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Chef’s Insight

Janet DeNeefe

Every artist is unique. We ask the same questions every month for unique insights into the varied experiences of Indonesia’s leading chefs.

What is your earliest memory of cooking?

I remember being in our home kitchen with my arms deep in dough and flour all over my face (and the floor) attempting to make cinnamon rolls. I can hear Mum grumbling in the background. Not sure what age that was, but by the time I was about 12, I was famous among the DeNeefe clan for making pavlova topped with fresh passionfruit
or juicy red strawberries.

What smell in the kitchen do you love?

I go crazy for the scent of roasted coconut. The deep nutty aroma reminds me of freshly baked butter cake when it comes out of the oven.

If you weren’t a chef, what other profession would you like to attempt?

Once upon a time, I thought I would become an artist. I actually studied art, and some of my paintings hang in Casa Luna and Indus. In my early days in Ubud, I had this romantic notion that I would paint in the mornings and then laze around afterwards like some sort of Balinese Gauguin who had escaped to the tropics.

What is your go-to ingredient?

I have about 25 go-to ingredients, but tamarind is a big favourite. With any dish that calls for red wine, I use tamarind instead (which means I get to drink the wine!). Tamarind is fabulous with osso bucco and all sorts of meaty casseroles.

What did you have for dinner last night?

I love experimenting with local dishes and adding an interesting twist. Last night I ate salmon pepes at Indus – a chunk of salmon with Balinese spices and kemangi, rolled up in banana leaves and then char-grilled for about seven minutes. The salmon was still a teeny bit pink in the centre and a dream to eat.

What turns you on creatively?

Ubud! The creative energy here keeps me plugged in 24/7 and the ideas flow morning, noon and night.

What is your favourite Indonesian dish?

Impossible to answer. But one of my favourite Balinese dishes is smoked duck. I think it’s as fabulous as rendang and deserves more attention. I love the elegance of the spices, their deep aromatic mystery and the slow-cooked, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

What is your next travel destination?

I am praying that my next travel destination is Malta. This was the home of my grandmother, and I have spent a lifetime wishing I could visit there. My dream is to find my relatives, learn how to cook traditional Maltese food
and ignore my emails!