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