On An ISLAND
I FIRST VISITED Locavore a few months after they opened. I rarely stayed overnight in Ubud back then. I thought there wasn’t anywhere good to have dinner at. During that first time, I was in Ubud on a day trip with some visiting friends, and there was a sudden downpour that got us stuck. The rain eventually stopped and it was too late to drive back to Seminyak and have dinner there. So we decided to stay put and find somewhere decent to have dinner. I opened TripAdvisor and saw Locavore on the top. It intrigued me and I made the call. The person on the other end of the line was friendly and said that if I didn’t mind sharing their long table with another group, that they would have us. I was thoroughly impressed back then and am still constantly impressed now after many visit.
“We simply wanted to run our own little place, cook the food we liked to cook with a concept we all believed in, but also play the music we like and make our own decisions and stop listening to people who tell you what to do. Maybe the easiest way to put it is that we wanted to have fun doing what we enjoyed most: cooking!” said Eelke emphatically during one of our chats. They didn’t set out to achieve anything ground breaking.
“We simply wanted to run our own little place, cook the food we liked to cook with a concept we all believed in.”
The first year, year and a half, Locavore gained momentum, diners were happy, tables were full. “We were still very much cooking within our comfort zones, using Western produce like radishes, beets, kohlrabi, certain greens and herbs which were being grown locally. Sort of cooking the food we cooked growing up in kitchens in Europe for me and for Ray in kitchens in New Zealand where he spent 10 years studying and cooking.”
Then Eelke said, there was an AHA moment. He saw a zucchini grow from a baby zucchini into a monster zucchini over a weekend. “Maybe I have to explain this a bit more in detail: we used to have a vegetable garden right in front of the house where we lived, and one time when we went away for a weekend I remember checking on the zucchinis just before we left, and the zucchini’s were like proper baby zucchinis and I remember thinking that we should do something with them in a week or two. But then when we came back two days later, they were monsters already, too big even to use for the menu. I remember thinking that this can’t be right and that it shouldn’t be like this. This is not how these vegetables were growing in my parents garden back in Europe and then I also realized that they didn’t taste the same: they tasted watery, and dry at the same time. Maybe life on this tropical island was just too easy for them?”
This is when Eelke and Ray came to the conclusion that there was nothing local about a vegetable that is grown in a place while the seeds are from some place far away. And that they should stop using these, since they were not really local. And that they were only using these produce because they had been using them for a long time. And this is when the paradigm shift began. That’s when they decided to do something totally different compared to everyone else. They turned to local and endemic Indonesian ingredients. To which they made a rule of thumb: “We can only use produce that is actually from this country or we can use produce that has been here so long that it is considered Indonesian enough, like tomatoes, chillies and potatoes just to name a few.” But Eelke is quick to introduce a caveat: “And we also told ourselves that we shouldn’t get too anal about this because that was the reason why we opened our restaurant in the first place!” Again, they didn’t want to be too serious lest they forget that they just really wanted to be happy cooking.
What was their biggest challenge? It was obviously having to cook out of their comfort zones. “Changing our own mindset while creating dishes, really. I mean we have been using the same ingredients for over 15 years and to make the mental switch to stop using all those things from within your comfort zone and to switch to lesser-known Indonesian ingredients, was huge. It took us 2.5 years or something I guess to really feel comfortable about it.”
In my opinion, one dish which really drives home this vision of using everything local is their “Into the Sawah (rice field)” dish – the dish was created to showcase ingredients found in a Balinese rice field. It is a risotto-style dish, the rice used is hyper-local from Tegalalang, then snails and frog’s legs floss are added, it is then topped with a perfectly cooked duck egg yolk, and garnished with fern tips and wild flowers. “This is super personal for me, but this dish featuring everything that lives, swims and grows in and around an Ubud rice field, tells our story on a plate. A very strong concept for a dish.”
“This is super personal for me, but this dish featuring everything that lives, swims and grows in and around an Ubud rice field, tells our story on a plate. A very strong concept for a dish.”
At the end of March, Locavore was again honored to be on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, this year rising a place up to No. 21 on the list, and being named again for the third year in a row, The Best Restaurant in Indonesia. Such accolades have served as inspiration and challenge to the team to continue what they are doing and strive to be better.
Aside from Restaurant Locavore, the team has now four other venues (a fifth on the way) on Jalan Dewi Sita in the heart of Ubud. There is Locavore To Go (their little sister restaurant serving breakfast, sandwiches and snacks), The Night Rooster, their cocktail bar, Restaurant Nusantara (serving Indonesian food using the same Locavore ethos) and LocaLAB (their test kitchen).
Raka who heads The Night Rooster, started out as one of the bartenders at Locavore. It was a logical progression for them to open Rooster, since Raka had already been using the same Locavore concepts. Raka creates exciting cocktails from premium spirits imaginatively combined with local fruits, herbs, vegetables and spices. He also makes his own bitters and experiments with exotic infusions.
Nusantara was conceived differently. “We were looking for a space for our creative kitchen when we were offered the current space, and because it was too big we needed something different for the ground floor and we had already been walking around with ideas for an authentic Indonesian restaurant in our heads, so one plus one became two,” Eelke explains. “Indonesian food is so underrated. All of us love Indonesian food, and we wanted to cook it authentically and serve it to our guests, not just as a staff meal.”
LocaLAB is envisoned as a creative space used for the ongoing process of developing Locavore dishes and new ideas. Head chef Felix Schoener says: “We seek to find new possibilities with known and unknown ingredients from the Indonesian archipelago using our sense of curiosity, a little out of the box creative thinking, intuition, tasting, research and continuous experimentation. Here we can focus mainly on creativity without the daily challenges of running a busy restaurant with the pressure of production and providing a high quality service and dining experience.”
It seems like the Locavore team is all set-up pretty well down in Ubud. Not only are they taking up the torch for local and endemic ingredients, they are in the process raising high the Indonesian flag, shining a light on what we have on our shores. He’s to more exciting news from the Locavore team, may your tribe increase even more.
10 Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud
T: +62 361 977733