More then three decades ago, I planned a career in engineering. However due to lack of an apprentice position in the rural area of Switzerland where I grew up, I decided to take up an apprentice chef position instead. Following my apprenticeship I made a child hood dream reality and started to travel and cook in Europe, Asia and Australia. Then after 5 ½ terrific years in Singapore I received this terrific task of opening the Grand Hyatt here on the island of Gods. Shortly after my arrival two of the best things in my life happened. I meet my wife Puji and become quickly involved with Balinese cuisine. Well, the arrival of our son Fabian would definitely rank before the discovery of Balinese cuisine. 8 years later, after being also the executive Chef at the prestigious Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bali the decision was made to say by-by to hotels and open our very own Balinese restaurant, Bumbu Bali, Restaurant & Cooking School. Never in our wildest dream did we envision that we would get so much joy and foremost successes from this great little venture. What is even more astonishing is that after 15 years Bumbu Bali, Restaurant & Cooking School is still the only restaurant in Bali that serves thoroughly authentic Balinese cuisine in a beautiful traditional setting.
An important part of our venture are our very popular cooking classes which have given us an incredible amount of great exposure around the globe. Conducted three times weekly and limited to 14 participants, these classes give guests a terrific inside look into Bali’s incredible delicious cuisine. Three times a week I get the chance to share eight joyful hours with food enthusiasts from around the globe. Interestingly enough during every class the same questions pop up. I have summarized them below.
Why did you become a chef? Was it a childhood ambition?
I never thought I would go into cooking. Electronics and Mechanical things always interested me a lot more than cooking. So, I started an apprenticeship as an engine draftsman. After 31⁄2 weeks alone in a sterile office and totally bored, I walked out of this job. The next day I found an open position as an apprenticeship chef, and I have loved every minute in the kitchen since.
How and when did you come to Indonesia?
Before Bali I worked for 5 1⁄2 years in Singapore with Hilton and Hyatt. In 1990 Hyatt then transferred me to Bali and offered me the challenging task to open the Grand Hyatt Bali as Executive Chef. Later I also opened the Ritz Carlton Bali as Executive Chef.
What does “Bumbu Bali” mean?
Bumbu Bali (please note the spelling). Bumbu means spice paste. Every dish prepared in Balinese cuisine starts with the blending and grinding of spices in a stone mortar. Over the years we have streamlined these spice pastes into five categories. Fish and seafood, chicken, beef, meats with strong flavors, and vegetables.
What is the concept of Bumbu Bali?
Please read through our mission statement which explains very much what we want to achieve. I strongly believe that we have the only authentic Balinese restaurant, where diners can enjoy in a traditional Balinese setting the great flavors of our island. One other main feature is our Cooking Classes, where we introduce interested travelers not only to the basics of Balinese cuisine, but also to Balinese food culture.
What is special about Bumbu Bali? How is it different from other restaurant?
In Bali, it seems that almost all restaurants serve a similar line of food. A bit of Indonesian, a bit of Italian, a bit of French and then of course Cap Cai……. We only serve Balinese food, which receives a tremendous response and for which guests often travel a long way.
Your cuisine has been said to be a Western interpretation of the Balinese cuisine. Can you describe how it is like, and where your main inspiration lies? In Bumbu Bali, we serve 100% authentic Balinese cuisine. I would not accept anything else. Unfortunately, Indonesian as well as Balinese cuisine is extremely difficult to find (done the right way in a nice environment) and if you find it, then in most cases the dishes are not prepared with a lot of care and pride. Just think about the Indonesian food you find abroad in comparison to Chinese, Indian or That cuisine. My main inspiration came definitely from the great people of Bali, who helped me to collect and record all the recipes.
What is Balinese cuisine?
Fresh, colorful, richly spiced and incredibly good. The key to Balinese cuisine is in the blending of spices. What amazes foodies even more is the fact that we really only use two dry spices in our cuisine and these are coriander seeds, and pepper. Everything else is fresh and this includes nutmeg, cloves, turmeric and many more. We have daily access to the freshest produces from all over the island. Similarly to Mama Bali, we are at the markets 7 days a week. Vegetables, which we use, are harvested the day before, pigs and chickens grow up in a free-range environment and are then slaughtered in a humane way and aged in our own refrigeration. Fish we purchase personally directly from the fishing boats after they arrive from the nightly fishing adventures.
The principal of authentic Balinese Food?
95% of the spices we use are fresh and not like in Indian cuisine dried. Various chilies, galangal, turmeric, ginger, kencur, lemon grass and cloves are still soft and fresh. Since the day we opened the restaurant, it was our commitment to present Balinese cuisine in its original form. I think the only Swiss influence would be the discipline we brought into the cuisine. Then the same recipes, which we have published in our various books, are daily used in our restaurants. It is extremely difficult to find Balinese food in Bali unless one is invited into a home or to a ceremony.
How did you collect all your recipes?
As opening Chef at the Grand Hyatt we had 157 chefs in our team, and with it, lots of talents. Due to trouble in the Middle East we experienced a very slow and scary start with Bali being completely deserted by visitors. Somehow we had to keep our Chef’s occupied and subsequently organized several Balinese cooking competitions. The results were fantastic and I was overwhelmed by the variety of dishes and flavors available. I took photos of these dishes and scribbled down the basic recipes. Shortly after I met a publisher, who was interested in producing a book on the food of Bali. Please note that prior to this no other recipe book existed on Balinese cuisine. This first book on Balinese cuisine ever “The Food of Bali” then become the basics in the development of Bumbu Bali. We still follow these recipes today and many of them are used in our cooking. Obviously countless trips into villages and homes as well as participating actively in many ceremonies have helped to collect and record a vast variety of authentic dishes.
As a chef, what motto do you live by?
I think to be a chef has to be the greatest profession on this planet. There are very few jobs where you get such fast returns of appreciation and happiness. The biggest kick to me is the customer, who walks out of the restaurant, takes a picture of our open kitchen, comes to me and says thank you for a wonderful experience. I teach most of our cooking classes as part of our cooking program. Guests share all the same interest, and I look at it as my duty to share with our guests a wonderful part of the culture here in Bali, which only very few visitors ever get to experience. As a chef you have to be open minded to new trends and one should take note of the scientific side of cooking. Do not always believe what your grand mother says. Why would she know…… where did she gain her knowledge. A passionate cook must be super critical and as such I find it rather difficult to understand why people are not more curious to find out what came first. The chicken or the egg?
Heston Blumenthal and Harold Mc Gee are my greatest kitchen heroes.