Tuesday 24 November 2015

Eat local

By Kevin Cherkas

After five years not returning like a salmon to my spawning grounds, we had the opportunity last month to plan a trip to Canada for a short little break in the action. The truth is, any trip we take is always planned around food. It is never only about eating but also about hunting down those wonderful things that are truly special and unique to that specific area.  As we prove it in Cuca day in and day out, our philosophy is to go as local as possible and we follow this religiously even on holidays.

Cooking food at home is a very different experience compared to that of a restaurant. It is not only the precision, the stress or the fast pace demanded of chefs, I am talking also about why people fall in love with the craft of cooking in the first place, how at home you can take a whole day to slowly prepare a meal with attention and love. This is why I make a point of cooking at home every time I have the opportunity as it is (apart from greatly appreciated by Virginia) like therapy, meditation and a much needed break from my day to day life,

Now back to my story, we made our way to Salt Spring Island, a small island just outside of where I grew up and a quick float plane ride or ferry trip from Vancouver. Waking up in the morning surrounded by deep dark green wilderness and the isolated coastal beauty of British Colombia you can see why the meat, fish and vegetables live a happy undisturbed life that does not go unnoticed when consumed by those lucky enough to stay for dinner. With 4 days and a proper kitchen we planned to take full advantage of the island's organic markets, local farms and fishing spots. 


One of my favorite foods has to be mussels. I can however understand why people do not share this opinion as it is easy to end up with overcooked shrunken seafood gummy bears in big empty black shells. But when the mussels are much heavier than they appear (like a ripe melon) and come from cold nutrient filled waters, it can easily become an expensive addiction. Straight from the dock on that beautiful autumn afternoon, the famous local mussels were my only worry with 6 hours until dinner; no stress, no pressure, just some quiet quality time with me and my new shiny purple friends. A small amount of heat is enough to release open a mussel but these bad boys held on for dear life till eventually opening to expose beautiful bright orange, massive sized, tender seafood balloons. Eating our way slowly through the Japanese chawanmushi-like custard bulging from inside its thick powerful shells, everything else faded away and my new friends delivered by far the best experience a mussel had to offer. One thing is for sure: whenever we open in Canada, mussels will be on the menu. 

Day 2, 3 & 4 of finding, cooking and eating to be continued...

Monday 9 November 2015

Where has the time gone?

So Cuca turned 1… and then 2 and we have been so caught up in this wonder that it has taken me all this while to get back to my beloved blog. I started to write wanting to share with you the magical adventure of moving to a new country and starting a restaurant from absolute zero but once we got it up and running, daily operations, a total dedication to our staff and of course to our guests took over our life.

To narrate Cuca’s 27 months of life would take me another 27 months so my goal is instead to summarize these 2 years in order to bring you up to date and then hopefully be able to resume my regular updates.

I guess one of our biggest accomplishments so far has been to develop a team of wonderful people who care about Cuca as much as we do. Our strategy has never been to hire the most experienced professionals but the nicest ones. We believed from day one that we could train skills but could never change an attitude and this has led us to be surrounded by truly good guys we can trust. Operations in Cuca are now a bliss because each of our staff is totally dedicated and trained to do a great job and this allows us (Kevin and I) to focus on making sure Cuca has a future for the many families that now depend on us. As you may know if you are familiar with the culture in Bali, relationships are here always personal so we feel our family is bigger than ever, with more than 60 “children” buzzing around us. They definitely keep us busy.

Cuca Team celebrating our second birthday
And what about our customers? It may be possible to get people to give a try to a new restaurant but how do we keep it interesting enough so new customers want to come when is no longer new? This is a critical issue that more frequently than not kills businesses in their second year so we had to take it to heart and come up with ways to continue being talked about. All kind of events have definitely kept us on our toes. Events take us out of our comfort zone and make us squeeze our brains to be unique while still offering the highest standards in a more unpredictable environment. We have done events in Cuca, in other restaurants in Bali and in other cities both within Indonesia and overseas. We have delivered talks, created new dishes for a specific occasion and deliver the same experience we offer in Cuca but outside Cuca. Our senior team is thrilled every time we call for a meeting and excitedly share with them the next Cuca stunt. If you haven’t attended any of our events, stay tuned, there are many more to come!

From top to bottom, left to right: Cuca in Ku De Ta, Cuca in Surabaya, Cuca in Perth and Cuca in Ubud.

So… busy with our team, busy with our customers and busy with keeping bright and shiny a restaurant that is well into its second year. And finally now back here and introducing a few sparks in our blog. Be warned that I have convinced Kevin to also share with all of you his unique perspective and will start doing so in the next entry. Don’t miss it!  

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Cuca turns one...

In August 2012 I started this blog with a post titled "DREAM" and with the hope of sharing with anyone who found me in the world wide web the ups and downs of our little adventure: opening Cuca, our restaurant. We had no idea back then if we were going to manage to actually open (so many businesses die before they even start!) or if we were going to miraculously attract any customers. Or even if our guests were going to like at all what we could offer…

If you have followed our journey, you are part of Cuca’s family already, but for those of you who just found out about us and are lazy to read all previous posts, I summarize them: after years in Singapore working way too much in separate jobs, Kevin (a Canadian) and I (a Spaniard) decided it was time to work even harder but together towards a common goal. We had the vision of building a restaurant where amazing food were affordable and served in a casual environment. The concept was simple: tapas, cocktails and desserts made with local ingredients and cooked in a western style.

We chose Bali because we believed an international clientele was our best bet and we jumped at the opportunity to star this adventure. We spent the first few weeks in the island settling in: finding a home, transport, learning the roads. We then started writing down all our ideas and trying to come out with a priority list, what to do first. And finally we hit the road and started looking for the people who could help us, one by one. Although we faced many more challenges than we could have thought of, every day we went to bed having ticked off one more task. There were many days when I felt disheartened and just wanted to give up and Kevin then promised me that everything would be ok. There were other days when Kevin felt frustrated and didn’t know how to move forward and it was then my turn to come up with a plan. Thankfully, we had each other. Cuca would not be here otherwise, although it has not been easy. If you want to test your marriage, go ahead and open a restaurant :)

On July 23rd 2013 Cuca opened its doors. Adrenaline and coffee saved most of our days back then. The challenge was no longer the building but its people: 60 employees from all over Indonesia, each with a different background and a unique set of beliefs and expectations. They only had in common the same enchanting smile that convinced us to hire them and although we have been greatly disappointed by some of those smiles, new ones have come to our rescue and every day make us better.

With $0 advertising investment since we opened, we have been relying exclusively on our product and your word for it. The first few weeks were scary and an empty Cuca is still a recurring nightmare in our short slept nights, but word of mouth is all the magic we needed. Even though and despite being quite busy most of the time, we still stand on our entrance welcoming new and returning guests as if each of you were our first. How could we take for granted the blessing of having all of you?

Well, Cuca is now turning 1 and this first year is being a roller coaster of events and emotions. Any regular day is loaded with tons of crisis, laughs, tears, surprises, encounters and goodbyes. We know this is only the beginning and that consistency is a critical test in the long term. We know we cannot lower our guard because a restaurant is as good as its last meal, but we also now know that Cuca´s miracle is possible and this is much more than we knew 2 years ago!

We dedicate Cuca’s anniversary, our little miracle, to each of you:

- to those of you who believed in us more than we believed in ourselves and to those who didn’t and pushed us to prove you wrong;
- to those who gave us ideas and helped us in thousand different ways and to those who refused to give us a hand and thus made us find an even better way;
- to those who broke our heart because we are not what you were looking for and to those who mercifully mended it by totally getting what we are;
- to those who can see we have put our life into this restaurant and encourage and congratulate us and to those who only see the faults and eagerly point at what we should do better;

We try to learn as much as we can from all of you while remaining true to ourselves.

Thank you for this year and let’s toast to many more to come!