Ubud Food Festival has its inaugural outing on 5-7 June 2015. Rio Helmi talked to the festival’s founder, Janet DeNeefe, about this three day culinary adventure which will celebrate the richness and diversity of Indonesian culture.

Rio Helmi:  Janet, a good look at your program reveals that besides the numerous reasonably priced events, there are quite a few interesting forums that are free of charge. This all makes Ubud Food Festival very accessible. Are you hoping that this brings in more locals? What was the rationale for this strategy?

Janet DeNeefe: It’s very important to us that the festival is accessible to everybody, from tourists passing through Bali who want to experience the full breadth of Indonesian food, to Balinese foodies who want to meet the culinary greats of Indonesia or brush up on their food photography skills (which are already pretty fantastic, actually!) We have a huge array of free events, from our daily Food Forum series – intimate discussions where chefs share the secrets to their success – to our night markets, film screenings and book launches. We have five cooking demonstrations running each day from 5-7 June, and our writing and photography workshop series, which have tiered pricing structures to make sure their affordable to everyone (From IDR 50,000 to IDR 450,000, depending on the length of the session). For those who do have a bit more to spare, we’ve also got a host of special events held across some of Ubud’s best culinary establishments, as well as our three day FoodLover pass, which provides access to all fifteen of our cooking demonstrations (From IDR 810,000 to IDR 2,025,000), the ultimate flavour indulgence. So yes, something for everyone, for sure!

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RH: You’ve got a cast of old and new, for example Sri Owen is arguably the ‘Julia Childs of Indonesian cuisine’, one of the first, early generation to create a series of cook books on Indonesian-based cuisine. Who do you have coming that we could say is the “opposite” extreme – experimental, cutting edge, but still Indonesia-oriented?

JdN: While Sri might be credited with introducing Indonesian food to the wider world, there are some fantastic local chefs who are constantly re-defining what Indonesian cuisine is, if it can even be categorised as such. Jon Priadi of the Culture Kitchen Food Lab in Yogyakarta for example is an Australian-trained, Indonesian chef who brings his global influences to locally sourced ingredients. The same can be said of chefs Mandif Warokka and cult-hero Rahung Nasution, who are merging traditional and modern styles of Indonesian cuisine to create something totally distinct and new.

RH:  As things have worked out, is the festival going to be biased more towards international or Indonesian cuisine?

JdN: The Ubud Food Festival is a three-day culinary adventure with Indonesian food as the star. It was very important to us that Indonesian food stayed front and centre of our vision as a festival, whether by bringing together Indonesia’s culinary greats, such as Sri Owen (supported by Garuda UK) and William Wongso, or International chefs who are creating their own style of Indonesian food-fusion. We also wanted to bring in a few culinary entrepreneurs who are making their mark in Southeast Asia and beyond, like Ryan Clift (supported by bridges), Janice Wong (supported by Pipilton Chocolate) and Dave Pynt, to showcase the deliciousness and diversity that Indonesia has to offer.

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RH:  Which cuisines (geographically) from Indonesia will be featured?
JdN: Oh wow, many! We’ve spices from the Malacca Straits, Mandonese braised chicken, Balinese satay, Ambonese papeda, and sambals of all sorts and spices! We’re also going to be having the ultimate spice smackdown with a Rendang cook-off, with Malaysia’s chef Wan battling it out against North Sumatra’s Rahung Nasution, judged by our very own Sri Owen (who may or may not be biased!), amongst others. We’re also collaborating with some of Bali’s best restaurants to showcase the incredible array of local ingredients at our fingertips, including Bali Asli, Fivelements, Locavore, Cuca and Slow Food Bali.

RH:  Will there be any literary tie-ins with UWRF, say with creative food writers?

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JdN: Well, we’re storytellers at heart, so it’s little surprise that the program is a form of food narrative in itself. This comes out most through our workshop series, which will feature some of Indonesia’s best food writers, bloggers and photographers including Laksmi Pamuncak, Fellexandro Ruby (of Wanderbites fame) and Bayu Amus. We’re also calling on the storytelling skills of Bondan Winarno, one of Indonesia’s most famous food journalists, and TV celebrity chef Bara Pattiradjawane. So there are many elements of food – from making, tasting, describing and capturing – in the program.

To learn more about the Ubud Food Festival, which will have its inaugural outing from June 5-7 2015, see here.

Photos by Matt Oldfield