Jakarta. Inspired by the flavors of Bali, acclaimed chef Chris Salans of Mozaic Bali has developed techniques to adapt Indonesian cuisine to Western palates. His restaurant is among only three in Southeast Asia to be recognized by Tradition et Qualite as a member of Les Grandes Tables Du Monde. He recently spoke to the Peak about his biggest passions.
Q: You grew up in France and have spent several years in Asia, how much of your French culinary heritage/upbringing reflects in the dishes you create in Asia?
A: Mozaic’s cuisine can be defined as Modern French using the Balinese Terroir. I forage the local fauna and cook with the ingredients and flavors to create dishes that use French cooking and presentation techniques.
Most chefs, like myself, follow what has been created by our predecessors and these techniques are the key to our success.
During your youth in Europe, would you say you were exposed to much Asian cuisine at all? Was it, perhaps, more oriented toward Vietnamese food or a fusion of European/Asian?
Not really. Actually, it’s the warmth and homey feeling I get from traditional French cuisine which still brings me back to my childhood even until now. On top of that, my parents are real foodies and used to travel all around Europe, going from one-starred restaurant to the other since I was the last child – I guess they couldn’t wait – and they brought me everywhere with them.
What are your inspirations in Bali?
The island is very rich in fantastic ingredients and playing with them has been at the core of my inspiration. I see what the suppliers have just brought in, what our favorite forager found and sometimes I try fruit and berries brought in by the staff.
My inspirations comes through my walks through the night markets, my trips through the wilderness of Bali or just from eating out at local eateries where Indonesian flavors are the most genuine. I was astounded by some of these tastes and I could not ignore them and my urge to use them obliged me to utilize the only techniques of cooking that I have mastered – modern western cooking techniques.
Are there influences from other parts of Indonesia that form your repertoire today?
Yes, absolutely. I like to showcase the unique characteristics of tempeh – specifically, its delectably nutty flavor and crunchy texture, for example. The flavor of tempeh is quite understated on its own, but when paired with a white fish, its distinctive taste shines through and adds a delicious crunch to the fish.
Also in my cookbook, ‘Mozaic: French Cuisine, Balinese Flavors,’ through 50 different recipes, I have showcased 17 local Indonesian ingredients that are essential to my cuisine.
What are your thoughts on ‘fusion cuisine’ that is pervasive in Indonesia today and how does your restaurant, Mozaic, combine all these gastronomic influences?
I don’t use the word ‘fusion’ for my cuisine as I do not use local techniques but very traditional European ones. I find fusion has become confusion because people seem to abuse it.
Can you tell us about the master classes you conduct and how you help professional chefs who take these classes?
This is held in The Workshop, which is a modern laboratory of culinary arts development for the professional chefs. Here they will learn and experience cutting edge technical training courses. This is also combined with menu and restaurant concept design services and training on all Food & Beverage service and kitchen needs.
What are some of your ‘go-to’ meals at the end of a long day of cooking/teaching/managing?
My wife’s cooking – Indonesian dishes cooked at home with the morning’s market run findings. A delight for me is Indonesian street food as it carries the original flavors and it’s a great source of inspiration.
Given that you have such an incredibly busy life, what are some activities you enjoy that are not connected to F&B?
Spending time with my wife and my children, sleeping and of course eating!
Any tips for the aspiring chef?
Learn from the school but be patient and become an apprentice. This trade has been forgotten and often the young kids want to have it all and now. Take the time to work in the kitchens of the Great Chefs.
In Asia, try new tastes; integrate them in your dishes using the techniques you have acquired. Roam around the streets and try the street stalls offerings – they are gold mines of inspiration.
Make sure that you go into this career because it is a passion and a dream of yours. There is no glory in being a chef/restaurateur. It requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice, time away from your family, working when others are having fun, celebrating, etc… The passion is an absolute requirement. Without it, it is difficult to warrant all the sacrifices.
What, according to you, are the absolute basics every home cook should have?
Keep it simple. Focus on the quality of the ingredients and use simple techniques which enhance the ingredients. Take your time and don’t be scared of cookbooks and recipes which may seem ‘difficult’, just try. Unless you are using precious ingredients and expensive imported meats, you have nothing to lose by trying.