Tuesday 27 November 2018

Our version of Christmas

It’s hard to believe, but yes indeed, it’s that time of the year again. With Christmas just around the corner, Bali is getting ready to explode with people flooding-in to enjoy the untraditional sunny version of the festive season. Sunshine and sand will replace, for many, a cold wet winter, and it is Cuca’s job to then replace the infamous turkey. For those who claim it just isn’t Christmas without the dry overcooked bird, lovingly burnt sweet potatoes, canned cranberry glue, mom’s latest version of how to make Brussels sprouts not suck and a vomiting uncle, well… we beg to differ.

Each year we try to create our version of what Christmas is and each year we learn something new from what “went wrong” the year before. With that said, get ready boys and girls for our latest greatest edition of Cuca’s Christmas, which promises to be the best version yet.

Looking back at all we have done well and all we haven’t, there is one lesson we will never forget. Let me explain our very first Christmas, which to be honest, was a total delicious disaster:

Without snow, it was easy to overcompensate. We didn’t go as far as to dress our team as elves, but we did and always do have Santa who, by the way, was not the problem. The problem was our decorations were not kid-friendly but very kid-accessible and ended up very kid-broken; our festive Christmas music quickly became nauseating; our ornamental fireplace made from red bricks and filled with logs became a death trap for those who decided to sit on top for selfies, with people until today still bearing the scars. Our red fuzzy hats had our team sweating, overheating and damn near passing out during dinner service. Our special drink was not well articulated with its alcoholic content and rapidly had unassuming guests drunk and far too celebratory. Even our Christmas menu, which took months and was our version of the classics, was unwelcomed as no one wanted it. People came to eat the food of Cuca, the dishes their friends recommended, the items they waited all year to have again, and rather than happy, jolly, cheerful guests, we had angry, annoyed, and aggressive ones.

So, if we don’t do easily accessible glass balls, repetitive annoying music, a widow-making fireplace, insulating sauna hats, easily accessible booze or a set menu, what do we do? Come and see for yourself from Dec 20th until Jan 2nd. A Christmas you will not forget. 

Saturday 27 October 2018

I love, you hate

First of all, let’s start off with saying I love food. Traveling anywhere in the world and eating everything traditional is my way of discovering cultural heritage and my biggest source of inspiration. But not everyone is willing to try anything, and most people can be pretty set in their ways with food. Everyone is different when it comes to taste and the farther you travel, the more different the food can get. What is weird and unthinkable to some, is delicious classic comfort food for others, and these individual preferences are hard to let go, being engrained since birth by every single meal.

To generalize an entire planet of people based on each country’s preferences would be unfair but, more often than not, tends to be in many ways true. Not every country grows up eating a diverse selection of ethnic foods like Australians and Canadians, who naturally have a more open-minded approach to flavor developed from being a migrant country and total lack of almost any traditional food of their own. European countries like France, Italy and Spain, with a strong proud culinary heritage, are easily crippled and physically pained with spicy foods, whereas the people of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia barely notice the heat. Most of Indonesia, for example, hates foods that are sour and the use of vinegars and citrus is minimal, while in the Philippines the opposite is true, where pure white vinegar is literally used as a dipping sauce and adored. Western countries consume large amounts of dairy items like milk, yoghurt and cheese, yet China looks at dairy as the enemy and cheese with absolute disgust. Asians, in general, find western food boring and tasteless, heavy on salt and often too creamy and rich, while westerners often find South East Asian food too sweet and overwhelmed by spices, losing the true flavor of ingredients. In Western food, chicken tastes like chicken and a lot of effort is put into making that happen like with a good roast chicken, while in Indonesia you would never even know it is chicken as the use of numerous vegetables and spices smashes the food with flavors. 

So, with that being said, what do you cook when you are trying to feed people from all over the world their best meal yet? This is the unique challenge we face in Cuca. Yesterday, for example, we had people from Belgium, Denmark, Mexico, Japan, South Africa, Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom and Korea. So, how do we do it? What is good for everyone? How to make everyone happy when a dish can’t be too spicy, too salty, too sour, too sweet, too common, too unusual, too much of anything while still being totally packed with flavor yet remaining balanced and delicious? That, my friend, is the secret of Cuca.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Our secret to delicious food

Southeast Asian food is unquestionably exciting! From the spices and depth of Indonesia to the sour vibrant character of the Philippines; from the clean crunchy freshness of Vietnam to the diverse hearty comfort of Malaysia and the spicy aromatic perfume of Thailand. If you have ever had an authentic meal at a great Thai restaurant, you know it is more thrilling and potentially dangerous than white water rafting. Its unexpected sourness, the confusion of sweetness, the earthiness of grilled meats and toasted nuts, the shock of slow-burning fiery hot chilis and the memories brought by fragrant fresh herbs. Yup, coming from Canada, the mystery of Southeast Asian cooking and a genuine curiosity for its food has been a source of inspiration for years.

Western-style cooking traditionally focuses on individual ingredients with complimentary sauces and garnishes used only to support the main items. Every ingredient is still very much appreciated and obvious in the end result. In Southeast Asian cooking, however, it is totally different: ingredients are blended, mixed, braised or smashed together giving the dish an entirely new flavor where each ingredient acts like musical notes to form a song. Think grilled chicken with lemon potatoes and parsley vs. chicken curry. Western food is delicate while Southeast Asian food smashes your face with flavor. As a classically trained chef, the use of sugar in savory food is unheard of in European cooking, while very common in Asia. The use of sugar opens the door for the juice of fresh lime for balance, fish sauce and soy sauce replace salt bringing with it salty fermentation and umami. This new “sweet, salty sourness” pushes flavors forward and makes dishes zing. These are the secrets of complex flavors and the difference between bold and boring.

Of course we had to incorporate these reflections in Cuca. Instead of taking traditional western dishes and merely substitute ingredients, we needed to do more. We could also not simply combine all ingredients together like in Southeast Asia, as dishes would lose their identity. What we did then was to create components of flavor and assemble those components into a dish. Let me explain: rather than a curry where everything is cooked together and every delicious mouthful is the same, we break down the components and serve these elements of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and aromatic individually so no two mouthfuls are identical, causing the guest to eagerly continue to attack a plate of food searching for discovery. Our food, by design, takes the western approach to showcasing unique ingredients while still delivering a powerful punch of flavor. Nothing soft, subtle or delicate about what we do.

Buckle up and hold on to enjoy a new brand of taste we call Cuca!