Feeding The Nation
Ever wonder what sets a pastry chef apart? Renowned for his artistically and technically innovative desserts, Chef Will Goldfarb offers insights into his own process, how and why he ended up in Bali, as well as his passion for pure and simple ingredients.
Pastry chefs are a breed apart for many reasons. The blend of speed, precision and attention to detail is just a part of it. What really sets apart the craft is the use of precise measurement in the service of art. For example, the ratios required to generate results are fixed for a reason rather than being able to ‘season to taste’, so a pastry chef must master the elements and then only apply spontaneous creativity during the final phase. This is why pastry chefs are often criticised for being removed from the base product and for preparing technical masterpieces devoid of soul. It is for this reason, among others, that Will Goldfarb found himself decamping from the ultra-fastpaced beat of the New York dining scene to the sundrenched shores of Bali in 2008.
Arriving in Bali meant a fresh start for Goldfarb in more ways than one. Leaving New York meant he could reboot creatively. He took up residency as a consultant and pastry chef at one of
Seminyak’s premiere beach clubs, while training himself up again in the kitchen. And he was rediscovering his creative passion in Bali’s beautiful fundamental ingredients. For Goldfarb, his main concern was reconnecting with the ingredients of his field. “After all, what’s more fundamental to pastry than sugar?” asks Goldfarb.
“Leave it to Bali to guide you back to the soulful roots of taste. When I first arrived in Ubud, my good friend Ben Ripple and his wife Blair showed me a small farm that they had started. The original farm still exists today, but the ‘factory’– a kind of bamboo cacao cathedral – has evolved into a dynamic, sustainable raw cacao producer.
“My own interest in sugar was piqued when I saw inside the nectar-refining procedure for the first time, about seven years ago. This experience showed me that toddy palm sugar was a real ingredient, like meat, fish, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
“Traditional toddy palm cultivation does not use herbicides or other poisons to produce food. This low glycemic sweetener – a boon in an age of increased early-onset diabetes – is produced in
the old style. I was curious to see the process myself. Fortunately I had befriended Lisa Virgiano, an independent culinary activist and brand director of Kaum restaurant by the Potato Head Family, who shared my passion for pure ingredients. In her quest to reintroduce lost products and cooking techniques from across the Indonesian archipelago, she met Nyoman Sudarsa, a real-life toddy palm farmer, and was kind enough to introduce me. Each morning, Sudarsa would climb a toddy palm to bring down the first bucket of sap. He repeats this process up to 40 times a day, or 80 lengths of the palm tree.
“Unfortunately, since it is not commercially cultivated, producers must rely on local brokers to handle the harvested product. And frequent tampering – which includes adding bulking agents and preservatives – makes it difficult to source true toddy palm sugar – the kind that Sudarse proudly harvests from his trees.
“So seven years ago I started working on a dessert that would reflect my passion for sugar – only the real stuff. I call it the Sugar Refinery, and it was first served in late 2009 and is actually still in development. It’s a dessert that reflects the essence of various natural sugars. Most recently it featured a mangosteen sorbet (natural fruit sugar), a Balinese meringue
(a new invention made possible by the acidity of coconut sugar), a glaze from nira (or tree sap), and a chantilly (whipped cream) from traditional cakes of arenga. Basically we tried to tell the story of the journey of the sugar from field to factory to plate. It became one of our most popular items both for taste and appearance, as well as a talking point, with all of our guests
from around the world beginning to take a deeper look at native Indonesian ingredients.”
Will Goldfarb is a critically acclaimed pastry chef and owner of Room4Dessert in Ubud. He has spent the last seven years calling Bali home and searching for meaning in dessert. Recently appointed Director of Culinary of PTT Family, the hospitality group behind the Potato Head brand, Chef Goldfarb discovered his love for cooking when he worked as a waiter while attending Duke
University and managed to hone his skills as a pastry chef at Spain’s hallowed El Bulli restaurant.