Bali’s biggest fest dishes up fun fusion
This year’s Ubud Food Festival will bring together food lovers from around the region for feasting and fresh thinking around the theme ‘every flavour is a story’. Now in its third year, Indonesia’s leading food festival is a three-day programme of cook-offs, markets, chic parties and food tours in the lush cultural centre of Ubud. It takes place this year on 12-14 May.
Regional collaboration is high on the menu, with top chefs from different corners of Asia teaming up to mix and match their flavours and styles in what promises to be a memorable event. One of them is TV chef Yuda Bustara, who fittingly has a story in cuisine that has taken him to Malaysia, Australia and back to his hometown, Jakarta.
A familiar face to Asian Food Channel viewers, Yuda left Jakarta for Malaysia at age 19 to study at Taylor’s University, where he received the formal training to back up his passion for food. After graduation, Yuda worked for a period in Kuala Lumpur and then decided to test his new skills and build his experience in the dining scene of Melbourne.
There, he learned the importance of high-quality ingredients, which were available in abundance from local growers. “In Melbourne, everyone is so creative and always coming up with new ideas,” he said. “The food industry in Melbourne is so competitive, it’s so hard to find bad food there.”
Now back in Jakarta, Yuda, 30, is juggling several projects – his TV and cooking school appearances, helping at his family’s vegan restaurant, food styling and working as a private chef. His personal mission is to educate people to cook simple, healthy meals, so he’s happy to observe the current trend towards fresh and organic food. “People are now tending to spend more money on eating healthy food. You can tell by the fact that there are so many healthy juice bars popping up around town,” he says of Jakarta.
Despite his attraction to clean eating, Yuda admits his favourite treat when home in Indonesia is a trip to a restaurant in Padang, which brings back memories from childhood. “The flavours just bomb your mouth, and they use so many spices,” he enthuses. “When I was a kid, my mom tried not to feed me with Padang food. She used to say it has so many calories, too much coconut milk and too much cholesterol on one plate. But ever since I could afford to buy it, I have kept on eating nasi padang. It is my guilty pleasure.”
Just as Yuda’s journeys around the region have fuelled his creativity in the kitchen, this year’s festival programme highlights regional collaborations and food fusions. Husband-and-wife team Bo Songvisava and Dylan Jones of Bangkok eatery Bo.lan will be teaming up with chef Will Meyrick for a special Thai-Indonesian collaboration at Will's popular Ubud restaurant Hujan Locale.
Bo.lan’s innovative Thai food, with its focus on supporting local farmers and its mission to be a zero carbon restaurant by 2018, was recently acknowledged in the S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna-sponsored Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards, where it ranked at number 19.
An Indonesia-Philippines flavour exchange is also planned. Spanish-born chef Chele Gonzales of Manila fine dining establishment Gallery Vask (number 35 on the Asia's 50 Best list) will join the trio of chefs from Ubud’s Locavore (number 22) to serve a menu both elegant and exciting.
Still on the theme of mixing, Raka Ambrawan, resident mixologist at Locavore's cocktail bar Night Rooster, will serve special fermented fruit cocktails created for one night only. But the festival is not all fine wining and dining. Every year, the ‘Think, Talk, Taste’ forums discuss new food trends and environmental challenges. Hot topics now are the coconut craze, cassava and tempeh, Indonesian staples that are being called the new ‘superfoods’, and sustainable seafood and overfishing.
Ubud has accommodations to suit all tastes – from five-star resorts to easy, breezy Bali bungalows. A favourite with foodies is Bisma Eight, a luxury boutique hotel that opened close to the heart of Ubud in 2015, and has established itself as one of the town’s most stylish destinations. It’s home to Copper Kitchen and Bar, which uses produce from Bisma Eight’s own organic farm, a short walk away. The hotel also features the cozy Library Café, and hosts regular classes on Balinese cooking, cocktail mixing and coffee tasting.
A more rustic option – and one the social media savvy will instantly recognise – is Ubud’s Zen Hideaway. A 150-year-old teakwood house located 20 minutes away from town, it has the most famous swing on Instagram that lets guests soar over a spectacular view of the Ayung River and the surrounding rice fields.
Ubud Food Festival has also partnered with five hotels to offer their guests a 20 percent discount on the three-day Food Lovers festival pass. For more information, visit ubudfoodfestival.com.