LUKE’s BALI

Chef Luke McLeod of The Legian Bali is quiet and timid at first, but once he starts talking about food, it will be hard to get him to stop.

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Chef Luke McLeod of The Legian Bali is quiet and timid at first, but once he starts talking about food, it will be hard to get him to stop.

“LIKE MANY CHEFS, a lot of my cooking flavors and menu ideas have been influenced by my childhood food experiences. Mum’s cooking was great and she is very imaginative in creating dishes with what was on hand,” Luke shares as we sit down on a balmy afternoon.

Luke continues that when he was a kid, he and his brother and sisters would take turns making cookie and cakes, fighting over who got to lick the spoon and bowl. “I still remember the taste of my first Florentine!”

His grandmother was a professional wedding cake maker and he got the best birthday cakes he says. “I have heaps of stupid photos of me as a child in front of a robot cake or race car track cake with a stupefied look on my face,” Luke reminisces.

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He then recounts what he fondly remember from his Grandma’s cooking: “Her delicious green beans — how did she make kids love green beans! — beef with red wine sauce and onion jam, bolognaise sauce, bacon sandwich with warm egg yolk on top, pea and ham soup.”

Now he even uses his Grandma’s bolognaise recipe for the resort’s in-room dining menu. “I have just created a new dish: ‘Almost Grandma’s Pea and Ham Soup — I use the bangkal hitam pork (Balinese free range organic pig) hock and make a ham hock broth as my granny would and then cook lentils inside the broth, lightly creamed and blended, put into a siphon and we have a pea and ham espuma. I braise the pigs ears in a Chinese style and the sweetness and crunch really work well with the rich foam. Just don’t tell the guest they are eating pigs ears and they love it!”

After a serious bike accident when he was 15 years old, in which he was briefly in a coma, Luke said that he had some problems at school during the recovery period.He had to leave school and his Mom found found him a college.  She looked up some courses for him to take and offered him three, cooking being one. “I had always been good at cooking, it was good fun and easy. Mum also encouraged me to take the path and looking back I found my true calling in a time of despair.”

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Luke later on finished his certificate in cooking and did various apprenticeships in Queensland and worked too in Melbourne.

In 2004 he moved to Paris to further his career. Luke names Chef Alexandre Bourdas as one of his mentors who greatly influences his cooking.

“He was the last chef I worked for in France in a tiny town of Honfleur in Normandy at restaurant Sa.Qua.Na. It is a 28-seater restaurant with one single tasting menu and only one service.

“We created a daily menu based on the fish that we found at the port at 5:30 in the morning followed by the vegetables that we took at the local market.  We prepared only what we needed which was easy to calculate as we were always full.  His style of respect for the ingredients and attention to detail was contagious.  We really gave our all to make the best food possible daily and never felt that prepping was just to be ready for a busy service.  Our hard work and love paid off, after 2 years of being there we won our second Michelin star.”

He left France after Sa.Qua. Na and had stints at Pierre Restaurant of Pierre Gagnaire at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and at the InterContinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort in Koh Samui, before heading to Bali to join The Legian in 2014.

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“The great thing about working at The Legian is that we are a small boutique hotel with no set guidelines for food and beverage and an amazing kitchen and service team, led by Pak Edi, who has been here for years. We have great clients at the hotel that know a lot about restaurants and food.  Our owners and the GM support us in developing our ideas and give us the equipment needed.”

His dinner menu is his baby Luke says, where he is able to really get creative.  With their lovely beach front location, white table linen, candle light, with a pianist playing, it is a perfect backdrop for brilliant food and service.  They have an a la carte menu that changes gradually with new ideas and products, their discovery menu changes up to five times a week, it is a selection of the a la carte menu and some new dishes that they are trying at the time and can vary from five to ten courses.

“I want guests to come and eat my menu and say ‘I have never tried this dish anywhere else in the world.’ “

“Local farmers are what shapes my menus and gives the source of inspiration. Some I have met from my team, some from local markets and even some from my children’s birthday parties whilst talking about restaurants to other parents and them telling me about a friend that farms,” Luke says.

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During the day that I visited, Luke prepared a duck dish. The duck was delivered that morning by one of his local suppliers, a French gentleman named Cyril has his own duck farm in North Bali. It is the story of the duck’s death on the plate!

Cyril explained the process after Luke enquired why there was always corn in the ducks throat.  The duck is fed corn, a little electric shock to sedate it, and then the knife. “I have used the same corn and with sweet corn and a sambal-corn powder, electric daisies for the shock, roasted beets, beetroot and ginger essence as the blood. It’s a bit gore but it really excites the diners and maybe gives them the idea that they are eating an animal and not just a piece of meat!

“Don’t worry vegetarians are not spared from my great sense of humor as we also do the death of beetroots dish! — To remind them that vegetables are also living.”

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The barramundi dish is done with local chorizo: urutan which marries very well with a strong earthy fish like the barramundi, wild local pepper corns which are hand picked at Plaga, and raisins in the salsa, the fern tips are hand picked in the forest of Bedugul.

“Bakso Ravioli – so many chefs love it but we can’t put street food on the menu. After a recent trip to Hong Kong and some great dumplings I got to thinking, so the diner always seasons the edge of the dumpling with flavors before they place the whole dumpling into their mouths and BOOM the explosion of warm soup and intense flavor of bakso.”

The Frog in My Rice Field is a true story, Luke says. “Where I live, my villa is backing onto a rice field that has coconut trees on my side of the river and banana trees on the other. My sous chefs told me that the frogs come from the rice field and it got me thinking. Puffed Rice cakes — sundried by Pak Putu’s wife — banana and virgin coconut oil puree, coconut sambal and the frog legs rubbed and crisp fried with bumbu. Local salads and a dressing with coconut nectar and lime.”

Now if a chef talks about his food with this much passion and enthusiasm, who wouldn’t want to sample his food. Time for a trip to Bali, aye?


Written by Jed Doble Photographs by AKI June 21, 2016.

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