The Veranda is unquestionably one of the best kept secrets of Bali. The trick is to find it. Tucked away behind ‘Lips Nighclub’ on Jl. Raya Seminyak, cushioned and cocooned from the growl of traffic, it has become a favourite because of the high standard of food, the attractive presentation and the incredulously cheap prices. Bali’s pre-eminent restaurant critic Andrew Charles calls the Veranda “...an oasis of ‘haute-cuisine’ at prices everyone can afford.”
The restaurant is owned and run by a husband and wife team, Stella, who is from Sweden and her Indonesian husband Gunawan, who spent 12 years as a chef in Sweden. This interview was conducted with Stella because Gunawan is always busy in the kitchen.
After university Gunawan actually planned to become a diplomat. His hobby had always been cooking but after he met his future Swedish wife he knew he couldn’t work in the foreign service (Indonesian diplomats must be married to Indonesians), so he embarked on a career in gastronomy.
Among the number of 5-star hotels where he has worked was the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, a favorite haunt of celebrities, politicians, movie stars, sport stars and rock stars, including Michel Jackson who brought his own cook.
Gunawan is a great singer and designer. He designed the restaurant interior himself and also the uniforms for the veranda staff. He collects cook books and has a large number of books still in Sweden. He has never been skiing or skating but he can make incredible ice sculptures.
Some of Gunawan’s dishes reveal a Swedish influence but the veranda is by no means a Swedish restaurant. His signature dishes are a mouthwatering “Blue Diamond Steak” with blue cheese and the subtle and delectable “Salmon Oscar” named after the King of Norway. All the dishes he serves must contain at least three colors. What’s not to love about a man who cooks so well?
How did you two meet?
We met in Sweden. Gunawan was renting a room in my house. Me and my boyfriend and he and his girlfriend used to have dinner together. One day I went to see a fortune teller and she told me there was a special man in my home. After that, I started to look at Gunawan in an entirely different light. And, well, one things led to another...
Where did Gunawan acquire his love of food?
Gunawan was called the King of Spices in Sweden. He has an impeccable nose and can taste a dish and immediately know the spices that were used. He can also smell when a chicken is ready in the oven. He knows when the beef is medium or well done without looking at it. He just loves to cook and makes food look very presentable, too. “Nothing tastes good if it doesn’t also look good,” he often says. I grew up with one of these mothers that stay home and cooks and bakes. I learned that cream and butter always makes something taste good.
What was your most challenging job?
Working on a cruise ship. It was very gruelling work 20 hours a day, like working in a big factory. But we saw many places that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. It was not the place to experiment and create my own plates and recipes.
What is different about owning a restaurant in Bali than owning one in Sweden?
It’s an entirely new experience running a restaurant here. To begin with, there’s a lots of paperwork but once the business gets going its easier in Bali than in Sweden. We were also surprised at all the ceremonies necessary to open a restaurant. We had no idea!
The staff are not as effective here and everything is slower but also more relaxed. Balinese staff always smile and say YES even if it’s a NO. You never know if they understand you or not but somehow it all miraculously comes together. It’s also often very hard to find reliable suppliers. They run out of stock and then you have to cancel items from the menu. That would never happen in Sweden.
There’s yet another constantly recurring problem if your staff are all Balinese. Staff all seem to want to take the day off on the same day to attend a ceremony. In Europe, this might happen only on Christmas Day.
Who is your typical guest?
The typical guest does not exist. We get all kinds - young backpackers from Scandinavia as well as adults from all over the world. Some arrive in beach clothing and some are all dressed up. Everyone’s welcome, of course. What’s nice about running a restaurant in Bali is that the customers are so happy and relaxed. Most of them are on vacation and have all the time in the world. Expats are also relaxed. There’s no stress. If the electricity breaks down or if there’s a bat flying around the restaurant, nobody cares.
What are your plans for the future?
Gunawan dreams of seeing Bali blooming again. He also plans to start a party catering business and, if possible, to open for lunch with a light menu. Oh, and he always dreams about creating new and extraordinary recipes!
VERANDA, Jl. Raya Seminyak 31 B, in Seminyak,
Tel/fax: (0361) 732-685. Beside Lips Nighclub, turn down the long driveway and you’ll see the sign.
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Copyright@2004 Al Hickey
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