As a chef the further away you step from actually pulling a carrot from the ground, the more difficult it becomes to use that product with understanding. Being able to somehow connect to those ingredients just seems to make sense if it is your job to cook them. Most chefs today, however, have no connection with the actual origin of the ingredients for the food they cook: meat, poultry and fish come pre-portioned in plastic bags with no bones and no unsightly remnants of its living, breathing past; fruits and vegetables are picked inedible and ripened along the way losing out on those last weeks of sunshine, rain and fresh air that allow its natural flavor to develop; spices have lost their shape, now ground and packed in beautiful shiny tins and colorful labels with aromatic descriptions, and dairy surely misses its cow.
Traveling throughout Indonesia, a country that is rich in both culture and natural resources, has given us the most intimate connection to every ingredient we use in Cuca and reminded us of so many amazing ones we have foolishly ignored. Products that are so packed with flavor and character that our job is less of being a surgeon trying to bring dying broccoli back to life and more like a tailor simply putting good quality together well.
Drinking coffee in the mountains where people are handpicking ripe cherries and the smell of roasted beans perfumes the air, spotting cashew nuts cling from their maturing fruit that hangs high up in old trees, watching locals stripping bark from young shoots that when dried becomes cinnamon, video-recording golden rice stalks being smashed against wooden ramps to shed them of their grains of rice and attending a traditional ceremony where within an hour a massive buffalo walks in and soon becomes sticks of BBQ satay. This isn’t a summary of the last five years we spent in Indonesia, this happened last week. Welcome to Indonesia, where those products (except for the buffalo for now) have become part of Cuca’s recipes.