Aprons on, knives poised, we wait for our cooking conductor to raise his baton.
“Chop everything on your plate Julienne.”
On command we’re chopping in harmony working our way through luscious, fresh piles of beans, carrots, bok choy, kale and spinach.
“Place the vegetables back in your basket. Now dice your shallots, garlic and chilies. Keep the chillies separate.”
Our knife skills vary, from awkward to efficient. But with a cool breeze flowing through our open air workstations and a friendly current of chatter, there’s no stress in this kitchen.
I’m at Pemulan Organic Farm Cooking School, whipping up a feast in the company of 15 travellers from around the world, all keen to cook in authentic Balinese style.
Our day started with a quick tour of a local market, tasting a few unusual fruits and checking out the spices we’ll use later in the day.
Driving down the bumpy road to the farm it’s already cooler, quieter. Walking through the entry arch is peaceful, we’ve left the hustle of Ubud, the only sound is the wind in the trees.
Wandering down the path set amongst gardens full of edible produce, we arrive at an open sided bamboo bale, complete with workstations and one long communal dining table.
After a glass of lemongrass tea we’re off to the gardens to pick produce. Rudi leads the way, showing us each plant, and explaining how it’s used in Balinese cooking. The paths wind around the beds making it easy for us to explore and forage.
There’s an abundance of produce. Beans, bok choy, spinach, lemongrass, salem leaves, chillies, mangosteen, snakefruit, bananas, pineapples, jackfruit, avocado, pandan, papaya, palm trees. All at various stages of growth, some ready to harvest, others not yet in season.
Our baskets are whisked off to the kitchen to be washed by the always smiling staff. After washing our hands we step up to our stations, artfully arranged with just the right amount of kitchen utensils.
The first dish is Sayur Urab a mixed vegetable dish flavoured with coconut and spices. Chef Made instructs us step by step, it’s a well thought out routine. He keeps us in time, stepping in if one of us should fall behind.
Whipping up and down our gas cookers, he has his eye on every pan, ensuring we don’t under or overcook anything.
Next up is Sweet and Sour Tempeh. The slab of soybean tempeh coated in a white fermented skin is unfamiliar to most. We chop and cook it in coconut oil before adding a sensational sweet and sour spicy seasoning.
We head to the table to devour our first two dishes. Both are delicious, with the Sweet and Sour Tempeh declared a winner at my end of the table. Conscious we have four dishes to go, we pace ourselves, resisting finishing off both plates. Taste buds satisfied we head back to our stations.
Next up is Bumbu Bali, a spice base used in several dishes. This one requires arm power. Once we’ve chopped our galangal, white ginger, turmeric, ginger, shallots, garlic, chillies and lemongrass to Made’s satisfaction we’re escorted to a table laden with stone mortars and pestles. After a quick technique demonstration, we take up our pestles and do our best. The rocking grinding action that Made makes look so easy tires us out quickly. There’s a lot of rests in between the grinding. We’re assured a blender can be used in our own kitchens.
The Bumbu Bali mix is returned to the workstations to be cooked in a wok with salem leaves, lemongrass and salt. After a taste test, we split our mix into three, ready to be used for the next dishes.
The afternoon continues at the same enjoyable pace.
Cooking feels effortless and mess free thanks to the army of helpers quietly removing our dirty utensils, replacing them with exactly what we need for the next stage.
The chicken, pork and tuna are prepped for us. Garlic and onions are peeled, vegetables washed and trimmed. Serving dishes are artfully garnished ready for us to ‘plate up’. We’re operating in a dream kitchen.
We make the most delicious Chicken Curry, Tuna Sambal Matah and of course tackle the famous Sate Lilit. We’re shown the ingredients and method for making Black Rice Pudding. It boils away for an hour in the behind the scenes kitchen whilst we cook at our workstations. The happy hum continues.Taking our dishes to the table, we settle in for our second feast.
The flavours are fabulous, the cooks congratulate themselves.
Chat turns to what an enjoyable day we’ve all had. Many have been to cooking classes where ‘token chopping’ was offered or they were organized into pairs and assigned one dish from the menu for the day. We all agreed today was the best experience from start to whoa.
There is a gentleness to the day. Everything feels fluid, not forced.
Which leads me to believe there’s good people and ethos at work behind the scenes. After talking with Wayan, the leader of this co-operative, my thoughts are confirmed. Starting in 2013, their intent is bringing good health to their community through organic farming, valuing authentic Balinese food, training youth and building pride into their village way of life as farmers. (The envy factor happens in all walks of life). There is no foreign investment, the journey has been long and slow. The cooking classes could only be added once the produce was in place.
It’s a well thought out organization with a long term vision. So feel good about spending your time and money here. In fact, if you don’t already have one, I know you’ll be inspired to plant an organic veggie garden at home!
Located in Taro north of Ubud.
Regular, vegetarian and advanced classes available.
Free pick up Ubud area.
Prices from rp400,000 (approx $AUD40)
Kids are welcome.
PH: +6281239534446 E: email@example.com
It’s a wonderful foodie experience in a farm setting.