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!