Two chefs 12.000 km apart, exchanging continent, restaurant, and life.
A one week, two-way, takeover: Trading Spaces
Food and music, my dad has always tried to teach me, are exquisite pleasures. Not only in themselves, but especially when you include and consider everything that surrounds them; from the planning to the wait, the arrangements, the study, and mainly, the shared joy that you get from them when sampled with people you love and cherish. My dad is one of the persons I know to enjoy most sharing joy; which for him is food, music and good wine. He is also the person I missed the most throughout this whole experience.
It is sometimes quite intricate and unexpected how do things come to be in life. I first heard about Indonesia when I was in Amsterdam. I was travelling with papa and because he always makes an effort to find one of the best dining experiences everywhere we go, he had decided we would try Rijsttafel, which is an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch imitating the presentation of Nasi Padang from the Padang region of West Sumatra.
That is the only meal I really remember from The Netherlands, even though I lived more than six months there… but I was a student, in a student budget, and I am not my dad, so please don’t blame me? My first Rijsttafel was so intriguing, colorful, spicy and delicious, that Indonesia became a word in my mind. Indonesia, and without even knowing it I engraved a desire in my heart that would materialize itself a couple of years later when, from Groningen, where I was studying, I won a scholarship to come and live in Bali for three months. From that day until now I have eight thousand stories to tell, but I’ll have to save them for another moment.
Fast forward seven years later. I am walking down the streets of Ubud, Bali; trying to find Locavore, awarded both the Best Restaurant in Indonesia and the Most Sustainable Restaurant in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list of 2019, and I think to myself: “Papa would be so jealous”. But Locavore is nowhere to be seen because in its place stands a higher and more geometric façade. A wall with painted blue windmills and a sign that indicates: RIJKS®. Because for whole week Locavore (Ubud, Bali) and RIJKS® (Amsterdam, Netherlands) take on the challenge of their biggest chef’s event so far: they are Trading Spaces, which means that chef Eelke Plasmeijer exchange continent, restaurant and life with Joris Bijdendijk from 23 to 26 May. And I am going to be able to eat, seven years later, in my current home: Bali, in a Michelin star Dutch restaurant. Here we go…
During the exchange, the chefs simultaneously move their entire restaurant to the other side of the world, so as many lucky people sit in the Rijksmuseum’s eating the most fantastic Indonesian food from the best restaurant in Indonesia, I will have the opportunity to be here, in Bali, sampling a menu that is one of the best in all of the world, and anticipating an unforgettable culinary journey.
A swap might sound easy, but it is definitely a complicated task at hand. For it to become a reality more than half of the team of each restaurant has traveled around the world, some with sausages and cheeses sneakily hidden in their purses, got to meet and work with another team, weather, kitchen, markets, produce, working environment, and way of doing things. They have had to adapt and create their signature dished in a completely foreign and new environment. It is quite a feat indeed and this makes it even more of a circular experience.
From the moment we enter we are in a completely different world; the sunflowers and ceramic vases make it very clear that the experience has started. We are received with a broad smile and after sitting down and choosing, naturally, the eight dishes menu, we are presented with impressively presented snacks that lay in ceramic plates with chopped ice or on top of a wooden log. Never in my life did I imagine that a cabbage bouillon could taste so good.
And just like a planned play, our chat and laughter are interrupted every twenty to twenty-five minutes by the need to close our eyes and savor to the very maximum what has been presented in front of us; in awe, repeating to each other: How can this taste so good?
For the first time in my life, I eat ants, which are only the side to a green gazpacho that tastes like the soup I could have every day of my life. The Hamachi and its vinaigrette make me think of Japan and elegant dinners with kings and queens. But is it only when we get to the bamboo lobster with its coconut bisque, that I realize eating will never be the same. Who can cook like this? I ask myself in disbelief. I close my eyes to feel the flavors throughout my body, to make them linger, to be able to remember so that I can tell everyone about them. Will I be able to eat ever again without comparing everything to this meal?
And in the same grace, with beautiful attention to details and pairing which I would have never imagined worked so perfectly, we come to the millefeuille of beetroot with tomasu beurre blanc and parsley oil, paired with aged rum and homemade red vermouth. A completely vegetarian main dish that still has my head spinning wondering how I can ever replicate it at home and asking over and over again: Why can’t we always make this much from the act of eating?
Dairy is not a product used in local Indonesian food, that is why the Holy Trinity of “Blaarkop” milk is so appreciated, especially its mix between crunchy and perfectly smooth sweet ice cream.
As time passes, we’ve started to talk less and less allowing time for what we are experiencing in the company of each other. And we know that we do not have to say anything to communicate because we are sharing this experience, and that makes it even better.
As if all the previous delights weren’t enough, there are desserts. And what kind of desserts! The Rhubarb with custard and basil sorbet cleansed our taste buds preparing us for the most indulgent and comforting mix of warm caramel, cashew nuts, crackers and chocolate nibs in a dish called Baobap hangop. Life is good, is what I think to myself as I fill my mouth with creamy caramel and close all of my other senses in order to feel pleasure enough to last me a whole week.
And so, like everything good in life, the meal comes to an end, but the experience and the joy lingers. The joy of having spent three hours doing nothing but being pampered by incredible food, service, and company. Three hours of full presence; because that is what good food makes you do: be exactly in the moment. Now the restaurant is almost empty and a part of me doesn’t want to exit Amsterdam and go back into Bali. I’m not trying to brag but give context when I say: I’ve been lucky enough to eat in thousands of places in my life, and yet I truly believe this has been the best meal I have ever experienced… And so, we say goodbye, give our thanks and walk to our vehicles in silence; because as after any meaningful experience the best is to allow it to sink and do its magic.
As I am driving home, unexpectedly I am no thinking about food anymore, but about papa. I’m thinking: How I will ever explain to him what I’ve just experience; how will I convey the flavours and the textures, the smells, the sensations in my body. I know the ingredients; I even have the recipes… but how can I ever replicate those flavours? And it is then that it occurs to me that maybe food is just like music; it is not about each individual note. We can all hit the keyboard in a piano, but how many of us can play a whole song?
A meal such as this one is born from having the patience, the craft, the feeling, to create, replicate and perform a whole marvelous symphony for whoever is there to enjoy. In this case, me. It is all about taksu*. And this meal was full of it.
Eda Sofía, 2019
Article written for Locavore
**TAKSU is a unique Balinese concept meaning charisma, spiritual power and artistic inspiration needed to truly capture eyes, minds, and hearts of the audience, both human and divine.