Originally from Quebec City, Claude Chouinard is the co-owner of several retreat centres and a spa in Ubud, and the casual fine-dining restaurant, Bridges.
Bridges is located at the end of the two Campuhan Bridges – hence the name which, as Claude reveals, also has a deeper meaning.
Your chef Nico Lazzaroni has an excellent reputation among food-lovers in Ubud. How did you meet him?
When I urgently needed a great chef, an Australian friend told me, “I’ve got the guy. He’s 22 years old”. That was pretty scary – we’d invested a lot of money building the restaurant, and it’s fine to be beautiful, but if the food on the table is not good then we’re in trouble. But she insisted: “This guy will be perfect for you.” He had worked for her in Byron Bay and she was very impressed with his passion and seriousness.
At that time Nico was working in Western Australia. We didn’t meet before he came here, we only wrote to each other on Skype. He had never even had a passport!
Now his whole life has totally changed. He has no intention of going back to Australia; he got married here and is going to be a father; he learned Indonesian in two months and even speaks Balinese.
What is his signature dish at Bridges?
Nico can cook duck like no-one else I know, and he’s magnificent with fish, seafood, and desserts. His desserts are sublime.
Your wine shop, Divine, has the best wine selection in this part of Bali.
The idea was to have a good selection of wines without making them too expensive. We didn’t go too broad, we have about eight countries represented; we just made sure we had the best grape varieties that people know. It’s not an easy thing in Bali because of the prices and you’re limited in terms of what you can get.
Your staff are very knowledgeable about the wines as well as the food.
We train even the youngest girls about wines. They spit it out, but they do taste it, and they like to learn about something new. The Balinese are very intelligent people, eager to learn.
Your combination of tasteful décor and river views creates a very romantic setting.
Yes, we’re considered quite a romantic place. Lots of couples come here. For instance a couple was here recently from Jakarta. The man had eight place-mats printed, and each one had a different message on it. When we changed the plates, we changed the place mats at the same time. The last one said, “Will you marry me?” He had given the ring to our chef and asked him to do something with it. Nico made a very beautiful macadamia dessert with a lid that his girlfriend had to lift up, to find the ring inside.
Your caption for the restaurant is “Bridges Bali: Where Worlds Meet.” Does Bridges aim to encourage strangers to get to know each other?
For me the word ‘Bridges’ is about more than the two physical bridges outside. That’s one thing I like: getting people together for gatherings. So yes, it was part of the original idea.
I couldn’t become a snobbish kind of guy. Very often that’s what happens in big establishments, it’s so snobby that you don’t feel comfortable. That’s why here it’s casual fine dining, not fine dining. It’s also about having fun.
Bridges Bali serves delicacies from Asia and from the West, prepared by Australian chef Nicolas Lazzaroni. Bridges has the only wine bar in Ubud, and DIVINE – Bridges’ cellar – is a wine shop offering a wide variety of wines.