|A CULINARY INSIGHT
Nikko Bali Resort and Spa chats with Graeme Ritchie, the new Executive Chef and found out about the culinary world through his eyes
NUSA DUA - JUNE 2011. When you're in love with cooking, it's always exciting to taste and learn new cuisine from different parts of the world. With more than 20 years of experience, Chef Graeme Ritchie has the opportunity of traveling the world, experiencing each country through its culinary and learning it along the way. He started his career with an apprentice program in South Africa then climbed his way up the ladder, recently leaving Hong Kong to continue his journey here on the Island of the Gods, at Nikko Bali Resort and Spa as the new Executive Chef. In his last post, he opened a restaurant that was recognized in the Michelin Guide of 2008, 2009 and 2010 as a recommended restaurant.
Taking a little time out of his busy schedule, Chef Graeme sat with us one cold afternoon to talk about himself, his career and how he sees the culinary world.
This is your first time working in Bali, what is your impression of the island so far?
That's a good one, well, what makes Bali is the openness of the people, their warm hospitality, their unique personality that makes you feel that warm welcome. And for me, it’s a little like stepping back in time, not in a bad way but as if time slows down and you now have the 'chance' to take things into account.
When I was working in Hong Kong; everything was moving very fast, things change 'in the blink of an eye' and you need to go with the pace. Here in Bali, I have to adapt to the culture and the way people think and in a way, the island kind of reminds me how to take time, to step back a little, see what's around me and analyze everything before doing something.
What made you interested in the culinary world? How did you manage to get to this point?
I have to say the biggest influences would be my grandmother and my mother. They both like to cook and as a kid growing up in that kind of environment made me fall in love with food.
Being a chef was the last thing on my mind though, when I was in high school I wanted to be a veterinarian, to work in an animal conservation or something. But as I passed my teen years, I realized that I was in love with food after all. During holidays, I took part time jobs in restaurants and found my world.
I finally got accepted in a hotel school and had an offer for an apprentice scholarship at a hotel at the same time. So I decided to take the scholarship instead. I had to work my way up during that apprenticeship, scrubbing pans and pots for the first few months then chopping up onions and other stuff before finally stepping into the kitchen. I consider myself lucky because at that time in South Africa, most of the chefs were expatriate chefs from UK, Germany and other European countries, so I got the chance to learn from them. And it went on from there until today.
You've been around different continents and countries throughout your career life, how has it influenced your style of cooking?
Western cooking tends to be very heavy and concentrated on one particular ingredient, while Asian cooking concentrates more on the freshness of the ingredients and enhancing its natural flavors. For example, if you savor Cantonese cooking, it's quite bland but the natural flavor is there, you can taste it whereas French cooking tends to be creamier, heavier and rich in flavor.
So I guess, the traveling simplifies my style, it made me appreciate the quality of the food more and see seasoning in a different way.
Spending so much time in Asia specifically, have you found any ingredients that you don't like to work with?
I am one of those people that keeps on trying, that includes eating and cooking. The first time I've tasted Nato (Japanese fermented bean) I told myself "Never again". Then I thought maybe the first impression was not a good one so I gave it another shot then another and I grew accustomed to the taste then started to experiment with it - how to use it in a dish. So I have to say that I don't have anything I don’t like quite yet.
How about durian?
Right! I cannot appreciate the smell, taste and texture of durian yet. I love all tropical fruits, rambutan, lychee, longan, snake fruit, jack fruit. I also love chilies, that's why my team here were surprised when I asked for 'cabai potong' (chopped chilies) when I eat.
What is your biggest challenge being a chef in different countries?
I would say the biggest challenge for me is not necessarily the work, but life. I've moved around for several years and I found that I miss the 'home' comfort. I miss having that homey feeling, to be surrounded with my books, my music and my boys (Chef Graeme has two adorable boys, aged 9 and 8)
In Hong Kong, you managed to get listed in the Michelin guide book as a recommended restaurant, how did that feel?
Well, first of all, we didn't get the star, but still we're in the book, people notice us and we've been opened for only a year. That made my team and I very proud of ourselves at the end of the day. I mean, it's only a year and we got that kind of acknowledgement.
Who is the person that inspires you the most?
My grandmother; she's the one that inspired me the most, when I was a child, she often made us simple comfort foods and it was the thing that made me fall in love with cooking.
Last one, if you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Passionate, energetic, spontaneous.
Chef Graeme Ritchie is now working as the Executive Chef at NIkko Bali Resort and Spa, overseeing all the food and beverage outlets including the award winning The Shore Restaurant and Bar and the F&B side of MICE, weddings and other banqueting events.