Keen surfer and Executive Chef, Ben Cross, at the helm of Ku De Ta, one of Bali’s most iconic beachfront dining destinations, shares his love for the Balinese lifestyle and opens up on what’s happening behind closed doors at new restaurant and test kitchen Mejekawi.
As I pass a bevy of cocktail-armed sun-kissed twenty somethings admiring the turquoise waves flirting with the Seminyak coastline, it occurs to me I don’t really need to ask Byron Bay local Ben Cross why he has taken the plunge and decided to set up shop as the Executive Chef at the Bali-famous Ku De Ta beachfront club.
Ben’s sun-kissed freckled skin and humble, laid-back nature is a true reflection of his home town back in Australia, Byron Bay. Stashing his board at work to head out for a sneaky surf on his lunch break is just one of the perks and reasons why Ben, his wife and two young children have decided to call Bali home. But he hasn’t always been so content to sit still.
A nomadic spirit, travel is what initially attracted Ben to the industry when he was 19 years old, admitting, “It wasn’t that I had a passion for cooking to start with. I just wanted a job that I could do anywhere in the world, and of course have fun with.”
After beginning his career at award winning restaurant Rae’s on Watego’s in Byron Bay, and gaining invaluable experience from working with and learning from iconic Chef Neil Perry as Executive Sous Chef at Sydney’s Rockpool, Ben has worked in kitchens from New York to three-Michelin start restaurants like Can Fabes in Sant Celoni, Spain.
It was in the summer of 2008 after an impromptu move to Mexico to chase the sun and surf, when Ben was first invited to work at Ku De Ta, where a short-term stint has turned has into a long and successful journey to Executive Chef.
Bringing together his global influences, respect for local-food culture and a boundless curiosity in developing new techniques and concepts, Chef Ben Cross has brought the dining experience to new heights at Ku De Ta with the opening of Mejekawi Restaurant, tasting kitchen and laboratory.
Combining new-school techniques using sophisticated technology with the old-school, like their new and damn-fine looking giant open-flame, wood-fired oven, Mejekawi is an interactive dining experience where diners are not only treated to sweet oceanfront views but also to the open kitchen in the centre of the dining room. “Guests love that they can not only watch their meals being created, but that they can connect with and talk to the chefs, creating a more memorable and fun dining experience.”
The Indonesian-inspired menu offers diners an eight-course or 12-course degustation that comes perfectly paired with drinks from champagne to sake, red wine and white wine, each carefully selected to enhance the flavours of each dish. Using locally-farmed produce, the menu pays homage to Balinese favourites like the common and popular babi guling, with its suckling pig terrine served with pickled hearts.
The other side to Mejekawi is the state-of-the-art test lab which pretty much serves as a playground to Ben and the rest of the chefs at Ku De Ta. Ben takes me on a tour through the test kitchen and it’s clear from his eyes gleaming with enthusiasm just how passionate him and the team are about experimenting with new concepts and recipes, like the flourless bread that has been through three months of day-to-day trial and error tweaking, “We won’t stop until it’s perfect. And then we’ll keep going to make it even better.”
With a philosophy like that, there’s no doubting that Ku De Ta is no longer just known for it’s famous beach-front club, but as Bali’s most unique and finest dining destination.
So get on you scooter and make sure you’re there before sunset.
Mejekawi Restaurant, Ku De Ta Beach Club
Jalan Kayu Aya No. 9 Seminyak Bali Indonesia 80361
Phone: +62 361 73 6969