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.