Saturday, 11 October 2014

Interview with Chef Nic Vanderbeeken, CasCades, Viceroy Bali, Ubud, Indonesia

cascades, viceroy ubud
Chef Nic Vanderbeeken

Interview with Chef Nic Vanderbeeken, CasCades, Viceroy Bali


What do you do and how did you get into the industry? 
Presently, I am the Executive Chef at CasCades restaurant in the luxury villa resort Viceroy Bali. At the age of 14 I experienced the first time to work in a kitchen as a steward. It was love at first sight. I knew I wanted to become a chef the minute I walked into that kitchen. After one year as a steward I moved to another restaurant to start as a trainee on the weekends and during my holidays. I learned cutting techniques, basic preparation and simple plating, but also saw how much pressure there is in the kitchen.
Since that time, I always set my goals higher. I like to constantly set new challenges for myself. I went at age of 16 to the famous hospitality school in Bruges, Ter Groene Poorte. Then I got the chance to do an internship at a number of Michelin Starred restaurants. The first in Provence in Southern France, Chez Bru and the second in Karpendonkse Hoeve in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. When I graduated I was lucky to travel with a friend Niel Piferoen, whose father Geert Piferoen was a chef in the Belgian embassy in Washington DC. From this moment I knew I would never just stay in Belgium and I started travelling the world. I worked in several Michelin Star and fine dine dining restaurants in Belgium where the competition is very high and learned as much as possible from those older talented chefs.
I opened my own restaurant together with an associate, choosing bistronomy style and made this into a successful venture. However, after all those years the bug was still in me to leave Belgium. I got the opportunity to sell my shares in the restaurant and took the offer to work in a fine dining restaurant in Saigon, Vietnam which was not the best experience but luckily I did it as I took a holiday to my favourite island, Bali, for few weeks and that's when I connected to the Viceroy Bali team and eventually ended up as head chef at CasCades.

Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes. 
There are so many stories that I could write a a whole book! From bullying chefs to funny stories and romances, people that fainted, people we lost, to funny accidents that have happened. The nicest thing in our profession is that we meet a lot of people and get a lot of opportunities that we otherwise might never experience. I've met some of the most famous chefs in the world such as Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria and feel tremendous pride realizing that they see me as a colleague. It doesn't matter how many stars you have or how highly ranked you are, as long you have the same passion, you're in the circle.
The nicest thing what many people do not see behind the scenes is that chefs have their own world. We are competitors but on the other side we support each other. We call each other if we don't find the right product or if we've found a supplier with better quality. We share the information to serve our guests the best quality we can get, not the cheapest.
Now in CasCades at the Viceroy Bali, I have the luck to invite my colleague chefs with Michelin Starred restaurants in Europe and celebrity chefs to show them Balinese food culture. They in turn share with our guests an experience with their menu. This is always fun - jamming with those chefs in the kitchen and creating new ideas. Food is our life.

What's the best/ worst part of your job? 
Some people have no idea of how much preparation time and effort goes into a dish, or how hard it is to source the best quality produce at the best price. With all the cooking shows on television we get a lot more people that suddenly think that they are chefs. They easily discredit that many of us have 20 years or more experience in a real kitchen, not one of the TV show set ups. It's very good for our business to get so much attention, but to show people more about food they need to realize that TV is just TV and not reality. You may have many interesting cooking programs but you don't become a chef or foodie by watching TV.

What's your favourite meal/drink? 
I enjoy simple casual food. One of my favourites is braised veal cheeks with mushroom risotto, but also sweetbread, liver with onion and mashed potatoes, a sole Meuniere, a pasta carbonara...
Of course being Belgian I love beer, and I am very proud of Belgian beers which are also interesting to cook with. The only shame is that here in Bali hardly any of the good Belgian beers are available.
On my day off I enjoy visiting colleagues and exploring their creations, combinations, flavors, and techniques. So on a typical day off you usually find me in good restaurants around Bali or places where I can discover new flavours.

What's one of the biggest challenges as a chef in Bali?
The biggest challenge here in Bali is consistently finding the right quality of ingredients.

Tell us a story about one of the dishes you prepare...
My chocolate mousse recipe is a favourite I bring with me everywhere. I've worked on it tirelessly until I perfected the technique and amount of ingredients, so this mousse comes with me wherever I go. People die for it and that gives me such a good feeling. Even while I am here now in Bali I still get emails from friends and family to send the recipe of my chocolate mousse back home. It is something so simple but it needs to be just the right structure, balanced in sweetness and not too bitter. Once you understand the recipe you can make many variations on it. I love to play with the structures of the ingredients and bring them together on one plate.

What's one of the funniest things you've seen behind the scenes?
Where to start! Potato croquets, tomatoes and pans flying next to my head and hitting the wall behind me, the chef falling in the pond with a part of the food for a wedding event. There are some great stories from the many kitchens around the world that I have worked in.

But the funniest one was 13 years ago, when the head chef asked us to clean the grill. He put the salt already on the grill to take the fat off... We started to smell something burning and saw smoke bellowing, it seems the chef mistakenly grabbed the pot of sugar and poured it on the grill and turned the heat up. Of course, like all executive chefs, it was not his fault and we spent the next hour strenuously cleaning the grill but we were all laughing on the inside!

The perfect day off would be... 
... together with my girlfriend relaxing on the beach with some afternoon cocktails. At night starting with some tapas and after having an amazing dinner where every single ingredient was delicately and perfectly matched - real foodporn on the plate! Later, enjoying a beautiful hotel room with a view of the ocean and having nightcap, enjoying the stars, silence and each other's company.

A life in the day of a chef is...
Every day is a new experience. We learn something every day.

What do you do for fun?
When I get the chance to be away from the kitchen I am very active and love to dive and be out on the water.

What's something you'd like guests to know about the cuisine prepared at CasCades? 
I'd like guests to know that in CasCades what's most important to us is quality. We use the best quality local produce and where there is not something that meets our stringent standards we import. For example, our milk fed veal tenderloin is imported from the Netherlands and is the best.

Also that alcohol and wine are taxed highly in Bali. That's the reason that alcohol is more expensive then the whole menu and that is something very sad if you compare with Europe.

How do you select your ingredients and why?
I always start with my main ingredient and research where I can locally source the best quality. Then I look for a good flavour combination that gives power to the main ingredient.
As the ingredients are chosen and the flavours matches with each other then I look what structures I can make from them. I try to keep it natural so I will not overpower my main ingredient. 

What's your view on the Bali restaurant/ bar scene?
Bali's restaurant and and bar scene is largely influenced by trends and is rapidly growing. Unfortunately many places don't survive the change in trends and can't keep up with the pace. Many restaurants in Bali are starting to receive international acclaim and attention which is great for the industry. You now have more then 2,000 restaurants and warungs in Bali and the majority are concentrated in only a few areas. 

When I go to Seminyak to dine now there are many new restaurants that didn't exist a year ago and Ubud's restaurant scene is also growing. Big competition is great for business, everyone is more alert and it is where talented chefs thrive. CasCades has had to adapt and keep the menu versatile which has kept me coming up with new and creative dishes. 

What are some exciting things guests can enjoy at CasCades?
We had at the end of September another talented 2 Starred Michelin chef,  Hendrik Buysse, from the Netherlands, restaurant "De kromme watergang" preparing dishes in our CasCades kitchen. Previously we had Michael Vrijmoed and Vincent Florizoone. These are unique opportunities that guests can enjoy at the Viceroy Bali. The dishes have been amazing. The tasting menus are things you will never forget as the level of cooking is not found anywhere else in Bali. Check out some examples via this link.

Besides these types of events we regularly change our menu and upgrade it with more and new interesting flavours and textures... we just keep going up! CasCades at Viceroy Bali is always worth a visit if you like pure quality in a amazing surrounds.

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