Friday 23 December 2016

Eat like a pro

Our tips for better restaurant dining:

1. Ordering 
Allergies aside, when placing your order never ask for something not on the menu. It will not be given the same care and attention and remember, the guy putting it together has probably never done it before. The result is food thrown on a plate failing to deliver any sign of deliciousness. It’s not on the menu for a reason…

2. Appetizers
Try sharing a few appetizers instead of a main course if you want to experience the best of a restaurant. This depends on the place but traditionally a main course must contain protein, vegetables, starch and sauce, while an appetizer encourages a more freestyle way of cooking and thus allows to really show the personality of the chef. Appetizers focus on pure flavor without a confined structure. For a delicious example of this freestyle cooking you may want to try a great tapas restaurant in Jimbaran, Bali we keep hearing about! 😉

3. Specials
Specials aren’t so special! The reality of a special is very simple: it is either an old product re-packaged for quick sale or a first attempt at an idea that probably will never be good enough to make the menu. Not a safe bet for an amazing meal. We don’t make specials in Cuca. Dishes are tested and made over and over again until we think they are menu-worthy, but never served to guests. Our recommendation is order the dishes they have successfully cooked a few thousand times on the menu rather than becoming the guinea pig trying the experimental dish of the day.

4. Reservations
When you make a reservation, ask for a good table. Even if you have never been to the restaurant before, there are always bad ones (noisier, with bad views, in a high traffic area, beside the toilet, etc.) and the staff knows what tables are really good and thus preferred by regular guests. Ask and you shall receive.

5. Being a real VIP
If you want special treatment, don’t demand it. Instead, thank the staff graciously when you leave. This will ensure next time everyone will remember you much better.They will be fighting to take care of the good guy rather than the angry one.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Eat Italy

After a seriously busy season in Cuca we decided to take a much needed break to charge our batteries. November is a quiet month for Bali and a great chance to travel, learn more about food and find new ways to make Cuca better. And as you can guess, the single most important criterion that determines our chosen location is that it must deliver ultra-delicious food. The world is a big place and some places are just tastier than others so the key is to find one of the very few that stand alone as pure magic; a place where menus read like foodie fairy tales and every bite leaves you feeling happy and accomplished, like you just saved a kitten from a tree. My friends… welcome to Tuscany!

The decision was made and off we went to travel through the enchanting labyrinth of towns, villages and streets filled with unspeakable perfect classic cooking made by people who hate innovation and despise trends. We knew very little of traditional Italian cooking as my foundation is mainly French food and all its glory. The Italian cooking I encountered up to now was simple food made to eat as opposed to French food which is meticulous, labor intensive, meant to be celebrated and praised and full of the expensive ingredients. Cheap French food never existed in my world where $1 pizza slices and stodgy overcooked factory fabricated pasta was plentiful and a big part of my student life growing up. Until now Italian food never jumped out as a culinary wonder to be explored but more like Europe’s version of fast food. However, I have come to realize once again as in numerous times during my 8 years of marriage, that I was wrong.

What I thought I knew about Italian food I now find embarrassing after shockingly discovering the huge enchanting regional world of slow cooked traditional dishes made with love. The most important lesson we have both learned is that none of the produce we found in Italy was new or imported; the Italians just choose ingredients that grow well in their backyard, respect how to farm them, when to pick them and how to prepare them. We are talking about only a handful of ingredients to make a dish and the result is full of flavor not from adding more things but from using the best available locally.  The tomatoes explode with rich sweetness from ripening in the sun, the olive oil is like green aromatic tree nectar sucked from mineral filled soil and even the use of garlic brings a new spice and excitement to a simple sauce. The secret is that there is no secret! People have gardens and use them, people buy and support farmers growing things following the old school rules of agriculture and people don’t take shortcuts when cooking. Homemade is the only way and the hard way is the right way. If you don’t have the time, don’t make it. I only need to evoke recent memories of the porcini lasagna with layers of velvety pasta and creamy woody mushrooms; the soft fresh lightly sweetened pillowy whipped mascarpone with shaved aromatic black truffle; the squid risotto that was oceanic and soulful; the wild boar ragu that filled your mouth with meaty goodness; the cheeses that left you arguing over the last piece and the cured meats that were sliced laser-thin and melted on the tongue with a salty, fatty, rich deliciousness that made you consider a permanent apartment next door. And please god let’s just not even begin with the wine as it all just becomes too much, too good, too short.

I am so sorry to Italy for my total lack of understanding and thank you Tuscany for rewarding my stupidity with your deliciousness. We learned a lot and as always what we learned we will use every day in what we do. Get ready friends as new ideas are currently being braised, cured, tossed and catalogued for when we hit Bali.

Monday 24 October 2016

Time out with Kevin

1. What is Virginia’s favourite meal that you cook for her?
Virginia loves simple Spanish food, so anything well executed and traditional always makes her happy. One of her absolute favourites is braised oxtail.

2. Who is the boss, you or Virginia? 
Easy question. Virginia is the director of Cuca. I am the chef. I play a role as all the staff do in the big movie of Cuca, but Virginia's job is to direct and make sure everything gets done and done well. You cannot compare the two jobs. Virginia is very good at conducting the orchestra and I happen to play an instrument well.

3. Favourite curse word in the kitchen?
"Hostia". The first word I learned in Spain when the chef of Arzak dropped his helmet on his foot. It hurt and he said "Hostia". We use it in Cuca's kitchen because no one understands it and we love our team and would never say anything to offend them.

4. Secret ingredient you love to work with?
Chilli. In large amounts it creates heat but in small quantities it gently warms the mouth and makes food exciting. Playing with spices like chilli is our weapon of choice.

5. Who influenced your cooking style the most?
Daniel Boulud. His food is delicious. Delicious food is the most important aspect of cooking. Everything else is wallpaper but taste matters the most.

6. A Chef whose cooking style you really admire and why
Christian Puglisi. He uses only a few ingredients to create a dish. I respect that, it shows maturity, confidence and respect for ingredients. It’s not easy to make very little, very good.

7. Worst kitchen nightmare?
Oh, where to begin. Today, this week, last month, or when? It must be when I forgot and overcooked a sole fish in Arzak. It was my birthday and Chef Pello put me in charge of cooking for a journalist table. I just tried to do too much and totally forgot about the fish in the oven. He spent the entire day yelling at me, literally a whole day. Just when it was time to go home he said “I bet you will never forget this birthday” he was right. Thanks Pello!

8. Favourite midnight snack?
Cereal. I love cereal. How not to enjoy the texture and excitement of it.

9. One culinary trend you wish would die already
Decoration without purpose.

10. Modern kitchen gadget you couldn’t live without
Blender. We love to puree things in a blender. Couldn’t live without it. If you took it away I wouldn’t even leave my house.

11. What do you do to relax?
Sleep. It’s a luxury now and has always been. Plus it’s free.

12. Future plans for Cuca (expansion into other locations/cookbook etc)
We will have another project next year in Asia. The location and details are coming soon….

13. Why Bali? 
Because it has magic and we as everyone else were just totally drawn to it. Plus Indonesia has a huge bounty of amazing ingredients to play with.

14. What do you love most about the island?
The people. They have such a balance in life and are genuinely happy. Very rare to see. Lots you can learn from Indonesian people about how to see problems and solutions.

15. A secret skill no one would believe you had
I used to rap. Like open mike freestyle rapping with my buddy. He actually ended up doing pretty well with it. For me now it’s just shower acoustics.

Whisky or wine?   Wine
Sugar or Spice?  Spice
Peanut Butter or Jelly?  Peanut butter, love bitter flavors.
Surf or Swim?  Swim, surfing requires time and skill, both of which are clearly lacking.
Apple or Android?  $15 Nokia, takes a beating and never dies

Wednesday 28 September 2016

What is it like to work in paradise?

We get asked this all the time. Guests come to Cuca on their honeymoon, celebrating their friend’s wedding or for their annual holidays and they look at us without even trying to hide their envy. Or we are leaving a hotel somewhere in Europe and during checkout the concierge asks “Where is home for you?” and our answer leaves him day dreaming.

Believe me or not, to live in Bali is a little bit of torture: we get the feeling every day that we are the only ones working on the entire island. Imagine your everyday life being the only one who has to work while everyone else is off...

Guests come in a great mood, drink cocktail after cocktail, tell you about the amazing massage they just had, are in no hurry for anything… It is only natural that they believe this is a paradise! And it is in many ways. It is true that the beaches are stunning, every single sunset is breathtaking, the weather is always warm and the people never run out of the most beautiful smiles ever seen.

But… this is a tropical island where by nature and tradition, you are not supposed to be in a hurry. This island is not compatible with deadlines and punctuality. “Tomorrow” means merely “not today”, if it is raining you may not get that delivery of tomatoes and a full moon takes priority over anything pending. Kevin and I spend our long days running and looking for immediate solutions to the non-stop crisis that arise while the rest of the island looks in awe (and actually in pity) at us, not understanding why we have chosen to be stressed in paradise.

And they are right! It seems somehow contra natura to go against the magical flow of the island and we must admit that we struggle between the temptation to succumb to Bali’s natural rhythm and our commitment to deliver a top quality experience to our guests because, although most of you are on holidays, you still expect us to deliver that truly great meal you came for.

Others working in Bali for longer than us do it much better as this island eventually teaches you, no matter how stubborn you are, to slow down, smile more and believe in the natural course of things. Live like there is no tomorrow and work like there will always be.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Creating Cuca dishes

Step 1: IDEA
Creating a dish for Cuca always starts with something we have eaten. An amazing product, fascinating texture or even grandmas' delicious comfort food, but it always starts from an unforgettable food experience.

For example, once in Boston we ate classic Cuban corn. A simple dish of BBQ corn with butter, lime, young fresh cheese and chili powder. We were so surprised at how naturally comforting and tasty it was that we felt we had to explore its possibilities.  

That food memory becomes a conversation to discover why it is so good, what makes it magic. This reason is then the starting point for a new dish.

So for the Cuban corn dish it was the salty soft cheese barely sticking to fresh grilled smoky juicy sweet corn, splashed with the sour kick of lime and the spicy mouth warming feeling of chili. Very messy, but very yummy.

How can we make it ours by applying our philosophy and of course using local ingredients to create that magic and convey a product's most pure form of flavor?

Using local 50 day old baby corn the whole thing could be eaten, not just the outside kernels, because what bothered us with the classic was how difficult and messy it was to eat.

The dish is slowly put together and carefully adjusted until it is both unique, powerful and balanced.

By gathering unique local versions of the traditional condiments and making a secret garlicky parsley sauce to stick well the cheese, we had our corn!

Cuca's Cuban Corn

Sunday 24 July 2016

5 Best Dishes Ever (according to Kevin)

1. Indian candy salmon
I discovered this when working in Alaska. The local fisherman would take the fatty bellies of the beautiful wild salmon and cure them in salt, brown sugar, garlic and black pepper and then they would hot smoke them causing the sugar to caramelize the fish. The result is serious deep amber, sticky, rich, salted caramel of fish with notes of spice. Making something so simple taste so good through technique is a lesson we apply every day in Cuca.

2. Percebes 
The intriguing percebes
Unusual and actually very unpleasant in appearance, the rock barnacles from the coast of Galicia (Spain) are literally worth their weight in gold. People die every year navigating down the sheer cliffs to collect them from the rocks during those brief moments the tides swings out before viciously crashing back. Quickly boiled for 30 seconds, the meat is tender, subtle, oceanic and pure, with nuances similar to the meat of a clam. The idea of searching the shores for delicious very regional seafood has led us in Cuca to find soft shell crab from Kalimantan, scallops from Lombok and octopus from Jimbaran bay.

3. Pierogies 
I literally grew up on these as my godmother made them very, very well. A dough of sour cream, water and flour is molded ravioli-style around a filling of anything. The version I still dream of is onion and cabbage with charred bits of bacon. Served boiled and steaming hot with a dollop of cool rich sour cream, the combination is serious comfort food and the goal in every dish we create.

4. Xiao Long Bao
Even when bad these are good, but when they are excellent, the experience is unforgettable. Paper thin dough wrapped around a well-seasoned steaming hot aromatic pork broth, the trick is to consume the dumpling without breaking the delicate outside to avoid the soup from coming out. A quick dip into black vinegar with sliced ginger and straight into the mouth! The sour vinegar taste covers the silky skin of the dough and with the smallest amount of pressure the delicious soup explodes with flavor. The element of surprise makes this dish very memorable and has encouraged us to create exploding elements like in our Bali Breakfast dessert.

5. Babi guling 
The most traditional dish from Bali is a good one of suckling pig, stuffed and roasted over wood for hours creating a dark golden crispy skinned tender succulent smoky meat. One of the highlights of any trip to the island of the gods remains the perfect cooked pig loved for hours slowly being turned as it roasts over an open fire. Charred food over fire is not new and its smell alone is enough to salivate. We use this technique to trick you into loving our baby corn and our octopus.

Friday 24 June 2016

The rush of the hot pass

Running the hot pass is that unique task that Chefs de Cuisine perform during service where all those years of work finally come to a conclusion.  You have your Trainees figuring out the flow, Junior Cooks learning basics and trying to master their stations, Chefs de Partie running around looking for fires to extinguish, Sous Chefs observing every single detail and the Chef de Cuisine directing the service, playing the cooks like a conductor does an orchestra, controlling every dish, every item, every guest’s multicourse meal, every special request… literally cooking with 40 hands.

The Chef the Cuisine is there, standing at the front of the kitchen and waiting, as guests pour into the dining room, for the sound of the printer to begin spitting out tickets as fast as the ink can mark orders from hungry guests. Numerous dishes, allergies, preferences, moods, expectations and different reasons to come: some with birthdays, some anniversaries, some a special night out, dinner with friends or just plain old hungry and looking for dinner. Whatever the reason, it will dictate how fast or slow guests want their food, how much or little attention they require from waiters or the Chef, and all this will need to be taken into consideration to execute a meal as close to perfection as possible, a meal they will not soon forget. 

Great food with bad service counts for nothing, as does great service with badly prepared food; it must all come together. During service there are no teams, friends, enemies or barriers; it must be everyone for the guest, all staff at full attention to anticipate needs. Chefs must control, they must understand their team and use them like the gas pedal of a car: pushing for speed but not too much to lose control and letting up to slow down and maintain quality and precision. 

Chefs know service time is where hours of work can pay off or be ruined in seconds, where good restaurants become great and great ones can fail. A service turns kitchen staff with potential into super heroes and those without into mere spectators only watching as the magic unfolds. Amazing individuals do not necessarily make an amazing team and a great team is critical to a successful service. It is the job of the Chef to motivate those needing a push, to scold those lacking motivation and to get rid of those who don't belong. No matter how good is today, once it's over the focus is tomorrow and nobody cares about yesterday if they are booking today. 

Chefs know that a guest will judge a restaurant on one meal alone, one opportunity to fail or succeed. Definitely a rush.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Kitchen for dummies

Let's start from the very beginning... The first step in a professional kitchen would be learning the rhythm, the pace and flow, where to stand and where not to, what to touch and what will burn you, cut you and hurt you. This takes time and often recovery. 

Step two is learning the absolute basics. This takes as long as it has to. It depends on someone’s focus, age, drive and demanding girl or boyfriend. 

Step three is learning one by one the various kitchen stations: pastry (desserts), cold kitchen (salads and cold dishes), entremetier (vegetables), poissonnier (fish & seafood) and saucier (meat & sauces). Cooks are transferred from one station to the next for a minimum of 6 months and until they can prove they can deliver. Once they have done time on each station and if they are still standing, they are ready to become Chef de Partie.  They fill in on any station when someone is sick or just decides “no more” and keep a close eye on everything being done. They are basically a baby Chef learning key elements of management, costing, ordering and helping to run the flow of both information and work, assisting like a fireman to extinguish problems. 

Only when you have really mastered being a student can you dream of being a teacher and after a few years as Chef de Partie you know what you are talking about and are ready for a Sous Chef position. Sous Chef is pretty much the same job but instead of helping, the responsibility is now painfully entirely yours. Sous Chefs need to be masters at getting things done, no excuses, no compromise, no procrastination, just done and done well. You are the extension of the Chef, the go-to guy, the person keeping the boat floating. 

At the very top of the pile is the Chef de Cuisine. This guy has done all of this and either by years and years of hard work or great timing when the person on top passes out from exhaustion, finally gets a shot. Where the Sous Chef is like Luke Skywalker, the Chef de Cuisine is like Yoda. They need to cook beautifully, answer any question, catch mistakes before they ever happen, deal with happy and unhappy customers, be the hero and the villain, they do it all.

Food doesn’t get good by accident, there is a team of people who have dedicated their days and lives to making things delicious: the team behind the chef and the magic behind the kitchen. 

Saturday 23 April 2016

Tuning up Cuca

One of our philosophies is to make Cuca just a little bit better every single day: either by tweaking our recipes, training our team on something new, planting a tree or simply finding amazing hand soap. The small things make a big difference. This year we feel particularly proud of these tiny details that make us better:

- Rainy season is wet and sitting in our beautiful garden lounge is not advised for a good part of the year as unexpectedly you can get caught in a tropical storm. The addition of a canopy covering the side of Cuca has now made outdoor dining possible year round with the bonus of blocking the hot sun during the day.

- Bali is hot, that’s why people come from all over the world to the beautiful island, but keeping our dining room comfortably cool has been quite a challenge we have had since opening. Our latest addition of 6 serious ceiling fans and a few more air-con units seems to have finally done the trick.

Acoustic panels in our ceiling
- If you have ever been to Cuca when we are fortunate to have a few groups of excited diners you know that it can be noisy, very noisy. The “smart” idea of using hard materials for the floor and large glass windows instead of walls was great in theory but a nightmare in reality. After 2 years of thought and numerous (and often ridiculous) suggestions, we have hidden funky acoustic ceiling panels above every table to eliminate that noise. And what a difference they make!

- When it rains it pours and after it pours our parking lot becomes a lovely lake requiring a boat to access our main door. Arriving hungry, soaking wet and without a paddle was not the best beginning, so we have added concrete to elevate the parking, garden lights, landscaping and even lines to park your car in between. For those who had to swim to Cuca for food we do apologize, it is all sorted now.

Our brand-new online booking system
- Our website was let’s just say “understated” and served its purpose until now but we were (as you were) aware of its much needed makeover. Packed with photos and really capturing what Cuca is today, our new website in now in place.

- Making a reservation in Cuca was always done by people. Our staff would painstakingly reply to each and every request and ensure all bookings were handled manually like in the 1940’s: yup, a paper book with all the guests’ details hand-written with their specific remarks. It worked well, with a real touch of classic hospitality, but as Cuca got busier, to maintain the system was a nightmare. So we have finally progressed with the times and have now an online booking system that does not compromise the genuine hospitality of Cuca but does help with all the paper, pencils and post-its.

With problems come solutions and for now we have caught up but tomorrow the question remains: what can we do to get just a little bit better yet?

Friday 25 March 2016

Kevin Cherkas on Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

When a few months ago we received a call from the organizers of Madrid Fusion inviting Kevin to participate in their Asian edition, we could not help from jumping up and down. Kevin participated in Madrid Fusion in Spain back in 2011 but to do so again, this time in Asia and representing Cuca, meant the world to us.

This is the first time that a restaurant from Indonesia has been selected so we are taking this opportunity very seriously and are both honored and determined to rock Manila with our presentation “Once upon a product…”. Kevin shares here some of his thoughts about what to expect.

What are you going to present?
We will be taking the audience through the magical experience of tasting something for the first time. An interesting perspective to see new ideas everywhere just by looking at food differently. This will be done in 3 ways: the first is bringing the audience back to 1776, when the Manila Galleons were transporting fascinating products from one side of the world to the other. Imagine an entire ship of new ingredients! The second way is through a modern fairy tale where I tell the story of how I arrived to Bali, discovered a new world of ingredients and began creating Cuca. My presentation will end with a series of demonstration recreating some of the dishes that have made Cuca famous.

What do you look forward to at Madrid Fusion Manila?
The excitement of the event and concentration of such amazing professionals who lead this industry with hard work, creativity and passion. Being selected among them is a huge honor.  

What do you hope to accomplish with your presentation at MFM2016?
To convey my passion for a job I absolutely adore and provide a relevant insight to the audience through a dramatic and entertaining presentation.

What are your impressions of the Philippines?
Love it! We have been to Manila before and we are still raving about how good were the traditional dishes we tried (kinilaw, lechon, sinigang). No better reason to go back than to be a part of the biggest food event of the year, I’m sure we won’t go hungry!

Do you have a message for people who will attend MFM2016?
Get ready, you have never seen anything quite like this!

Thursday 25 February 2016

Five things you didn't know about Cuca

1. We didn’t cut any trees
The entire shape of the restaurant was designed from scratch to fit perfectly between the many 80 year old trees avoiding having to cut a single branch. We not only have coconuts but also the most delicious organic mangoes that are quickly eaten by our team (and the lucky guests who spot them) when in season.

2. Our gardener’s name is “Tri”
How could you not hire him? Talk about being suited for the position. Cuca’s garden is huge, really huge. We were told when we opened that we would need five guys to do the job. We have one, his name is Tri, he does the job of all five and gets it done in his 7 hour shift. 

3. Our bestseller item is "BBQ Octopus"
Who would have guessed? Before we opened, we were told that in Indonesia people don’t like octopus… Ironically it is now our bestseller… We have sold more than 12,000 portions! The octopus comes from Jimbaran Bay, just 15 minutes from the restaurant, so it doesn’t get any fresher than that. Just goes to show you that anything done well has a fighting chance.

4. We make everything from scratch
We have one very simple philosophy in Cuca: “if we serve it, we make it”. That goes for everything. No store-bought nothing! Just like at grandma’s house, we are really cooking. It is no surprise that fresh food tastes better.

5. We have many staff
Seventy. It’s hard to believe but when you count them all, we got seventy. From engineering keeping us going, bar tenders keeping your thirst quenched, cooks (you guessed it) cooking, service smiling and anticipating what you really need, office making sure your reservation is the most important thing in the world and management keeping the boat in the right direction. We couldn’t imagine being without a single one of them.

Sunday 31 January 2016

A day cooking in Cuca

Let’s say you’re a cook, not the world’s best cook but someone who deeply cares and loves cooking. This special type of people who never looks at a watch, who stays late to learn something new and who is thrilled when the reservations for dinner have run out of paper and guests begin piling through the doors. We love them, we look everywhere for them, we care for them like our family and they are among the true heroes of Cuca.

We run 2 shifts: an AM and a PM team. Each shift is 7 hours work with 1 hour break. We don’t want zombies walking around doing nothing, we want ninjas with lots going on. This is the story of how an average day goes by if you are one of these wonderful souls.

Kitchen doors open and the game begins. Hood fans, ovens and stoves are turned on, stations are set with cutting boards and knives, pots and pans are gathered for cooking, piles of raw ingredients migrate from the fridges to start the day’s preparations. All cooks now race against the clock to complete the long list of tasks making absolutely everything from scratch within the next 3 action packed hours.

Daily deliveries arrive: beautiful healthy looking vegetables, ripe strawberries still warm from being cut in the early morning sun, bright orange organic pumpkin, fresh soft cheese and shiny fish chilling out under small cubes of ice. Each item must be checked by the expert in its area and either rejected for any imperfection or stored in the fridge waiting processing. Items arriving late create nervous tension as lunch is fast approaching.

Station fridges are bulging with shimmering metal inserts containing perfectly cut, blanched, roasted, marinated or braised ingredients all nicely wrapped and labeled, ready in neat little rows like soldiers waiting to be deployed. The kitchen gets a good clean and staff by now rightfully feel hungry and take a short break to eat.

The entire team as a family enjoys an early lunch. They have one hour to eat and catch up on today’s and yesterday’s gossip. Socializing is a very important part of a Balinese life and seeing their huge beautiful smiles and hearing their witty comments, it is easy to understand why everyone loves Bali. 11:59… back to work!

Lunch service begins and guests trickle in from the hot sun to enjoy a cold drink and a light lunch. The team is separated with half the crew continuing to prepare for dinner and the other half to produce the food now needed for the first customers. We clean more than we cook and regardless of how busy the restaurant is, everything must always be impeccable. We preach these basics non-stop and they are our foundation for everything else to be learned in Cuca.

The PM staff starts to arrive in batches like bees to a hive. They all travel like Motor GP riders through the densely populated and humid streets of Bali. When they get to Cuca they sit outside, have a coffee and get ready to rock. At 3:50 they refresh themselves, quickly change into their uniforms and stand in the kitchen ready for battle at 3:55.

Daily Briefing 
A very important time, time for the daily briefing, which is a must for both AM and PM teams. The chef reviews the number of reservations for that evening service and addresses all issues (big or small) from the day before re-instructing the entire team on how to do a better job at almost everything.  Briefings are relaxed and casual with jokes, smiles and lots of banter. But make no mistake, the message is crystal clear: we must all do our best each and every day.

Kitchen preparation counters are quickly transformed into improvised dining tables and all staff sit down for dinner: either mom’s cooking nicely packed or rice, meat and veggies well spiced with chili bought from a road side “warung” on their way to work. Fuel for the fight ahead.

Staff return from dinner and the evening service slowly begins as early tables arrive. The team quickly rushes to finish last minute preparations under the watchful eye of senior kitchen management ensuring all details are ready and precise.

Over the next 3 hours, dinner service is full on. Each staff is trying desperately to keep up with making damn near perfect food while keeping track of all the different items they have on order. Cooking, plating and running as fast as possible without making the punishable sacrifice on quality. There is nothing that matters about the outside world: girlfriends disappear, aches and pains are gone, SMS don’t matter as the most important animal instinct of survival kicks in and everyone tries to make it through!

Dinner Service
Exhaustion. Beginning to break down and deep clean every square inch of the shining stainless steel open kitchen. By now you are either a hero or a villain, a champion or merely a participant. Service determines who you are, it is without words the clearest example of can or cannot. Good cooks will fail as they learn the new skills but pick themselves up for tomorrow in hopes of new found success. Lesser ones just never show up in fear of repeating the traumatic nightmare. The greatest thrive on the adrenaline rush, the thrill of the action and the incomparable satisfaction of knowing they have provided a truly great meal to our guests.

Thursday 14 January 2016

Eat local III

By Kevin Cherkas


Cuca's Smoked Butterfish
Buying salmon at the super market no matter how fresh feels a bit like cheating. You lose the connection with the ocean, the smell of the sea and the respect for the beautiful animals beneath. There is something magical about fishing or the next best thing, waiting at the dock in hopes the small boats of skilled local fishermen had better luck than you and actually caught you dinner. On a fine late afternoon, Captain Tasty was happy to see his first customers and a little shocked as normally he sells wholesale and it is apparently not normal to stalk fishermen at the docks. Luckily for us, he had fish and what absolutely beautiful fish they were… We bought a salmon and ran home happy. Cutting the fish in half and keeping the skin on, I rubbed the meat gently with a thin layer of apricot jam we got at the farmers market, cracked pepper, sea salt and citrus zest. After 2 hours in the chiller to allow the goodness to soak in, we fired up the BBQ, soaked some wood chips and basically built a hot smoker. Put the fish in and 90 minutes later, low and lovely, I removed a just cooked, light caramel colored smoky fish candy. Try to buy that at the supermarket.

Now you may not have access to Captain Tasty, salmon, a BBQ or even Canada for that matter, but we assure you that making a reservation is very easy and Cuca serves one hell of a cold smoked butterfish from the tropical waters of Bali with whipped yogurt, zucchini pickles and garlic parsley crumbs.