An American is Bringing Next Level Desserts to Bali
Here, we spotlight American expats around the globe and get their insider tips on the best places to eat and drink in their adopted cities.
The Expat: Will Goldfarb, the wildly innovative pastry chef behind New York City’s now-shuttered Room 4 Dessert, decamped to Bali nearly five years ago. Today he runs the forward-thinking pastry programs for both the popular beachside restaurant Ku De Ta and its boundary-pushing, lab-like prix fixe spot upstairs, Mejekawi.
My wife and I came to visit in 2008 and decided then and there that this is where we wanted to live. But the week before the move, I went to the hospital for what I thought was a bum hamstring but it turned out to be a little more serious. (It was a large, malignant tumor.) So we finally got here in 2009. It’s such a special place. You get that sense as soon as you get off the plane. The people are amazing; the culture is amazing. And the products grown here are so great for pastry. There’s palm sugar, cacao beans, cashews, hibiscus flower, papaya, pineapple, coconut, pandan leaves, soy…. They’re all so fresh it’s like the difference between freshly ground coffee and Nescafé.
What’s your home like in Bali?
We had been living in a very small, simple house with no hot water, no toilets and no walls in Mambal, but just moved to Nyuh Kuning, a village in Ubud. Our new home is quite big, and it belonged to the daughter of the head priestess here. There are several temples spread around our yard, where the Balinese women prepare offerings to the gods.
What can you tell us about Ku De Ta and Mejekawi?
Before Ku De Ta opened 14 years ago, Seminyak didn’t really exist, and now it’s an international tourist destination built around the property. We have a great reputation for parties and dining. But we wanted to raise the bar again and do something hyperlocal and focus on very fine dining in a lab setting. We opened Mejekawi in May 2013 and I work with Benjamin Cross, who had been the executive sous chef at Rockpool in Sydney, to develop our Indonesian-inspired tasting menus. We work with everything from wood fire to hand-cranked slicers to combination ovens, depending on which is the most appropriate for the flavor and texture of the items we’re using. We have two menus—one with five courses and the other with 12—with anywhere from two to five desserts each. We like to kill people with dessert.
What are you desserts like at Mejekawi?
We have a version of tres leches cake made with rice, soy and coconut milk. We’re doing a dark chocolate cone filled with a gel made of Torch Ginger “flower” and gelato of bitters made from mangosteen skin. And the garnish is a candy of lacto-fermented bamboo. And we’re continuing to make Ku De Ta’s signature dessert for Mejekawi: Pandanbert, which is panna cotta made with pandan.
What are some must-try foods in Bali and where are your favorite places to get them?
Babi guling, or roast suckling pig, at Ibu Oka, Bali’s legendary babi guling spot. It’s so popular—like tour bus–popular. People complain it’s too expensive and not as good as it used to be, but I go there all the time and it’s awesome.
Nasi campur, or mixed rice, at Warung Chandra. It’s a hidden gem, off to the side of a parking lot in Ubud.
Ayam betutu, steamed chicken roasted in banana leaves, from Rama. Rama is a little chain and I’m usually the only foreigner when I go. The roast chicken is served with sambal, boiled egg and green beans, and worth a stop all the time.
What is the dessert tradition in Bali, and do you go anywhere for traditional Balinese desserts?
The dessert tradition in Bali is very rich. I would go to Tabanan, one of the big towns in Bali, famous for klepon, a traditional Balinese rice-flour dumpling filled with palm sugar and rolled in coconut.
What one food or drink item would you miss the most if/when you leave Bali?
A martini with gin and extra olives from Naughty Nuri’s Warung in Ubud! It’s just the ultimate home base for expats since it opened 17 years ago. It’s what restaurants are supposed to be like: martinis shaken tableside and consumed while watching chickens, pigs and motorcycles go by.
Ratha Tep is a former Food & Wine editor who now lives in Zurich.