Chef Brandon Huisman is hungry. He wants to know whether I like pizza, and do I eat pork? I do, and I do.
“The chorizo flatbread, please,” he orders as the final dish for our lunch. We’ve a table at sleek-lined Faces, the in-house eatery at The Bale in Bali’s tranquil Nusa Dua. All wood and stainless steel and gleaming glass, airy Faces is the kind of restaurant that makes you want to eat food for the soul.
Indeed it’s a “Wellness Corner” menu that Brandon has most recently introduced, and his passion for organically-grown and locally-sourced food is what he’s known for.
“We always had a spa menu but it was only for the spa and in-room dining, so it was the one thing I hadn’t put my stamp on,” says the accomplished chef of the menu.
“I wanted to do something special so I spent quite a bit of time researching it, and I’ve incorporated it on the lunch and dinner menu as well,” he explains, noting that the complete nutritional value of each dish is listed on the menu, something people who are carefully watching their cholesterol, for instance, will welcome.
“It was a little painstaking to get that information,” he confesses.
The light, summery dishes – think rice paper ravioli, think golden gazpacho — are a complete departure from the cream-laden cuisine Brandon was trained classically to produce in Paris.
“Pretty much anyone who goes to school, you get a foundation in that. You don’t really go to culinary school and learn how to do vegan cuisine. So I took it upon myself and just researched it.”
So first up we split two dishes from the Wellness Corner menu.
The organic quinoa salad with nashi pear, papaya relish, toasted almonds and curry vinaigrette (95,000 rupiah++) is light, yet flavoursome, the curry flavour a startling but delicious collision with the crispy greens from the mountains of Bedugal. The dish is subtly sweetened by the pear and given substance by the delicate spirals of quinoa. Orange edible flowers flecked with black lift the presentation well beyond the ordinary.
“I guess my philosophy would be to look at what’s in season, what’s organic, what’s grown by the local farmers and then form my menu and recipes from that,” Brandon says, adding that only when he can’t find an ingredient at the quality he demands will he then use an imported product.
Beef, for instance, is sourced from abroad, but all the fish is locally sourced, including the spiced rare tuna, our second selected dish. Served with enoki mushrooms, pea shoots, citrus vinaigrette and carmelized pomelo gastrique (115,000 rupiah++), it’s a riot of freshness, and the tuna is melt-in-the-mouth. Red radish sprouts from Australia garnish the plate, adding more colour to an already vibrant presentation.
These concoctions are also set to feature at a second restaurant The Bale will manage from August. Bamboo, at the Amala in Seminyak, will be just four or five tables with a similar health-inspired theme.
“The focus is on the wellness and holistic, so we’re going to basically take what we have here, shrink it and put it over there,” Brandon enthuses.
He looks forward to shuttling between the two properties. He and his wife, a pastry chef, spent time in Bhutan managing the food in four lodges, so he’s used to being on the prowl. “When you’re in the same place for a few weeks at a time you kind of get in a rut. But when you can go to a new property, you see things again with fresh eyes. It stops it becoming stale.” Our health kick is over.
Next up from the standard Faces menu comes our chorizo flatbread (175,000 rupiah++), its heady aroma heralding its arrival. It’s a meat-lover’s nirvana, slathered in sliced chorizo, chunks of pork belly, salty bacon, arugula, dabs of blue cheese and a sprinkling of chilli flakes.
“Kind of like going to McDonalds and getting your Big Mac and Diet Coke,” Brandon quips.
It seems doubtable that this American would be frequenting fast food joints very often and he admits that he eats well at home. (“You’d be surprised! I offset it with the Bintang,” he says with remorse, patting some very negligible padding.)
He cooks four or five times a week at home, dining with his wife and their 13-month-old son. The couple met at culinary school in France. Brandon was following a passion for food he developed while working in the industry to support himself at college, where he studied business management. His wife, who has a degree in environmental engineering and had been working for GE for a few years, had decided she wanted to open a pastry shop, so she dropped everything to follow her dream. And they’ve worked together ever since.
While he’s cautious about eating out – there aren’t too many places in Nusa Dua to begin with and he’s wary of hygiene, MSG and the amount and kind of oil restaurants use – Brandon admits to enjoying regular Sunday forays to the Nusa Dua Beach Grill, a local warung and a local Japanese restaurant. And now he’s spending more time in Seminyak, he’s tried more restaurants there, with Warung Italia and Mannekepis getting his stamp of approval.
I’m curious as to whether the meat-eater has tried Ibu Oka’s legendary babi guling (suckling pig) in Ubud. He has – but a take-out version his manager brought to him.
“I can’t go to Ubud without going past Naughty Nuri’s.” He confesses that he has to have a plate of their famed succulent barbecue ribs when he’s nearby. And while he’s sussed out that the sauce is based on Indonesia’s kecap manis, there’s a mystery ingredient he hasn’t been able to put his finger on, he says with some disappointment.
Guests invited round to the Huismans’ for meals are typically treated to a joint effort, a grill with maybe some steaks, barbecue ribs and chicken wings, along with home-made pizzas and salad. A wood-fired pizza oven is in fact currently under construction at their house, along with a home-made barbecue grill made with a 50-gallon drum.
What would he whip up for a vegetarian popping over? “Ah, they wouldn’t be invited!” he laughs, before conceding that, if he had to, he’d probably do a platter of grilled vegetables, particularly of local asparagus if it was in season. And if he really wanted to impress, I imagine he could probably pull a few strings and get some Faces take out.