Jonathan Russell is the guy behind two small but very successful restaurants – the cozy Green Ginger Noodle House in Canggu and The Elephant, a breezy terrace overlooking the Ayung river valley in Ubud. We talked to Jono about his vision of rabbit food and the power of fat.
Text by Masha Larkin
FRV: You open restaurants that are strictly vegetarian but somehow your food gets even strict carnivores hooked – what’s the magic?
JR: In a word, fat. It’s all about fat – that’s the thing that carries flavour. Veggies don’t have it and meat does, so if you want the greens to taste nice you have to add it. It comes in lots of different ways: extra virgin olive oil, butter, parmesan, sour cream, cashews, coconuts, bocconcini, cream, milk, hazelnuts, sesame oil, seeds, tahini, feta, yoghurt, olives, almonds…the list goes on. You get the idea?
FRV: That explains perfectly why some of your non-vegetarian regulars swear that at your venues food actually ‘has taste’ – while many other green cafes lack it.
JR: The other thing is that we don’t make specifically vegetarian food as such. We make food that appears on menus all around the world of non-vegetarian restaurants (e.g. pad thai, gnocchi with burnt sage butter, ratatouille with green cous cous, panini bocconcini with kalamata and caramelised onions). So by picking a greatest hits kind of cuisine I think we broaden our appeal to people who think of vegetarian as rabbit food.
FRV: What’s the main challenge in cooking for vegetarians?
JR: Fresh, good quality produce. And a willingness to smell yoga sweat, inhale patchouli essential oil, exchange holier than thou looks with your customers. Oh – and take meat eaters with a grain of salt!
FRV: Your latest venue, The Elephant in Ubud, is quite special. On the one hand, it fits the organic/eco/green/vegan vibe of Ubud perfectly, on the other hand, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re in one of ‘those’ places. How have you managed to avoid that pigeon holing?
JR: I reckon it was our willingness to use a deep fryer to make our polenta chips and smashed potatoes crunchy. Or could it be the DJ-skills (Jono is also famous in Australia and Bali as DJ Rocksolid – editor) behind the playlists: that gets mentioned?
FRV: Your favourite Bali foods?
JR: Jon Leonard’s PT Superhygeine keeps giving us beautiful surprises from his network of organic, fair trade farmers; ‘oro blanco’ grapefruits, telur kampung free range eggs, Hawaiian papaya, cashews, goats’ cheese and much much more. And a special mention to cosmic coffee for our Kintamani cold drip!
FRV: Apart from all the Bali bounty it seems like you’re very inspired by Thai culture and food. Why?
JR: So I can justify the month-long holiday/bootcamp in Phuket I join every February! Secondly, I see Thai cuisine as the Italian of Asian cooking – in the way that Chinese relates to French, i.e. they respect vegetables in their own rights rather than sideshows to meat.
FRV: What would be your next dream restaurant in Bali and where would it be?
JR: Pizza & coffee with Penestanan ping-pong club up on the roof – it’s gonna be my version of the Brooklyn cliche!
The Elephant restaurant & bar
jl Raya Sanggingan, Hotel Taman Indrakila, Campuhan, Ubud
Green Ginger Noodle House
jl Pantai Berawa 46a, Canggu