Thursday 25 January 2018

New year, new travels, new ideas

Changing a menu in a restaurant may sound simple but I assure you it is not. First, in Cuca we must identify which items to remove from the current menu that will hopefully avoid anger and frustration when that die-hard foodie returns for his favorite dish and it is no longer there. Second, we need to find new amazing products from all over Indonesia that actually arrive when we order them. Third, the new food must be our best attempt at giving a customer the best dish he has ever eaten, otherwise what’s the point of putting it on the menu?

If all those things actually get done, we are then only left with updating and printing the menus, changing the website, creating the costing and buttons for the sales system, taking the new dish photos, re-printing the waiter order taking cards, updating kitchen recipes, training the entire kitchen and dining room team, sending the press releases, redoing all the food allergy information to ensure no one ever eats something they can’t and finally timing all of this to come together and be ready on the very same day.

You can then understand that once those new items hit the menu we feel just as proud parents delivering them to the world and totally exhausted. The truth is we don’t change the menu often in Cuca mainly because it’s tough to make the best thing anyone has ever eaten.

Delicious takes time but let me tell you what made the cut for our next menu change in Cuca. All available from February 1. 

Hot Potatoes: onion fudge, charred scallions, spiced keluak gravy
We are proud to deliver the religious experience of biting into the molten creamy delicious happiness of a classic Spanish croquette. Our filling instead is inspired by the timeless cooking of Indonesia as we recently discovered in a market in Toraja. The dish becomes mysterious by our use of the local fruit “keluak”, one of the most unique ingredients we have ever tasted with its earthy hints reminiscent of dark chocolate, toasted almond and olives. A flavor like no other.

Hawaiian Cracker: double smoked ham, melting cheese, clove spiced pineapple
Inspired by the legendary Hawaiian pizza, our version is flavored with both thin slices of lightly salted, deeply smoked, cured ham and gently poached ribbons of pineapple scented with clove. These succulent morsels are left standing on a wafer-thin multi-seed cracker that shatters like glass when broken apart. It’s not really pizza, it is one hell of a cracker!

Ricotta Gnocchi: cheese dumplings, roasted watermelon, sun-dried tomato pesto
3 months of recipe testing finally came to an end with these soft pillowy mouthfuls of tender silky fresh cheese. Inspired by the humble Italian classic “Gnocchi Pomodoro”, we use roasted watermelon to mimic the sweetness of delicate braised tomatoes and add the tomatoes instead to a sauce that brings the dish to a brighter level. We’re not Italian but we think we won this one hands down.

Bali Soft Taco: homemade brown rice tortillas, braised mushrooms, chili salsa 
After 21 days in Mexico, we now understand Tacos. We ate many and even when bad they are actually still pretty good. So, determined to serve tacos in Cuca, we decided to make the most delicious taco entirely vegan and have no one know that those charred strings of moist tender meat are actually slow braised onions and mushrooms. We crafted a super unique tortilla from organic local brown rice and created a crunchy topping of grilled fresh coconuts. Bali now has Tacos!   

Sunday 24 December 2017

Why Cuca?

8 years ago, we arrived in Bali with two suitcases and a big dream. Literally! We had one year to finalize a concept, find a location, build a restaurant, hire and train a team, open our doors and start serving customers. It was a daunting task. So, just like when you go to the grocery store you write a list to make sure you do not forget anything, we wrote a massive “to do” list: from designing an entire kitchen to the color of the napkins, everything was important and nothing could be forgotten.

One of the items on the list was “What on earth are we going to name the restaurant?” and it never seemed to get done. A name is a restaurant’s identity and is hugely important. It must be memorable, meaningful and unique to stand out from the sea of food options. At the same time, if it is too weird no one will ever spell it or get it right. I remember back in the day, the best restaurant in Vancouver, my city, was called “West”. It was a French-inspired concept with amazingly creative and tasty food, but they decided to spell it like in France “Ouest”. The result was an empty dining room and a city left wondering where the hell the restaurant was. You couldn’t find it in the phonebook or online and even if you walked right in front, you would miss it because of the spelling. They eventually changed its name and I learned a very important lesson.

With an opening date nearing closer and all the website, branding and marketing pending, we really needed to decide on a name. Then one day, Virginia received an email from her mother and I noticed the greeting “Hola Cuca…”. “What does Cuca mean?” I asked. She said it meant nothing, “It’s just the name my mom has called me since I was little and she only uses it when she is happy and I have been good”. “Voila!” I said to her, “that’s what we will call the restaurant: Cuca”. Something that means everything to us just as you mean everything to your mom. Spelt C-U-C-A and pronounced /Kooka/.

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.