment has arrived and installation starts next week.

Equipment patiently waiting at our supplier's warehouse
Salamander broiler waiting for action
Since we don’t have real photos to show you yet, we are sharing with you the floor plans. They are supposed to be confidential, but we cannot wait any longer and after months following us in this blog, you are already part of Cuca family and deserve access to this piece of juicy information that is one of the main reasons why we believe Cuca will be one heck of a restaurant.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the one and only Cuca kitchen!

1. Main finishing kitchen: it is an open kitchen that allows guests to see what is going on from two sides. All equipment is waist-high so the view of the cooks and their craftsmanship is uninterrupted. It is a “show kitchen” because its only purpose is to finish dishes. Butchering, cleaning and all other messy jobs are done somewhere else. The magic of this area is its flexibility, its tidiness and its functionality.

Built around two islands with equipment accessible from all sides, it allows cooks to move freely from station to station. Every single piece of equipment has been chosen taking into account Cuca’s menu. These machines will ensure that the process of making our dishes is highly accurate and consistent.

Another key feature in our kitchen is the vast amount of chillers we have ordered… they will be crucial to ensure sanitation, cleanliness and an outstanding organization.

2. Hot pass: it is separated from the dining room only by a glass window so guests can witness the magic of putting together all the components to build up the final dish. It is strategically located so the Chef can access any of the stations if required.

3. Food bar: it allows a theatrical view into the kitchen and the lucky guests sitting here will be directly served by our cooks. Heat will not be a problem, we have taken care of it!

4. Back of the house: divided in an area for butchering, bulk preparation and cleaning and another one for dish washing. This space is key as it keeps ingredients away from the heat of the kitchen and prevents flavors from mixing. A chocolate mousse will never taste like garlic as it is prepared in an entirely different room.

5. Dry-store: usually inexistent in restaurants, it allows us to keep non-perishables at a controlled temperature and in perfect order. Inventory control is going to be a piece of cake! Next to it, you can see in the drawing a room for all the gas tanks. As you may already know, we had to change all our equipment to gas due to the high cost of electricity in Bali.

6. Receiving area: the place where all items received will be checked before being stored. Kevin has more ambitious plans for this corner in the future. It will probably become the cold kitchen for pastry.

7 & 8. Walk-in chiller and freezer: it is the Chef’s version of any girl’s dream walk-in closet!!! A refrigerated cube where you can uncompromisingly keep all items from the moment of receiving them without having to cram them in a small space. It also allows to purchase whole pieces of meat or fish and then cut them exactly as we want. Extremely useful for functions and priceless when obsessed with sanitation.

Hopefully after reading all these details you agree with us that this is going to be a magical kitchen for both staff and guests. In the next few weeks we will see this dream unraveling piece by piece. Literally.

Thursday 25 April 2013

East meets West

In case you don’t know it yet, let me break the news: Cuca will exclusively use local products. No, we are not planning to cook Indonesian food, we have simply spent enough time on this island to understand that Indonesia has truly amazing products that we can be served in Cuca within hours of being ordered. We want to offer food that starts from freshness and pure flavor and a simple look at the traditional markets that surround us pointed us in this brave direction. Why brave? Because Kevin is quite an amateur when dealing with products like snakeskin fruit, mangosteen, kencur, rambutan, soursop, fresh seaweed, nutmeg fruit, fresh coconut and many many more I will slowly introduce you to (or if you know them, you may find interesting to read what we do with them). 

A mangosteen
More challenges we face adopting this philosophy? No butter, wine, cheese, olive oil, liqueurs, winter anything, berries, etc, etc. 

The opportunities? Many, among which to be “forced” to discover a huge range of unique ingredients truly inspirational that work amazingly well when Kevin adds his skillful western approach and develops entirely new dishes. 

And if that is not enough, the biggest recompense is the reaction of the locals (used to western chefs proud of importing absolutely everything) when we tell them we only use Indonesian ingredients: they look surprised, then they silently reflect and finally sincerely say: “Huh, thank you”. And all our efforts are instantly rewarded. 

Sunday 14 April 2013

Cuca Cocktail & Garden Lounge

One of the main experiences Cuca provides is our very special Cocktail and Garden Lounge. The restaurant is being built in a gorgeous coconut grove and we want to offer guests a chilled out space to let the hours pass by while sipping our cocktails, sharing our tapas or indulging in our desserts.

While we discuss with our architect the material and location of the islands we want to build among the grass and the coconut trees to host the seats, we also had to find the perfect furniture to fit in this very special environment. As I mentioned in my previous post, we finally found the right supplier and this week we finalized the design, material and colors for both the furniture and the cushions.

We knew that synthetic rattan was our only option as the heat and the proximity of the sea would damage any other material; but what about the design? There are dozens of suppliers in Bali but all of them have practically the same models: very square and rigid. We wanted something that feels super comfy, more organic and natural and that was not that easy to find… After finding someone capable to make it, we went into the bargaining phase that eventually took us to a comfortable agreement. Next step: the color of the rattan, that we chose based entirely on our surroundings, the dark wood color of the coconut trees. 

And final decision: the cushions. This is where we became dumbfounded. We were compelled to decide between two options: go for a canvas material that is cheap but under the strength of this sun would discolor in only weeks and when exposed to this extreme humidity would inevitably mold… or choose Sunbrella. If you haven’t heard of this brand, welcome to the universe of the highest quality performance and most comfortable fabric in the world, the Ferrari of cushions. It is so, so good that comes with a 5 years guarantee. Can you imagine a tiny outdoor cushion exposed to sun and rain, dirt and seawater, with a 5 year warranty? It is insane; like its price. Two little cushions cost the same than the entire armchair. If we are talking about a loveseat, a back and seat cushion with two small pillows… we are talking about three times the price of the loveseat! Unbelievable… it still hurts as I write. To make matters worse (or better, it depends on how you look at it), our interior designers unsurprisingly chose the most amazing patterns that in Sunbrella world translate as the most expensive ones. Now that is for sure, they are outstanding to look at and to seat on.

In summary, we are now proudly broke owners of the most amazing Garden Lounge… beautiful and irresistibly cozy. So get your calendar and start booking your dinner with us!

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Let's talk about Tuesday

By now you may know the amount of work we have in our hands, although after writing so many posts, it may look like we must be almost there. Well, our life is only getting busier! To illustrate it, let’s talk about yesterday, Tuesday.

9:00am. First stop of the day: outdoor furniture supplier. We had been checking options but mostly hoped our designers would find something interesting in Jakarta. After weeks hoping and getting nothing finalized, we contacted one more supplier here in Bali. We met them yesterday, they took us to their factory and we loved what we saw. We discussed a few changes and are now negotiating the price. You know, it is always too expensive :)

11:30am. Cuca aroma: yes, we are still working on it! After countless visits to our perfume guru, we were not yet completely satisfied so to the dismay of the expert, we stubbornly continued trying options. Finally we are extremely glad (and relieved) to announce that yesterday we got the magic potion! We almost cried from happiness when after a powerful simultaneous inhalation we looked at each other and both of us were smiling… The ingredients? Green tea, honey… and more, but the rest is a secret.

1:30pm. Bali wine: Cuca will only serve local products and the challenges fulfilling this promise are quite many… For example, what to do about the wine? Can Bali wine compete with the French one? We decided it was about time to solve this question and started tasting local wines yesterday. The outcome was superb: between sip and sip we found the perfect angle to offer these wines (since Bali wines cannot and should not be compared to any other wines) and also tasted some great options. We have more to try tomorrow so give us a bit more time and we will let you know the final outcome!

It was then way pass lunch time but we were late for the rest of our appointments so we could not stop and instead decided to sin. Our lunch: a croissant, a cinnamon roll and an ice-cream (the best we have ever tried!). I still feel guilty so I won’t comment any longer but better continue with our action day.

3:30pm. Office equipment: construction is moving fast and we had to take a bit of time to get furniture for our back office. Something simple but practical and a bit nice (I am planning to spend very long hours there…): a long shared desk, many many bookshelves and a practical glass writing board. Check!

5:30pm. Printing crisis: initially we had found Nik, who has a little printing business, worked with him on a few small jobs and loved him, but you know… the grass is always greener on the other side… so we decided to try working with a huge printer. Take note: bigger is not always better :) Yesterday we went back to Nik, asked for forgiveness and renewed our vows. Huge day for both parties because we finalized our colors on all printing materials and confirmed many, many more printing jobs. Will share them with you as soon as they are ready!

7:30pm. Indonesian coffee: we must admit that this was never a problem. Indonesian coffee is fantastic, we are big fans. Yesterday our mission was simply to decide on which variety was the best among many good ones. We had found a boutique shop where coffee is local, roasted daily and superb and those are the qualities we want for Cuca, the best. We met with a great barista there who took the time to explain to us the varieties, their tasting notes, their own recommended blends… We left knowing we had found the right supplier, although not cheap. But worth it.

By the time we left coffee heaven, we realized we should have started the day this way instead of ending it with coffee because it was already 9pm and sleeping was not going to be easy. You see, every step of the way is a lesson we learn…

Thursday 28 March 2013

Giuseppe and the chocolate factory

Last weekend we experienced one of the many weird coincidences that keep on happening to us in Bali: we were completely lost in the middle of nowhere looking for an artisanal ice-cream shop highly recommended by a friend of a friend, when we stumbled upon a small bakery. Giving up hope to locate the much sought-after frozen delicacy, we decided to make it up with a croissant. As we were leaving the shop, we saw a hidden sign with the word “CHOCOLATE” followed by an arrow. This was quite shocking because Kevin is now finalizing his dessert menu and had unsuccessfully been looking for local premium chocolate manufacturers… so taking in the magic gifts Bali offers us daily, we followed a little path to what it looked like a private house… After at least 15 minutes wondering around the back yard  shouting “Hello!” the very same Signor Giuseppe Verdacchi made his appearance!

Signor Giuseppe with his special stone grinder

This Italian architect gave up his profession and has dedicated his life in Bali to produce the most amazing chocolate. Although abruptly awaken from his Sunday nap, he still was proud to share with us the details of the manufacturing process and the resulting product. If you are as curious as us to understand the making of chocolate, continue reading:
Dried chocolate beans

1. Cacao beans are organically produced and sourced
from the hills of Bali and dried at 70 degrees Celsius.

Photo from Primo Chocolate Website

2. They are then sorted by hand and crushed into small nibs and later separated from their skin using wind.

3. The peeled cocoa is ground for many hours in granite stone grinders (like the impressive one from the photo, custom-made for Mr. Verdacchi). This step continues until the desired taste, color and smoothness are achieved.

Photo from Primo Chocolate Website

4. Flavors are then added by a very traditional south Italian method: fresh ingredients (chili, orange, etc.) are slowly simmered with sugar to create an infusion and then cooled and crushed into small crystals that are finally added to the pure chocolate. The flavors do not mix with each other but appear in layers in your mouth as you eat the chocolate.

We left this chocolate oasis in awe. What are the chances of miraculously bumping into an Italian architect who makes chocolate following such a traditional, devoted method in a house surrounded by the Balinese paddy fields? Well, one more life story and one more passionate human being to be added to Cuca family.

Monday 25 March 2013

The curse of colors

I talked about colors some time ago when we were designing our logo and recently we went back to that topic to choose the best options for some restaurant items and our uniforms. We assumed this time around the task would be easier as now Cuca has a more defined identity. We are very familiar with the style and different tones associated with our brand so we thought that selecting the color for the uniforms, the napkins, the curtains, etc. would be a breeze. Once again, we were so naïve…

We had designed all the items so the next step was choosing fabrics. We made that decision taking into account the climate of Bali (the fabric for the waiters´ uniform had to be light and breathable), the wear and tear (the material had to be durable as the items would be washed daily) and the function of the cloth (kitchen uniforms had to be thicker to be protective, napkins had to be absorbable, etc.).

Although we had as reference our corporate colors, every material is available only on a limited range of hues and some of the fabrics offered a very small choice. To find our dark green was not too difficult but when we got into the enigmatic world of beiges… There were beiges a bit yellow or very pinky, more brownish or rather grey; light beiges or dark beiges or middle beiges; intense beiges or subdued ones…

Our interior designers wanted to help but they are based in Jakarta and although Internet seems to be the solution to all obstacles, a sample in our laptop screen had nothing to do with the same sample opened in their computer. So we went back to the good old forgotten mailing system and had colors crossing the sea one way and another. An exercise of composure and patience that took us slowly, slowly closer to our dream rainbow.  We are almost there now but every night we go to bed wondering if that lighter shade of beige would have been better…. The curse of choice.