The Bali food scene has become famous around the world, and Ubud in particular is known for its culinary experiences, especially with the Ubud Food Festival on the annual cuisine calendar! And one person who knows what she’s talking about when it comes to all things food related on the island is Australian, Janet DeNeefe. After marrying a Balinese man in 1984, Janet has been in Bali ever since and has been the driving force behind many famous restaurants and cooking schools on the island, including Lilies, Casa Luna, Indus and the Honeymoon Guesthouse. She then went on to start the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival [one of the most successful literary festivals in Southeast Asia] which led to the founding of the Ubud Food Festival, which kicks off at the end of this month [for its second year running]. We chat to Janet about all things food related in Bali, from her fave places to grab some grub in Ubud, to her new venture with cooking cruises, not to mention her thoughts on Bali’s culinary position on the world’s food map.
How did the creation of the Ubud Food Festival come about?
In 2014 we started running the Kitchen sessions as part of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival program, inviting chefs and authors to create dishes in front of an audience. They were so successful that we decided to turn the concept into its own event and in 2015, the Ubud Food Festival was born!
What are you especially looking forward to at the festival this year?
We ask our chefs to showcase the very best in Indonesian produce and cuisine, which always leads to interesting and innovative results. One of our special events this year, for example, will be YouTube sensation and one of Jamie Oliver’s best mates from Amsterdam, Bart Van Olphen, cooking alongside the much-loved Indonesian chef Bara Pattiradjawane, from Ambon, at Casa Luna. Both are fish experts, but with very different influences and styles. It’s going to be exciting to see what kind of piscine-fusion they cook up!
What goals or visions do you have for the UFF for the future?
We’d really like to see the Ubud Food Festival become a serious platform for the Indonesian culinary industry; to connect young chefs, create more incentives for culinary careers, help Indonesian food become better known across the globe as well as strengthen the networking opportunities for producers.
You have been in the restaurant business in Bali for many years, how has the industry evolved?
Bali has changed a lot over the past 30 years and so, of course, has the food scene. Back in the late 80’s, when I set up our first restaurant, Lilies, hygiene was dubious as there was little known about refrigeration and western expectations. It was a full-time job monitoring the preparation, serving and storage of food. But even then Ubud already had its own interesting food traditions with its lavish ceremonies, and the rising middle-class has further embellished the cuisine. Europeans have also always been smitten with Ubud and have brought with them their own favourites, thus creating a warm relationship and exchange of ideas with the locals. Consequently, Ubud is now home to world-class international restaurants such as Mosaic, Locavore, Room4Dessert and Hujan Locale. On the home front, Ibu Oka’s is a Balinese icon serving the legendary slow-roasted suckling. Young Balinese take food more seriously than ever before and even my Balinese niece spends her spare time baking cakes. There’s a growing sophistication on every level and it’s all very exciting.
Bali has become a foodie’s paradise in its own right, what are your favourite cuisines?
Well I’m still a huge fan of Balinese food – I live and breathe it – and who can resist Padang food? The flavours of Sumatra are a knock out and the food of Ambon is also totally fab and Sundanese food is drop-dead delicious too. I’m also crazy about Japanese food. But clearly Indonesian is my number one.
What has put Bali onto the international food map over the last few year?
I think we’ve all been chipping away at the culinary profile of Bali. Chris Salans was maybe the first to elevate Balinese cuisine to fine dining and since 1987 I’ve been experimenting with local flavours. Back then I was tossing avocado with grilled chicken, coconut milk and Balinese spices, making pesto with kemangi and roasted kenari and so on. I think the growing popularity of Bali has brought with it higher-end hotels – and more discerning visitors – so it’s only natural that a higher quality of food has followed as well as talented chefs to meet that demand. The food is supremely delicious too which has played a major part in its new-found stardom.
What do you think is missing from the Bali food scene?
I think Bali needs a more serious food critic scene led by those in the business who can evaluate in a professional way. This would be an interesting development for Bali. I also think that culinary schools in Bali need to be more world-class and a platform for innovation and creativity while providing a strong foundation in cooking. I would love to see more talented young Balinese chefs leading the way with more women chefs too.
Please share some of your favourite foodie places in and around Ubud?
For breakfast I love bubur from the Ubud market and Balinese lunch from Warung Teges. There are so many impressive new kids on the block from Locavore to Hujan Locale and my neighbour is Chris Salans with Spice. For vegan food, Moksa is fabulous. And I love Ryoshi for Japanese food. For so many years they have served consistently great Japanese food that my kids adore.
Not that you need to add any more fab strings to your bow, but is there anything in the pipeline for Janet De Neefe?
I’m so excited about the cruises we’re running in collaboration with SeaTrek. After the Ubud Food Festival, we set sail for the Komodo’s with cult chef-thropologist Rahung Nasution, celebrated food and travel photographer, Petrina Tinsley and yours truly. We will drift through this extraordinary part of Indonesia, snorkelling and exploring during the day, in between cooking classes on deck eating the catch-of-the-day with a whole host of other glorious Indonesian dishes. At twilight Petrina will take us on a photo journey with a backdrop of the Komodos offering how-to tips and daily photography exercises. We will have the opportunity to sharpen our cooking skills during the day and our photography skills at night. After the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, we will run a cruise with more of a writer-storytelling focus. I will also run my own cruise each year to Ambon and beyond, cooking up the food I love, served with a major dose of Eastern Indonesian history.
There is no doubt that Bali is in an exciting place when it comes to all things food related [aren’t we lucky that we get to eat here every day!], and we can’t wait to head up to Ubud to experience culinary delights at the Ubud Food Festival on the last weekend of May. Be sure not to miss out by purchasing your tickets today!
Ubud Food Festival 2016 will take place on Friday 27th – Sunday 29th May.
For more information, the weekend’s full schedule and to purchase tickets visit Ubud Food Festival.