Monday 27 November 2017

The Disneyland of Gastronomy

The world is full of delicious places and their magical traditional food somehow loses a bit of its luster when exported to other countries. Mexican food is a great example, it really tends to suck outside of Mexico. Our understanding of Mexico until recently revolved around burritos the size of a small baby, chilies that will burn your face off, nachos dumped with cheap cheese and, of course, the dangers of tequila. Little did I know that, apart from tequila, none of these are actually Mexican. So, always in search of finding ways to make Cuca’s food tastier, it was time to discover the real Mexico and see for ourselves what many describe as the “Disneyland of gastronomy”.

21 days and 84 meals later, this is what we know. Mexico is separated into 31 states of deliciousness, each one transforming the modest ingredients from their land into spectacular unique local specialties. Natural good things put together in precise amounts with care and attention. Corn, chilies, cheese, beans, lime, tomato, tomatillo, onion and garlic are pretty much in every single dish but the results are, ironically, dramatically different. The food is earthy, hearty, rich and comforting, but it is the sauces that give Mexican food its personality and its complexity lies in roasting, burning and toasting the ingredients to perfume the food with layers of smoky charcoal.

What’s weird is wonderful ingredients like aggressive spiny cactus are transformed through fire into crunchy, slightly sour delicate sticks of green goodness; bugs that would seem disgusting and unthinkable to eat are fried and seasoned with chili and lime leaving Doritos scratching their heads; and chocolate so bitter children would run and hide from, becomes a key ingredient in the enchanting luxurious silky sauce known as Mole. The results are mouthfuls of intensity that dreams are made of.

To sum it up, dishes are cooked with a love that stems from an unmistakable devotion to tradition and a respect for the way things used to be made. The slow way is the good way and food that takes all day is just better. In a world where we have become obsessed with speed and efficiency, industrialization and pre-made preserved crap, Mexico fights a lonely battle to continue to embrace its culture through a celebration of painstaking preparations.

How to use all of this to make Cuca better? - you may wonder. Well… We will perfume our new dishes with the gently smoke of charcoal, we are crafting tortillas from organic brown rice to replicate the delicate ones from corn, we are now drying Bali’s chilis to gain complexity and aroma, we are crafting our own version of mole from local nuts, dried fruits, seeds, chilis and organic chocolate… We are basically dissecting those many mouthfuls that made us smile to make you, our guests, smile in return. Just be patient, we are becoming a little bit Mexican but the final product will take time. Just as we learned in Mexico, good things simply take time.

And here it is! The 5 minutes that capture unbelievably well the most amazing culinary adventure of our lives. We will be forever grateful to our friends from Food and Travel Mexico, who made Mexico unforgettable.

Sunday 29 October 2017

Allergies? We've got you covered.

In the olden days no one had allergies to food and if someone died of peanuts… well, then lesson learned, but today things are different. Celiac, lactose intolerant, vegetarian, pescatarian, diabetic, allergic to garlic… and the list goes on and on. The theory is simple: with highly processed foods, genetically modified meat, the use of antibiotics on animals and the lack of old school farming, our diet has dramatically changed. It is either a religious choice to avoid certain foods or the body’s way of rejecting them that has caused today a massive increase in food allergies.

We clearly see this growing trend in Cuca and the question is now how to handle it. Allergies in restaurants often fall under the category of guests being hard to please and get dealt the card of a simple salad. The question is: should the poor customers, who in most cases are already ashamed to inform their waiter, be punished further for their real inability to eat something? Do these unfortunate people with food restrictions deserve something delicious or are they just considered lucky enough to get anything at all?

The reality is that training an entire service and kitchen team to be knowledgeable about these dietary restrictions is a mammoth task. It is also true that preparing and organizing a kitchen so to eliminate any risk that a customer with an allergy consumes the very ingredients that will harm him/her, is an absolutely nightmare.  But it is also true that we are in hospitality and that the effort made to make people happy is kind of what it’s all about. With this in mind, we have spent the last few months in Cuca not only re-organizing our preparation areas and developing delicious alternatives to all possible allergies, but going as far as to create entire Chef Tasting Menus that rival any other dish we have ever served.

The reception could not have been better and our efforts are greatly paying back. There is nothing like serving an exceptional meal to those often punished with rabbit food. 

Saturday 30 September 2017

The spirit of the volcano

Every week has its challenges and running a restaurant comes with its own unique set. Bali teaches you to “roll with the punches” so to speak and both Kevin and I have learned a lot through the last 5 years about keeping a balance to avoid a nervous breakdown. Things move at an island beat and through experience we have learned that, sometimes, the more you push, the less you get so a good massage or a brilliant sunset reminds you that if it doesn’t all get done today, the world will still turn in the same direction tomorrow. With that in mind last week had us dealing with a new situation that left us once again bewildered. Apparently our beloved and majestic Mount Agung, which stands 3,014m tall and completely dominates the mountainous landscape of the island, is reminding us all that apart from beautiful it is also an actual volcano, now threatening to erupt. Obviously this latest challenge is a little out of the ordinary.

Cuca is 70 km away from the volcano so we are very much safe and sound as an eruption would affect realistically just a 15km radius, but nevertheless it is difficult to ignore and simply carry on with business as usual. The most intriguing part of all that is happening is not following up closely the constant and dramatically inflated updates on the volcanic tremors or the travel warnings that have begun to cripple the island tourism leaving it without travellers. The most fascinating part for us is to witness how the Balinese are dealing with a situation so foreign to us.

Mt Agung is so sacred to the locals that instead of them talking about north, south, east or west, the Balinese set their orientation depending on where you stand in relation to Mt Agung. The direction facing it is called “kaja” (if you live in the south, kaja is northeast) and this is the most sacred and pure point on the compass.

Although the closest villages have been evacuated, many refuse to live their lives behind and still go back to attend their daily tasks; others have sold their livestock at half price. Here in the south Balinese are keeping a close eye on their holiest mountain, showing overwhelming support to those evacuated by bringing funds and provisions to their camps and embarking on a #prayforBali crusade in hopes to soothe the nervous fury of the volcano. And all this while being more grateful than ever to those of you who continue to come to Bali and bring a very much needed sense of normality to the island.

We are in awe at the natural kindness of the Balinese and their deep tights with Mother Nature. We have a lot to learn. So we take it day by day and hope the mighty volcano goes back to sleep so we can too.