Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Learning from legends (part 1): FERRAN ADRIA

Ferran Adrià was like the Wizard of Oz crafting fascinating new ideas with food from behind the curtain of El Bulli.

Formerly known as the world’s best restaurant before serving its last meal on July 30th 2011, El Bulli remains a mystery to many. Working there was really like being Charlie in The Chocolate Factory. The thought and effort that goes into creating a meal is absurd and what made the restaurant magic was the philosophy behind everything they did.

Let me share with you how every season at the famous restaurant began: the new team arrived in the morning, had a brief overview of the restaurant (the kitchen, the dining room and the gardens) and are introduced to the senior staff. We were then told to come at 8am the following day in jeans and t-shirts. We all arrived and the Chef explained that the job for the next 7 days would be gardening. If the gardening concept to the well-trained internationally selected chefs and service professionals wasn’t strange enough, we were asked to remove, wash, polish and place back one by one the thousands of beautiful river stones used to cover the garden. After this was explained we all looked at each other waiting for the hidden camera to appear but, sure enough, this was no joke. Why not just clean them quickly and throw them back? Questions like “What the hell are we doing?” were in everyone’s mind as none of us expected gardening and professional stone polishing the path to become a world-class cook or waiter, right? Wrong, the Jedi mind-training was in the message.

If on your first day you didn’t care about the garden or the stones or the thousands of little details that made El Bulli the best restaurant in the world, you certainly did by the time you left.

As a matter of fact all the big name chefs I have worked for have one thing in common: the smallest details done incorrectly result in the biggest possible punishments. The lesson is clear: notice the most basic of minute details because your customers do. Every day we apply this to Cuca and have become obsessed with the many small things that remind our guests where they are and why it’s different.

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.