Belantih farm aims to promote healthy, sustainable eating to its fans. (Photos courtesy of Petitenget restaurant)
Food From Farm to Fork in Bali
MARCH 23, 2015
Cool winds rush past the vehicle as its wheels make the only sound audible for miles. Rain falls gently from wispy clouds wrapped serenely in sunshine, gently arousing the earth from cranky stupor. The earth here is soft, alkalized, the rows of herbs, set in geometric precision with each labeled in clear serif font, Parsley, Dill, Coriander, Basil. The air here is clean and fresh, with a hint of herbal fragrance. This space is heaven and not just for the seasoned chef, gastronome or gourmand. It pays homage to the origin of food, celebrates its conception, cheers its transformation and honors its sacrifice.
Jakarta Globe tagged along with a select group of food writers to explore this modest farm and (re)discover more conscious eating. Fittingly located in a part of the country marketed to the world as “a piece of Paradise,” the visit would prove to set out if the concept would indeed match the island’s celestial aura.
Complete with its simple greenhouse, cow shed, rabbit hutch and fishpond, approximately 1,400 meters above sea level in Kintamani, Bali, is Belantih farm.
The 40-hectare property is the brain child of Australian restaurateur Sean Cosgrove whose love of good food and the need to reconnect with honest, simple cooking with ingredients sourced mostly in the vicinity led him to create a space where diners could enjoy excellent quality food from a trusted source. Teaming up with fellow Australian chef Simon Blaby, the duo are on a mission to educate the masses about the importance of local sourcing — subtly.
Enda, the farm’s manager carefully tends to the produce, using all-organic fertilizer that is both sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Under intermittent rainfall, the group huddles in ponchos and listens with rapt attention as he goes over the various attributes of each herb and the unique role each component of the farm plays in the wider production process.
The farm, which may seem reserved on the surface, is impassioned in reward, and this is evident in the many riches that emerge from the kitchen.
The chef serves up a passionfruit, ginger and lime cooler, which, while refreshing following the long drive up to the northern confines of the island, instantly soothes with its mild flavor and intense therapeutic qualities. The combination whets the appetite and readies the ravenous assemblage for the repast ahead.
Blaby sends out small platters of bite-sized Melinjo crackers that hold a perfect portion of shredded chicken and ginger sambal to tide over his travel weary guests as we look out at spectacular views of Mount Batur and discuss organic farming practices coming of age in a country that is fast-slipping into the mass-produced horrors of the West.
We watch turkeys tend to their young as they scratch about the vast coop as cows look on contentedly. It is the sort of scene that would have inspired Virgil to produce a masterpiece.
Sufficiently acquainted and filled with fresh mountain air, we settle in for a meal that ignites the palate with ingredients from the land we were sitting on, bursting with a vitality not seen in the larger world of processed mass production.
Croquettes filled with goats cheese and fried gently to a crisp are served with carpaccio of baby zucchini and shavings of Parmesan. A bite oozes delicious cheese whose tart, creamy flavors meld well with the crispiness of the shell. Cool, sweet zucchini soothes as fresh rocket peppers the tongue in combination with sweet onion bolstered by radish, but it all subsides with the tang of lemon and pesto vinaigrette which bathe the tongue as Parmesan rounds out the delicious start of the meal.
The generous portions and family-style serving permit frequent helpings, and in the company of great conversation and superb temperatures, it would have been churlish not to indulge.
The chef’s interest in fusing Asian cuisines shines through in the two mains offered. Shredded Balinese duck salad is piled high on a wide platter with glass noodles, and tossed together with green papaya, mint, coconut and shallots, it is an absolute winner. These aren’t disparate ingredients but when combined one cannot help but invoke the cliche of the dish being a dance on the senses.
The addition of green peppercorns boosts flavor in the other main dish, which involves a risotto of snapper and bok choy flecked with chilli and dressed with lime. These are fresh flavors that are in tune with the season and, simply presented, are a delight through and through.
The meal is all washed down by several offerings of Australian red or white wine (among the farm’s few imported items) carefully chosen to compliment each of the complex flavors.
True to its farmhouse environs there are baskets of freshly baked bread and dishes with rounds of farm-fresh butter to enjoy them with. Seeded, or plain, wheat or white, there is no room for picky eaters.
This is food that needs no introduction. Although if there are concerns over gluten, a dish of crisp baby potatoes, sprinkled with rosemary that the chef pulled out of the earth seconds before serving, is an option. A garden salad serves as the perfect palette cleanser, especially when tossed with a palm sugar vinaigrette.
The meal finishes off under grey clouds as another burst of rain splashes on green earth while we enjoy a plate of passionfruit curd tartlets with coconut meringue and strawberries. The fruit sweetens the curd naturally and the pastry is delicate without being too crumbly. Coffee, accompanied by crisp honeycomb is instantly evocative and the perfect end to a glorious lunch.
During the drive down to Seminyak, the group discuss mindful, conscious eating and the idea that decisions about the food we eat directly relate to our health and the environment. Simple ingredients can be highlighted artfully — without compromising flavor but in the drive to “modernize” and to mimic the worst of the more industrialized economies, it is unfortunate that most restaurants here have mistakenly leaned on imported ingredients and ignored much better — and cheaper — local options. Which is a shame, because, at an establishment such as Cosgrove’s other venture Petitenget, it’s the emphasis on Belantih’s produce that makes it so spectacular and at a price range that is reasonable for the discerning diner, is far more inviting than some of the other restaurants around.
In the midst of villas and tourist shopping, the Bistro offers of a menu that is focused on the West but bears the trappings of the East.
Chef Blaby’s generous servings are perfect for sharing and, in a space decked out to resemble the fine eateries of the Mediterranean, dishes of barramundi, filet mignon, and duck come cooked and garnished with ingredients sourced from not so far away. A meal here is a gastronomic indulgence but one that is both socially conscious — and very affordable.
If a farm meal is your summer holiday, dinner at Petitenget is a romantic date in a relationship where you’re solid and secure. It provides a window into ingredients that are rarely seen in hypermarkets and doles out platitudes to bistro standbys with a tasteful — and incredibly delicious — tropical twist. Here, the introduction of local flavors into decidedly imported dishes is rather like a successful arranged marriage. It’s restrained at first, perhaps even shy, but with trust — and emboldened by expectation, it delivers and ultimately emerges triumphantly.
As the culinary world begins to re-evaluate cooking techniques and food sourcing, it is clear the methods of the past are slowly returning to tables nationwide. Knowing the origins of one’s meal is no longer considered bohemian or new age but it must be said that eating a meal sourced locally — especially one in “the island of the gods” is certainly a virtuous act of divinity.