Last month, Eelke Plasmeijer took up a two-day residence at Dewakan, KL’s very own restaurant that celebrates Malaysia’s produce and its rich culinary traditions.
The sojourn saw Plasmeijer and Dewakan’s Darren Teoh and his team stir up diners’ appetite with their unique take and improvisation inspired by their trips to local markets and even rummaging through Dewakan’s own larders.
Plasmeijer’s own establishment in the serene Ubud region of Bali was named among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants last year, sharing the honour with restaurants operating in fast-paced cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.
Locavore promises an exhilarating farm-to-table fine dining experience, whose menus are divided into locavore and herbivore, whereby the ingredients used are self-explanatory.
Not so overt, however, is the name of each dish.
The whimsically named Are They Really Called Stinky Beans makes use of petai, lacto-fermented shiitake mushroom, among others, and is paired with a cocktail concocted with black pepper mushroom liquid, chilli vodka, etc.
In the kitchen, Plasmeijer shares the responsibility with fellow executive chef, Indonesian-born, Ray Adriansyah. Here, he airs his thoughts on Bali’s culinary scene and details what goes on in a collaborative effort.
Bali has become quite a culinary hotbed with a number of celebrity chefs establishing their presence there. What do you think are its attractions?
The first reason a lot of chefs want to cook in Bali is because Bali is a beautiful place—but I don’t agree that Bali is a culinary destination.
It is a unique destination. You can’t find Bali anywhere else in the world. There are definitely a lot of good, interesting restaurants, but I think the whole F&B scene, especially in the south, is very commercial, very grey, and “same same”, you know?
In my opinion, there are only a few restaurants that are doing some interesting and different things, whereas the rest are just catering to the masses. If people think that is a reason to become a destination, then so be it.
Compared to 10 years ago when I first arrived in Bali, it is better and with more choices now.
Nonetheless, there are a lot of people doing the same things, and only a few people—I believe including ourselves—that put their necks out, that actually try to do something that is not catered to the masses.
As the only Bali-based restaurant named among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants last year, has it done much to raise your profile? Have you had diners who made a point to dine in your restaurant when they were in Ubud?
The good thing is that the restaurant has always been quite busy since the day we opened, so when we got on the list, it didn’t get significantly busier.
What we saw was that we got more industry people—more colleagues, chefs and restaurateurs—which was very cool because they came with the
right expectations. They knew what to expect.
If people pass by the restaurant and they say, “That looks nice”, and they walk in, they may be disappointed because they’d expected something else. People who come to the restaurant knowing in advance what kind of food that we are doing, what kind of experience they can expect, really helps.
You need to be a little bit open minded to enjoy our food. It is not all that easy, there are a lot of new ingredients and new flavours; especially if they are from Europe, America or Australia, it is very new to them.
If you’re Asian or Malaysian, and especially if you’ve eaten at Dewakan, and you come to our restaurant, there are lots of things that are similar.
You grew up in the Netherlands and began your training there as a chef, before moving to Jakarta and now Bali. In what ways do you think your skill and knowledge as a chef has evolved or been influenced by these changes?
I was 23 when I got to Jakarta. It was 11 years ago. I started working when I was 14 so I had some experiences, nothing too crazy. I worked in a few good restaurants, but the whole way of me looking at cooking totally changed when I came to Indonesia.
I grew up in traditional French restaurants, went to culinary and hospitality schools – but with all due respect, back in the days you become a chef because you can’t do anything else, you know what I mean?
We are not the brightest light in the world; you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to cook… but if you want to make a difference, you have to work very hard, be a bit smarter than the rest, and that you have to be humble.
The talent in cooking comes with creating a new dish, understanding your ingredients – that’s what comes with being a good cook.
The thing about this profession is that you never stop. Every day, especially what we’re trying to do at Locavore, we try tackling new ingredients – ingredients that have never really been used before in this kind of cuisine, this kind of food.
I’m 35 years old, and every day, there is so much to discover; Indonesia is such a big country, where do you start? I keep on learning, because are you going to keep on doing what you’ve been doing your whole life, or are you going to doubt what people tell you?
If a chef tells me, “Eelke, keep doing it like that”, you don’t say, “But chef…”, you know?
You say, “Yes chef!”, that is how it is. To doubt is not in the blood of a cook.
The guys at Noma started looking at things differently, they changed a lot of things in cooking. Maybe you’ve done something the same way for 20 years, but why?
It’s all about changing that mindset. You need to make that decision to get out of your comfort zone; a lot of cooks cook in their own comfort zones because it’s easy, but at a certain point you have to say, “That doesn’t make sense where I am”, so you have to transition to doing, say, what we’re doing at Locavore or what Darren (Teoh) is doing at Dewakan.
How do you strike a balance between serving modern European while retaining a sense of Balinese and Indonesian?
At Locavore, we don’t cook Indonesian food. We use only Indonesian produce.
I think, after having a meal with us, you will definitely feel that you are in Indonesia while not eating Indonesian food.
The setting is modern, but everything else is local. It is an Indonesian experience. What we do is that we try to use Indonesian produce and
do something with that, while not necessarily simply taking an Indonesian dish and then trying to make it modern.
We did that for a few months, but we decided that it was not what we should be doing.
Instead, we should showcase the produce and not the dish. Therefore in Locavore, we just try to use Indonesian produce and let that speak for itself.