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.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

You are hired!

As you may know, we have spent our last few days interviewing applicants for Cuca. Although we are still a couple of months away from being ready to open, we wanted to give enough time for our chosen candidates to get organized and, on the other hand, we had repeatedly been told about how difficult it would be this year to get good people so we decided to start hunting talents sooner than later.

We began our campaign by frantically spreading the news about our vacancies to every single soul we know in Bali. Our efforts seemed to pay off… we received more than 200 applications!!!! Once we selected the best ones, we organized the interviews to be held in two batches: a day for the candidates who spoke English and another one for those who only spoke Bahasa (the local language).

These two very long days were a complete immersion program into the Balinese and overall Indonesian culture. We learned about peoples’ lives, hometowns, families, priorities, dreams and aspirations, weaknesses and strengths. We shared our future plans and exchanged vows. It was an unforgettable experience where we met absolutely wonderful people and outstanding professionals. We understand now why Bali is all about hospitality.

Over the course of so many conversations, there were some really funny moments. Although the language barrier made them even funnier, for your reading pleasure we try our best to transcribe the highlights:

CONTEXT: (in brackets)

What is your long-term goal?
(Decisively) I want to run the world

Why should we hire you?
Because I love the way the restaurant name sounds: Cuuuu Caaaa

Why should we hire you?
Because I can make a football team for Cuca

You have left every job after only a few months. Why would we believe that you will stay longer with us?
Because if I leave another job, my wife will kill me. 

(The candidate had dramatic puffed hair)
If we hire you, will you cut your hair?
(Without hesitation) No, sir, sorry.

(First question interviewing a cook)
As you know, this job is about passion. Do you like cooking?
No, not really…

You are 37, right?
Something like that (actually he had no idea how old he was…)

(Interviewing a candidate for a cooking position)
In your CV you mention you are a Muslim. The problem is that we will serve pork…
Nice! I love pork! In Bali it is delicious!

(Our concept is Tapas, Cocktails and Desserts)
Why do you want to work for us?
I like Italian restaurants
I see… but this is not an Italian restaurant…
Oh, ok, I also really like French restaurants!

(First question interviewing a cook after a streak of many unsuitable candidates…)
Do you love cooking? 
Yes, I love. 
You are hired! 
(The candidate, confused, looks at Natalia, our assistant, to understand what is going on… Natalia is as shocked as him but reassures him that apparently he’s just been hired)

(The last question at the end of a great long interview with an older distinguished manager)
What are your ultimate goals for this job?
I want to become the General Manager and look at all aspects of operations.
But then a big hotel will be a more suitable place than a restaurant.
(Shocked) This is a restaurant??????

(Interviewing a lady with very little experience for a cook position)
We will need to extensively train so you will have to commit at least one year. Are you planning on having kids soon?
Yes, sir! We are trying! 
Ah, ok, I see….

(Someone in a similar situation as above)
You left your last job after only a few months. Why? 
I got pregnant. 
Are you planning to have another kid soon? 
No, I had twins.

(Interviewing a girl dressing improperly sexy for the occasion)
Why should we hire you? 
I am a fun girl!

Putting aside the laughs, the interviews went amazing. Cuca is very lucky to having found such great talents and more importantly, exceptional people.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

A day of silence

What you are about to read is rather shocking, at least for a Western mind that has only recently moved to Bali. Believe it or not, we are right now being held prisoners for the day.

Today we are “celebrating” Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, 1935 in the lunar ‘saka’ (Hindu) calendar. The island started to get ready for this event three days ago, when ‘Melasti’ kept Balinese busy. This cleansing ritual consists of taking all the God statues from the village temples to the rivers or the sea to be bathed and purified by the Neptune of the Balinese Lord, the God Baruna.

Last night was the climax of the preparation for the New Year as an island-wide exorcism ceremony was held at each village main cross road, which is the known meeting place of demons. At sunset we witnessed in shock how villagers paraded their fearsome Ogoh-Ogoh, monsters that symbolize the evil spirits surrounding us. Some of these giants are taken from classical Balinese folklore but all have fangs, bulging eyes and dramatic haircuts. The procession is illuminated by torches and accompanied by Balinese gamelan music.  At the end of the evening everyone starts making as much noise as possible and set fire to the Ogoh-Ogoh in order to get the evil spirits out of their lives or at least drive them insane…


Today, Nyepi day, the airport is completely closed, no travel is allowed, whether by motorized means or by foot, all household electricity is banned and any kind of noise is forbidden. It is a day for introspection and reflection for Balinese families and the most traditional ones even abstain from talking to each other for the whole day. There are no shops or businesses open at all, the only exception being emergency medical services. The only sign of life on the street is the menacing sight of the Pecalang (village police) who patrol the villages in search of wayward locals trying to sneak out but will also firmly escort curious tourists back to their hotel. As you see, a very accomplished production whose only purpose is to ingeniously fool the evil spirits, aroused by the noise last night, into believing that Bali is completely empty so they leave the island.

A true day of silence in which the entire island, populated by over 3 million, quite literally resembles an eerie, post-apocalyptic world with not a soul to be seen, or a voice to be heard. This could only happen in Bali…

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Carving Cuca

In this post I am going to share with you the very interesting process of getting some of Cuca items engraved with our logo. The idea was always in our mind but we did not know how difficult it would be to make it happen. After trial and error (you may remember my post about laser engraving) and being painfully stubborn to get it done no matter what, we found someone who specializes in ceramic and stone engraving with a different method: sandblasting. This new supplier, Pak Nyoman, had never worked on wood before but we managed to convince him to give it a try. The first sample was not good (that was one of our black days…) but trying some wild ideas led us to the perfect result.

For those of you interested, this is the detailed process:

Our logo

1. Sandcarving starts by making a sticker with the image to be carved, this time our logo.

Girls placing the stickers in the exact spots

2. The sticker must be placed in the right spot on the “parent material”, in our case wood and stone.

Item protected with tape

3. The whole item must be protected with tape to prevent any blasting damage.
Applying heat on the items

4. To apply heat to get the protective tape and the sticker completely adhered to the parent material.

5. A worker takes the item to a blast cabinet where he propels an abrasive sand-like substance onto the surface of the sticker.
Blasting in progress

Engraving on stone
Engraving on wood
6. The abrasive carves the surface only in the open areas of the stencil, while the areas covered by the tape remain untouched.

7. The desired color (if any) is applied on the carved area. As you can see, the supplier has already mixed our color and applies it by spraying it on the logo.

Applying color

Result on stone

8. Once it is dried, the tape is removed and the parent material is cleaned, even scrubbed. This proves that the engraving pattern and color are highly durable.

Washing and scrubbing 
9. The process ends by checking each item one by one to make sure it is spotless and ready to be delivered.

Quality Control 
Result on wood

We felt very fortunate to be invited to attend to this entire process and we wanted to bring you along and make you “accomplices” in yet another step in the making of Cuca.