by Catriona Mitchell
“The food we’re going to do is, in my eyes, pretty creative and different from what anyone else is doing in Ubud.” – Eelke Plasmeijer
A new restaurant is opening on Jalan Dewi Sita tomorrow (Tuesday 29th October), and it’s bound to make a splash. Locavore takes its name from the eco-conscious food movement ‘locavorism’, which aims to reduce food miles by relying on produce grown within 100-250km radius of the consumer’s kitchen. Locavore has a unique selling point: it’ll feature European dishes prepared only with local ingredients.
The menu will not only be seasonal, but personalised – via a sleek, open kitchen, in full view of all tables, from which the chefs plan to come out to talk to customers about their culinary preferences and dietary requirements.
I talked to the chefs behind the concept: 30-something business partners Eelke Plasmeijer, who trained in modern French cuisine in Holland, and Ray Adriansyah, who’s of Sumatran background but did his cookery training in New Zealand. The pair was formerly placed in the kitchen at Alila Ubud, where they started making a name for their inventiveness with locally sourced foods.
At the time of our meeting, the site for the new restaurant was still under construction, and the two were sweating from the exertion of moving furniture around. They would have offered me a coffee, they said, “but the coffee machine doesn’t arrive until tomorrow.” They confessed that they’re nervous about this new venture that they’re embarking on, but are already intoxicated by the freedom of running their own show – and creating a menu in an innovative, impromptu way, inspired by whatever’s come from their own garden or from local suppliers that day.
I asked Eelke and Ray about their story: what led them to creating Locavore, and the philosophy behind the food.
Eelke: We started in Jakarta working together, at a restaurant in Kemang. I was chef-ing there and Ray had just come back from New Zealand after 10 years. He applied for a job. It was a beautiful restaurant, with traditional fine dining. We imported everything – from cheese to foie gras to duck breast to Dover sole – everything came from Europe. Even the vegetables came from Australia. And there wasn’t really another way, back in the day. That’s what I’d been doing my entire life, cooking French food, but in Holland it’s a natural thing to use local ingredients. We didn’t think about it that much but one day we got in this huge barramundi, which was a local fish – in Europe you don’t really have them – and that was fresh, it was really stiff, just out of the ocean. And then I realized: it was all here, you just had to look for it. So slowly we started wondering, what are we doing? The barramundi or the frozen Dover sole, which you had to defrost then clean, the freeze again because you had a not-so-busy restaurant… The barramundi by far beat that for freshness.
Then we got this job offer in Bali. For us it was a good step, it was a small property with 11 villas on the beach. It was still a French restaurant, but getting ingredients here is easier than in Jakarta. Vegetables grow here, and slowly we started doing it with local ingredients. But the owner didn’t appreciate that, because he wanted to have traditional French food as well. We said, this is not really our place, we can’t do the food we want to do.
Then we met the GM of Alila Ubud, Jork, and he offered us as a position, and he gave us total freedom. The cool thing about Ubud is you’re selling the local experience – Alila sells Ubud. Food is a very important part of that. So we did very local Ubud food. We also started what we call ‘seasonal cuisine’, European food but using local ingredients. Jork believed in it and it all came together. Alila Ubud was really an eye opener for us. But then again it’s still a hotel, so people expect their pizzas and their pastas and their burgers… slowly we started feeling that we should do this seasonal cuisine in a small restaurant in Ubud, and just do 30 covers a night. And focus really well. And here we are!
Catriona: When you talk about local ingredients, are they sourced across Indonesia, or just in Bali?
Eelke: Where possible in Bali but if we can’t find it here, then Indonesia. Like seafood – lots of it is coming from Java. But most of our meats come from Bali – we have free-range chicken from Kintamani, rabbit, we will also do beef but we’re thinking of buying half a carcass and breaking it down ourselves, which we do with ducks, goats and pigs… we’ll be buying the whole animal, breaking it down, making sauces from scratch, making everything from scratch. This way it’s more respectful. If you buy a whole animal, you use every little bit of it. You aren’t going to throw anything away.
We’re even raising our own pigs at the moment – they’re organic. Normally Balinese pigs are sitting in small pens, which is against their nature. We are raising pigs – they have a very nice life, they get all the leftovers from the kitchen, from the garden… they can do what pigs should do and hopefully that improves the flavor.
Catriona: Is the ‘locavore’ approach also an environmental consideration for you, or are you doing this simply for the freshness and quality of the food?
Eelke: I think a combination of the two. It just doesn’t make sense to cook with things which come in frozen. I miss cooking with foie gras and caviar, but to me people don’t come to Bali to have that. It’s better in Europe. So the motivation is both but it started with “What are we doing? Why don’t we buy fresh ingredients?”
Ray: It doesn’t make sense. Why would you make asparagus from Australia when you have something in Bedugul? It can be picked that day and in the evening you have it in your kitchen. In Australia you don’t know when it was picked.
Eelke: We’re simple chefs you know, we didn’t really think about it before. But the more people talk about it to you, you start to question “what is everyone else doing”? And it takes a lot more time. You have to find your suppliers. A hotel chef doesn’t have time – we work long hours, we didn’t have time to go out to Bedugul or to the fish market. So I also understand that they don’t have the time to do it and they don’t have the aspirations. It takes a lot of effort.
Ray: It takes time, but it’s good to know where your food is coming from. We’re making new friends every time we meet new suppliers. It’s a really, really nice experience.
Catriona: I guess the menu will be changing all the time, according to what the suppliers bring you?
Eelke: Yes, and we have our own vegetable garden in Payogan. This is new for us – we’re going to have ingredients we have to use, for example right now we have a load of celery.
Ray: We have a lot of flowers: coriander flowers, nasturtiums…
Catriona: What kinds of dishes might diners expect to find on the menu?
Eelke: Lunch [which will commence after one month of operation] will be simpler food, more straightforward. Dinner we want to make our signature thing – we want to make a tasting menu, so three or four or five courses, but we’ll do a la carte as well. Even a cup of coffee – we’re going to do great coffee – and a dessert – it’s all possible.
And then me, Ray or Adi (the floor manager) will come and explain the menu. The tasting menu will be seven courses but people can pick just three or four or five or six of them. A la carte wise, we’re talking about three hot starters, three cold starters, three fish and seafood, three meat and poultry dishes and three desserts. We’ll always have vegetarian dishes, but if you have one or two vegetarian dishes on the menu, you push people in that direction, which I don’t want to do. Instead we’ll come out of the kitchen and say “hey, what do you like”? Vegetarians also have different tastes.
Ray: Rather than having one dish on the menu…
Eelke: It’s almost always a pasta or a risotto. We’ll come out, we’ll say, “what are your favourite ingredients, we have this and this, we can make you something out of that…” which is a lot more personal. Vegetarians are easily pushed into a corner. And we’ll try to do the opposite. We have our vegetable garden and we really like cooking vegetables… fermenting them, pickling them… Vegetarians shouldn’t stay away, that’s for sure.
Catriona: If you’re busy cooking, can you really afford the time to come out to talk to customers?
Ray: The good thing about this kitchen is it’s open – we could almost yell!
Catriona: What sort of things will you use as substitutes for European ingredients? For example mozzarella cheese, which I think is hard to get here?
Eelke: Well for example we don’t use pine nuts, we have peanuts, cashews, candle nuts…
Ray: We use a local feta cheese, locally made, and we have local mozzarella as well. Somebody’s doing it.
Eelke: But it’s very simple. If we can’t get it, we work our way around it, which we’ve been doing for a few years. So you get the hang of it. Like, take a pesto. Normally a pesto is basil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil. We do a pesto of rugula, kemangi leaves, coconut oil, cashew nuts, and pepper and salt. It’s still a pesto, but it’s only local ingredients.
Catriona: Will you both be creating the menu?
Catriona: You seem to make a very strong team.
Eelke: We like to drink beer and watch football together!
Catriona: But when you work together in the kitchen, it must be a high-pressure environment.
Eelke: I can’t remember ever having a fight.
Ray: No… we have fun, a lot of fun.
Eelke: Normally in a kitchen… if you get angry in a kitchen, it’s common in Europe. Here if you do that they think you hate them. But Ray never takes it personally, which takes a lot of pressure off. And I’m not a yelling chef. I don’t think Ray ever saw me as a chef – he’s a friend and we’re just cooking together.
Locavore is located opposite Soma Cafe on Jalan Dewi Sita, on the former site of Cafe Moka. For bookings, call Ray on 0817815718 or Eelke on 087761535300, or go to Locavore’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RestaurantLocavore