Browsing the schedule of events for the third annual Ubud Food Festival (UFF), I knew that I would have to miss out on many of the ones I was interested in. The programme was diverse, ranging from farm tours and celebrity chef dinners to masterclasses and forums taking place all over town. And there was no way to sensibly navigate my way to that many events.
To put things into perspective, over 9,000 foodies attended more than a hundred events held over just three days, from May 12 to 14, hosted by world-famous international chefs, popular Indonesian chefs, food writers, stylists and even scientists. These marked a 10 per cent increase in turnout, number of events and speakers from last year’s installment. I told myself I had to return and was glad I did.
Sustainability remained a dominant theme. And it was easy to see why the Sustainable Seafood, Sicilian Style dinner, was hosted by guest chef and advocate of sustainably sourced seafood Lino Sauro of Singapore’s Gattopardo. Held at restaurant Uma Cucina, at the tastefully furnished Como Uma Ubud, the wine pairing dinner championed authenticity, evident in Sauro’s decision to use little seasoning and organic olive oil from his own groves in Italy, putting the spotlight on the fresh umami flavours of the prawns and barramundi caught by Lombok fishermen.
For the Savour The Flavor of Creativity segment, Moksa restaurant, one of Ubud’s biggest proponents of sustainability, served up a creative five-course no-meat, no-dairy, no-additives dinner that could probably make converts of hardcore carnivores. In the dish of miso-baked eggplant, for example, the addition of tempeh, shallots and pumpkin combined to offer a fine substitute to the texture and robust flavours of meat.
More innovation was found via a workshop by team behind another champion of local ingredients, Restaurant Locavore, which is currently ranked no. 22 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. (Those in Singapore can sample some of its winning concepts at a four-hands dinner featuring co-owner-chef Eelke Plasmeijer and Buona Terra’s Denis Lucchi this Friday.)
Dubbed What’s On The Localab Table, the UFF event featured Felix Schoener and Fido Nuswatama Rahadian who helm Localab, the restaurant’s new R&D arm. The duo surprised a packed floor by creating interesting flavours with some suprising local ingredients, including common flowers such as frangipani (I didn't even know it was edible) and leaves with fermented coconut nectar and vinaigrette they had made earlier.
Loco for Local
As surprising as these were, foodies familiar with Ubud know that this is where Balinese produce and dishes are revered, revived and refined. In another event celebrating Indonesia’s forgotten flavours, Locavore, together with Slow Food Bali paid homage to a few key provinces in an eight-course menu boosted by countless small bites. In sop kaki kambing, a traditional Jakarta dish of goat soup was presented as a croquette of goat leg in an elegant consomme. Though an obvious contrast to its richer counterpart, which is also very rich in fat, the dish boasted the same robust flavours, yielded through slow cooking.
In a sold-out six-hands event, Six At Sunset, at Aman, the Ubud property paid tribute to the local villages that surround its three Balinese properties on the island in a menu drawn up by the executives chefs of Amanusa, Amankila and Amandari. One of the dishes, for example, was the nasi bira, a traditional dish of egg yolk, pickled cucumber and toasted grated coconut with yellow rice, a staple of many Balinese celebrations and religious ceremonies.
(Related: The Rise Of Filipino Cuisine)
Social media was certainly not left out of the festival line-up. Besides a sell-out Foodography masterclass where photographers Sally May Mills and Togi Pagjaitan shared pointers on how to get the perfect shot on both camera and smartphone, events such as The Plate Is Your Canvas, showed amateurs and wannabe influencers how to get more followers on their social media pages with better food styling.
Besides winning cyberfriends, the Ubud Food Festival also cemented friendships between chefs from different countries, united by a common love for food and creativity in cooking. In Archipelago Amigos, one of the last events on the last day, Locavore, representing Indonesia, presented a dinner with Chef Jose Luis ‘Chele’ Gonzalez of Gallery Vask in Manila (no.35 on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list). Well-known for pushing the locavore movement in their respective country, the chefs put together a menu celebrating local flavours. In Tiradito, guests had a taste of kinilaw, a Filipino dish of fish cured in vinegar, in the form of cured yellowfin tuna served with pickled seaweed, while Indonesia’s favourite condiment—the thick and sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) was used in a dish of aged duck breast.
The sold-out event was a winner on several levels. The caramaderie between the two teams in a tight, open kitchen space was evident and infectious, spilling over on to the dining floor. Between the 15 courses, I bonded with a family of food lovers from Jakarta at my communal table. We played critics, exchanged notes on various events, and followed one another on Instagram. We also promised to share with each other, our little black books on various cities for future gastronomic holidays, and to catch up when we return next year.