TL&CC Q&A: Kevin Cherkas, co-founder/chef, Cuca, Bali, Indonesia

31 January 2019

Chef Kevin Cherkas has an enviable track record developed in some of the world's most outstanding Michelin-starred restaurants, including Spain’s El Bulli and Arzak and New York’s Daniel. The award-winning chef co-founded Cuca in Bali, where he has been praised for his tasty, globally-inspired, locally-sourced cuisine.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Someone taking me somewhere to try something new and deeply delicious.

What is the purest thing you have ever tasted? Sea urchin straight from the sea, no cutlery, no napkin, just curiosity.

What is the best thing you can do with your hands? Teach young cooks.

What was your first experience with sustainable eating? Picking wild berries as a child.

What do you love most about what you do? Making people happy.

What do you consider the most overrated ingredient? Anger – in the kitchen, it doesn’t make food taste better.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever been taught? Creativity is not to copy.

Is there anything you don’t particularly care to eat? White sugar – getting sweetness from other sources containing sugar brings so much more flavour.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be? I would love to do me again – have another shot to do things just a little bit better.

When was the last time you ate out, and where? Yesterday, Karya Rebo just around the corner from Cuca in Bali. Traditional Balinese fire-roasted suckling pig.

Are there any mentors or food heroes you would like to thank? Daniel Boulud. For me he is like a superhero, the French version of Batman. When you talk about the word ‘chef’ Daniel is the absolute greatest leader, period. His team may struggle with what he demands, but his guests are thankful they never get second-best.

What are your favourite books or cookbooks? Culinary Artistry (Andrew Domenburg) was like a bible to me growing up, and Charlie Trotters’ original red book was a shocking example of what can food be.

What is the dish on your menu that most engages you? Our Balinese version of traditional Mexican tacos. Every aspect of tradition has been followed, but we have adopted unique local ingredients for classic Mexican ones and made it entirely vegan.

What do you make from scratch? Everything – nothing in Cuca comes from a bottle, can or jar. If we serve it, we make it. Even our salt is hand-harvested from the coast.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you are doing? Any trade, any job working with my hands. Auto mechanic, builder, woodworking, hairdresser…

What does success mean to you? Being able to do what you love and not just be living for the weekends.

What are the qualities you admire most in others? Shyness and quietness. I am so the opposite I admire people who listen more than they talk, they seem to learn so much more.

Which three words best describe your cooking style? Tasty, fun, surprising.

If you could eat only one thing today, what would it be? Chipirones en su tinta (Squid in its Ink).

What do you think the future of food will look like? Caveman comfort food, rustic, unchallenging, pure flavours, back to the sustainable beginnings.

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